real vampires, vampire games and tv shows, movies or films, and vampire books

17

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 Slayerand 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?

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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!”

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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!

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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!

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Brian McKinley • September 2, 2013


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Comments

  1. Halek September 2, 2013 - 1:39 pm Reply

    How many different vampire tropes can you find in this video for ‘Betrayer of the Code’ by the the band The Unguided?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJfEZYdEnzg

    (I actually like both the song and video, chock full of Underworld & Anne Rice tropes as it is.)

  2. Alec September 2, 2013 - 2:04 pm Reply

    I agree with everything you’ve just said

  3. Maricruz Covarrubias September 2, 2013 - 3:53 pm Reply

    How about Vampire, or Werewolf, or Human Romeo and Witch Juliet?

  4. Kim September 2, 2013 - 7:27 pm Reply

    I agree with some things, but what should they write about? Seems like you listed everything.

    • Brian McKinley September 3, 2013 - 12:13 am Reply

      I really tried to limit myself to only the elements that don’t seem to add value. There are exceptions to every trope I’ve mentioned, but those are the ones I’ve seen done poorly too often. There are still plenty of tropes to use and new, original directions to take!

  5. Mark September 2, 2013 - 9:42 pm Reply

    Reincarnated Love cliché. A vampire comes back after centuries only to find a reincarnated love from his past. Barnabus from Dark Shadows is one example. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) also created this story line into the movie and now this new Dracula tv series appears to copying this theme.

    • Brian McKinley September 4, 2013 - 3:31 pm Reply

      That’s a good one! I only left it out because it mostly appears in movies rather than in novels and other media, but it’s still one to avoid!

    • Portia DDoesStyle November 19, 2015 - 4:21 pm Reply

      The Vampire Diaries…

  6. Dagmar September 3, 2013 - 5:02 am Reply

    I absolutely agree. most of the tropes you mention are over done you can still put an aspect in you’re novel but please stop the cheesiness! and please get original!

  7. E. F. Watkins September 3, 2013 - 7:15 am Reply

    Having published two vampire novels, read several of the other books and seen the movies and TV shows, I absolutely agree. Although I like Charlaine Harris’ worlds, in general I’m put off when authors throw every possible supernatural character into the mix. I also don’t like to see vampires act like werewolves, completely transforming before they feed and making a gorefest out of it. I like them to appear and behave close to human, without losing that evil touch, and to do their dirty work subtly enough not to attract unwanted attention. I worked out a vampire/human relationship in my books that stopped far short of “Twilight” romanticism and always kept an edge of tension between the characters. As Woody Allen once quipped, “The lion may lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep!”

  8. kurahikari September 4, 2013 - 12:17 am Reply

    I agree with these points. Most especially, I agree with your bit about the romance. The challenge I have with my novel series is that I have a female main character and I just know the fans want her paired off. Or they will. The point is, no matter what you read, the protagonist is expected to get his or her love interest AND have a few others to the side pining away. I mean, really? Sure, if that’s the focus of your story, go for it. It’s not the focus of mine. The focus of mine is the maternal relationship between my two main characters, and Risa is quite fine with trying to protect June on her own, thank you. She doesn’t want any help if it means having to let someone in her pants!

    Thank you for verbalizing something I couldn’t put into words.

  9. Robert C Roman September 4, 2013 - 6:17 pm Reply

    I’ve got a few published stories myself, and while I have included vampires, I don’t really consider them ‘vampire stories’, because… well… they’re about other (odd, one off) supernatural creatures, and the vampires are supporting cast. So I guess I’m kind of guilty of number five.

    On number four a – what about Ancient Vampire Greco-Roman Wrestler? I know, it lacks ‘coolness’, but those ancient Greek dudes weren’t fooling around, they were seriously trying to twist the other guy’s head off. Add in preternatural vampire strength and you’ve set the scene for some coolness.

    Finally, on two a – I wanted to write a Young Adult novel, so I looked up the currently ‘in vogue’ tropes to see which ones fit in the story I had in mind. I’m a High School teacher by day, and one of the things I’ve learned from that is Young Adults crave *subtle* consistency while outwardly screaming for variety. Yes, apparently you *DO* have to have Boy / Girl / Boy in Young Adult. The other, as you noted, is verboten. On the other hand, no one says you can’t have Boy / Oblivious Girl Starting Career Early / Boy. Leads to many ‘what are you two staring at? Get back to work’ moments of comedy gold.

  10. Frank September 5, 2013 - 3:54 pm Reply

    Good list – nice article!

  11. sara September 6, 2013 - 12:46 pm Reply

    How come no article about True Blood Season Seven being announced as finale?

    • Brian McKinley September 8, 2013 - 12:13 am Reply

      I thought about writing something regarding that, maybe following up my “WTF True Blood?!?” post from pre-season and review of this year’s opener. There’s not much new to say about it, though, except some opinions of mine, so I wasn’t sure if it was worth it.

  12. Stuart Land December 8, 2013 - 2:58 am Reply

    I laughed out loud at your post. Well done. I confronted all of these problems in my ORIGINAL BLOOD series.

    5. no monsters
    4. no game faces
    4a. I have a character who appreciates martial arts, but mostly it’s street fighting, and the reasons why one vampire can overcome another.
    3. Don’t play with food, but at times are mean, but always for a reason.
    2. no
    2a. my vampires have a whole new approach to this that you’ve never seen.
    1. Yes, some are good looking specimens, others not so much, but there’s a reason why they this is so.

    All vampires traits are delved into deeply in my series. In fact, the tropes themselves stem from the origins of my original story, which was written well before the-author-who-cannot-be-named wrote hers. Every trait is explained eventually.

  13. Charles Avent July 26, 2016 - 8:09 pm Reply

    I love your post and have felt the same way, to an extent, on the way vampire novels were headed. That is why I wrote the novel, I did. I would like to get your opinion on my novel: “Silent Dawn: Chasing Sunrise”. Available at Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million and, of course, thousands of online bookstores in 180 countries.

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