5 Vampire Tropes That Need A Rest!
As a writer and avid reader of vampire fiction, I’ve seen a lot of different themes, styles, and clichés come in and out of popularity over the years. Rather than nit-pick which is which, it’s easier to call all of these things tropes, which is a more neutral term that has come to mean any sort of regularly occurring metaphor, symbol, or literary device.
With that in mind, I decided to come up with a personal list of what I think are the top 5 vampire-related tropes that have become over-used recently and need to be put to rest. You might agree, you might disagree, and you might even want to put a sharp wooden stake through my eye, but I hope this will give any vampire authors some food for thought.
To be fair, none of these tropes are beyond redemption, but I think that many of them have become so familiar that authors are beginning to include them in their stories without any good reason. Maybe they think they’re expected now. That way leads to Blandsville and the Land of Been There, Seen That.
Without further introduction, here’s my list:
5. Monsters, Monsters Everywhere!
This is the current vogue in Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance that owes its popularity to authors like Laurel K. Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, Jim Butcher, Kim Harrison, and others. The logic goes that, if vampires are real, so is every other damn mythological creature, horror archetype, folktale monster, and nursery rhyme character! So now we have an avalanche of kick-ass monster hunters who sleep with vampires, fight tooth fairies, shoot it out with Sasquatches, barter with leprechauns, and ride unicorns into battle against demon-possessed Minotaurs while arch-angels battle candy-house witches in the skies above!
Seriously, aside from comedic value, what do all of these creatures bring? Ask yourself if your series really needs the entire monster menagerie before you throw them in because “everyone else is doing it.” I’ve gotten to the point where I find it refreshing to read a story about vampires that doesn’t feel the need to include every other type of monster, too. Build your world carefully. The best kind of fantasy always keeps a foot grounded in the real world.
4. Putting On The Game Face
This one we owe to movies like The Lost Boys and TV shows like Forever Knight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Angel, but because of their popularity it has begun to crop up in vampire novels as well. This is the idea that vampires alone aren’t scary enough, so they have to have a special “monster face” that they bring out for feeding or whenever they want to surprise someone into screaming and running away. C’mon, really? A risen corpse who can socialize with you before leading you off alone to drink the blood from your body isn’t scary enough? A serial killer with super-human powers isn’t enough?
I’m a bit of a nit-picker, I admit, so the idea that muscles re-arrange themselves in the vampires face all for the purpose of giving them a wicked Halloween look just doesn’t make any sense to me. Movies do it because their special effects guys get bored, but there’s no excuse for it in a novel. If your vampires are some form of demon, that’s great, but either keep them possessed and looking normal or make it a permanent transformation. The reason vampires are fascinating and frightening is because they are the monster with the human face.
4.a. Everybody Was Kung-fu Fighting
Just a quick addendum to that last bit is another that we owe to Joss Whedon and the Blade series. Not every damn vampire in the world is a martial arts expert! Outside of China and Japan, nobody in the f***ing world knew anything about this style of fighting until the 20th Century! Ancient vampire sword master: no problem. Ancient vampire kick-boxer? No. Just no.
3. Playing With Your Food
You see this in so damn many movies and books and it just makes me want to scream every time! A bunch of vampires get some humans together for dinner and, before you know it, there’s vampires laughing with blood smeared all over their faces, vampires tearing open jugular veins with gleeful abandon and spraying blood all over the wall, and vampires wearing entrails like Mardi Gras beads! Yes, yes, we’re supposed to recoil at how savage and capital-E Evil these vampires are, right? Instead, I find myself thinking “How pathetic!”
Seriously, when’s the last time you and a bunch of friends had dinner and poured the soup down the front of your party clothes? Laughed and poured gravy all over your face? Scooped up half your mashed potatoes and threw them against the wall before shoving your face to the plate to lick up the rest? If your answer to any of these questions is a number other than never, then please remind me to never accept a dinner invitation from you. Even evil people can have table manners! When blood is your food supply, why slop it around like a three-year-old? Vampires can be cruel without being sloppy and, in my book, an elegant predator is far more interesting and frightening. Leave the mindless mauling to the werewolves, please.
2. Romeo and Juliet … Again … and Again …
How many times do readers need to read the same story before moving on? The first thought that comes to mind is Twilight, but this formula has been going far longer than She Who Must Not Be Named has been writing. Vampire Romeo and Human Juliet, Werewolf Romeo and Vampire Juliet, Werewolf Romeo and Human Juliet, Vampire Romeo and Vampire Juliet—it’s all been done. Several times.
Now, I’m not saying get rid of romance in a vampire story, because that would be a ridiculous request (not to mention killing an entire genre), but let’s try to do something just a little new! For one thing, keep in mind that Romeo and Juliet was effective because it was a tragedy! They both die at the end! It doesn’t work out! In every novel I read with this kind of story, however, it always works out hunky-dorey in the end. I’m a romantic, too, and I’d love to believe that love conquers all, but if you’re going to pull that story off then you damn well better earn it! Elevate your star-crossed lovers above the stereotype with strong characterization and throw in some twists! Here’s another idea: Othello, Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest, and many other Shakespeare plots are out there just waiting for a clever supernatural riff. Let Romeo and Juliet rest in peace for a while.
2.a. Boy, Girl, Boy
I’m going to make a few female readers mad here, but I don’t care, because it has to said. Does EVERY female heroine in EVERY paranormal series have to be loved/lusted after by EVERY male creature she encounters? Furthermore, do we have to put up with the same damn “love triangle” over and over again? “Gee, I love Hottie McFang, but I also get super-juicy every time Rugged Wolfbane comes near me! What’s a girl to do? My life is, like, so complicated!” I realize that this is a cherished and time-worn female fantasy, but seriously! If every series with a male protagonist included the hero having a threesome with different gorgeous twin sisters in every book, the feminists in the audience would start campaigning for book burning!
1. I’m Too Sexy To Be A Monster
Okay, here’s my least favorite trope in recent fiction: vampires who have been neutered so much for romance purposes that they hardly bear any resemblance to vampires anymore! We’ve all seen this, I’m sure: the super-rich, super sexy, super powerful vampire romance god who maybe has a problem with sunlight (but sometimes not even that) and really only needs, say, a wine glass’ worth of blood a night. Really? How convenient! He’s always a fantastic and considerate lover, just dark and mysterious enough to be attractive, but otherwise completely harmless. Blech!
This is not a vampire. This is a male model with a blood fetish! I fully support the idea that vampires can be both heroic and villainous, but let’s try to keep some vague connection to the mythology, shall we? The vampire should be given his due and there should always be real danger present or else you’re just contributing to the slow sterilization of the vampire genre. Let’s keep our vampires deserving of the name, okay?
So, that’s the list. I hope you enjoyed it. I’d love to hear any reactions or your personal additions to the list in the comments! Stay thirsty, my friends!
Brian McKinley has written four screenplays, a stage play which won a state-wide contest and was produced by a NJ community theater, and two short stories that have appeared in Reflection’s Edge and Challenging Destiny magazines. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association and his first novel, Ancient Blood, was published by Ambrosia Arts Publishing. Brian lives in New Jersey and is working on his next novel.