Tropes That Need to Go Away

One problem any popular genre develops tends to be tropes that pervade too much of it all. In and of themselves, maybe they work. Often they work quite well. They can, anyway. But when we see the same thing over and over and over again, we enter into the realm of the cliche. So here’s a list of some that vampire films and books and comics as well as t.v. series should probably avoid for a while. Say, a decade. Or two.

300.true.blood.082808Vampire Romeo and Human Juliet. And no, by that I neither mean an end to all things Twilight nor a complaint about love stories. But what do we see time and again? A ‘good’ vampire falls in love with a living girl and in effect she becomes his anchor to humanity. Well, one can see the appeal of such an idea. Hence its appearance in Forever Knight, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in I Kissed a Vampire and so on. So much so we find ourselves knowing how a given story will play out once we see the two archetypes appear on stage. In other words, we knew what’s going to happen. No surprise there. But on the other hand, all kinds of other possibilities exist. A gay vampire romance, for example. A genuinely surprising coupling–like if Bella and Edward never fell for each other but Bella’s father and Alice did. What if Sookie on True Blood turned out to be a psychopath? Or shake things up in an even more disturbing way–like Stefan (in this conception a much younger undead) being Elena’s father?

aplv58LOTS of Vampires but NOBODY notices! Really, if a town the size of Mystic Falls has at least four or five vampires within the city limits at any given time, how many of the pesky things must dwell in Manhattan? Within California? In the United States? The Western Hemisphere? How could we not have noticed them? This seems especially true if vampires usually kill their prey. Anne Rice in Interview With the Vampire makes this kind of error and it always bothered me. Three vampires killing a minimum of one person per night for six decades in a town of less than half a million people? Yet the same problem pops up in they don’t kill, because sooner or later the victims will talk or the CDC is gonna notice these pockets of anemia. Lots of ways to solve this–from the paranoid (vampire elders are the Illuminati and control the world) to mathematical (there just aren’t that many bloodsuckers) but just address it!

vanhelsing-dracula1_1083800188Male Chauvinist Bats. Okay, surely many of  you have noticed? And not just in vampire fiction? Women as eager submissives or masochists. Vampire lords with their harem of scantily clad brides. Buffy at least addressed this head-on with the mostly-male Watchers’ Council facing an increasingly independent female Slayer. Twilight has at least a heroine who calls all the shots, but the gender roles in those books pretty much proclaim Boyish Girls = BAD. Things have gotten better. After all, in the novel and first several film adaptations of Dracula one horrifying symptom of vampiric infection was that females gained (GASP!) a sex drive. Ever notice though how–still–female villains still come across as femme fatales? Even though in real life we know lots of terrible women (and men) are actually puritanical. Likewise we tend to see lots of copious female flesh but not so much male (True Blood and Buffy make refreshing exceptions).

stars-of-the-vampire-diariesModels Biting Models. Okay, I’ll admit one reason for not regularly watching The Vampire Diaries remains the fact everyone looks so good. So pretty. So…airbrushed. And enjoying really top-notch hair specialists. Not that I object to eye candy! Pretty people share this world with the rest of us! But where are the nerds in Mystic Falls High School? How come we never seem to see a cute vampire girl played by Felicia Day? This is not just a complaint about one t.v. show but in general. One thing I find off-putting about Twlight is just how utterly gorgeous Edward Cullen is supposed to be, as in Greek God looks. Not just nice-looking, but a statue of Apollo walking around in modern dress. How about characters who wouldn’t look out of place on The Big Bang Theory?

zurial-30-days-of-night-30307374-367-235Human-Shaped Sharks. Less common now, but hardly rare. And like many of the above, this trope can often work and work well. But–at least the hint of an explanation would be oh-so-nice. Why did Blade‘s mother turn evil as a vampire? Ditto Amy and Ed in Fright Night? Maybe the new instincts of a predator overwhelm them? I can buy that, just as in Bram Stoker’s Dracula as well as Buffy the hint of demonic possession works well enough. Mostly, though, it tends to be a given that upon transformation the person who changed in a real sense evaporates.  That can make for some good stories and rising tension, but the tension between human and monster in the same body frankly seems a lot more interesting.  30 Days of Night was cool, but in many ways seems more like a flick about zombies (the comics dealt with this idea far better).

This probably comes across as whining about every possible vampire story, but honestly it is not. Both Let Me In and Twixt, to mention fairly recent films, either avoid or subvert these tropes quite well, as does the novels The Moth Diaries and Ancient BloodBuffy managed it, and sometimes so does True Blood. So it can be done!

What do you think? Are these tropes you also would like to see retire for awhile? Or are there others that bother you?

By david

David MacDowell Blue blogs at Night Tinted Glasses.  He graduated from the National Shakespeare Conservatory and is the author of The Annotated Carmilla. and Your Vampire Story (And How to Write It) as well as a theatrical adaptation of Carmilla.


  1. actually a few of these issues i try to get around in my book (if i can ever get it done) the one that for me never made sense was the human vampire relationship, it always seemed to me any amorise relationship between a human and vampire would be looked upon as wierd by both sides it would be like a human haveing a relationship with a cow at yet this part of the relationship is always down played it’s always i don’t want you do be hurt never i want you but my people will never accept it, something like that would be more realistic in my view

    1. Well, vampires used to be human, so it kind of makes sense for them to fall in love with a species they used to be.

  2. Some of us love all of these things… and seriously, you can find plenty of variety out there between horror, sci fi, dark and urban fantasy, and even dark paranormal romance. That’s where things are happening in vampire fiction these days.

    It’s not all Twitlight tween crap, promise. Even with the human/vamp love paradigm, there’s endless variation, from the twee sweet to the tragic to the horrific. The heroines in urban fantasy are almost all at least on their way to becoming kick ass with no absolute need for a male to rescue them.

    Frankly, I have nothing against watching pretty, pretty vampires on TV. If I wanted ugly, I’d be watching The Walking Dead or something. But of course, Your Mileage Varies. ;)

    Honestly, though, if you’re interested in some variation in your vampire universes (or other monsters — there’s a nice mixture in the best of them), try Urban Fantasy.

    1. If there was sufficient variation in the vampire universe, we wouldn’t have this post. I would rather read something “paranormal” than urban fantasy, whatever that is. I feel like the vampire genre has gone from one extreme to another, and vampires are close to becoming objects of ridicule. Agents hardly want to acknowledge you if your book has the word “vampire” in it. Some of us have taken to writing the kind of vampire book we would love to read, over and over. And are very happy with the results. Whether it will ever find any other audience remains to be seen. I would be happy if 100 other people on the planet loved the book.

      1. Urban Fantasy *is* paranormal. It’s a cross between action, fantasy, and horror, with varying degrees of erotica or romance — some with none, some with a strong leaning. Most universes have vampire societies, if the lead characters aren’t themselves vampires. There are dozens of kinds of vampires, some heroes, some amoral, some monsters, some villains. It’s a cousin of sci fi-fantasty.

        I’m an almost exclusive vampire writer published by a small press, and I’ve always written the kind of book I like to read. None of us should ever just assume we’re going to get rich, right? Look, I was just trying to introduce a genre that a reader might like to try to see where variations on the vampire theme are taking place, and nobody sparkles or eats woodland animals while they stalk teenaged girls. I don’t see the need to get snippy with me.

        The vampire genre has always swung from here to there and back again, both in plot trends and popularity, yet it never really goes away. It will swing back again.

      2. Urban fantasy IS paranormal. Urban fantasy is a supernatural/fantasy/paranormal tale told in today’s modern world – hence the “urban” part. It’s a story about vampires or fairies or whatever set in our current world full of skyscrapers and cars, instead of a medieval fantasy realm like regular fantasy.

  3. How about vampires-as-zombies? It seems these days the only way anyone wants to tell vampire HORROR stories is to set them up as basically a modern zombie virus story, but with a few more vampire traits tossed in. Let’s see some vampire horror that DOESN’T rely on this overdone modern cliche.

  4. “Vampire Romeo and Human Juliet” could use a few decades off, along with “Burning Up In Sunlight”. We need to get back to pre-Nosferatu classic folklore’s “specific limitations in daytime” rather than the “easy out” of immolation by sun.

  5. Vampires who run goth/industrial nightclubs where people dressed in black drink absinthe. (I like Vampire Journals, Blade, and the rest but…)

    Conversion to a vampiric state comes with new sartorial sensibilities.

    ‘Scientifically’ explainable vampirism, especially when it includes fantastical powers.

    Vampires as pathetic blood addicts. The cinematic nadir of this is the scene in Night Watch with the jar full of blood.

  6. My vote’s for leaving ‘blood’ out of vampire titles. In vampire context, it’s a food pun!

    Imagine if novels in other genres were largely food-based puns: ‘Catcher on Rye’, ‘A Farewell to Hams’, ‘The Yeast Also Rises’…


    That’s how silly it seems to me.

    1. Totally agree Anthony. Any title that seems too contrived or tries too hard to advance some romantic-vampire-+-multiple-other-creatures-“Eternal Kiss of the Dark Gift Under a Doomed Moon….Trilogy” is what turns me away.

  7. Felicia Day may have never played a vampire, but on Buffy the Vampire Slayer she was a vampire slayer. Close enough? ;)
    Other than that, great article. The people in Mystic Falls really look like supermodels. Not that I am complaining, I can stare at Ian Somerhalder all day.

  8. How about the whole “Vampires must only consume blood” trope? How on Earth can you survive on just blood? As Darren Shan said, “Blood alone isn’t enough to sustain vampires”. When you’re drinking blood, do you taste whatever the person you’re drinking from may have eaten or drunk before you bit them? Darren Shan’s vampire stories may have their own problems (more males than females, people who confuse them with vampaneze, who do drink just blood), at least his vampires don’t look like supermodels. They look like soldiers in war (because they have had wars, which may explain some of their battle scars, except for Larten Crepsley), they can actually drink alcohol and can withstand it more than humans, and they can drink human blood without killing the humans. Who would have thought that you can drink human blood without killing the human?

  9. How about the “Everything ever said about vampires is completely wrong” trope? That one’s really annoying, and at that point the writer may as well just create a new creature altogether.

    Or the “There’s a scientific explanation for this supernatural stuff” trope? I mean, seriously, what’s wrong with a vampire being completely supernatural, and not scientific in any way? No one demands a scientific explanation for Freddy Krueger.

    The “all vampires are somehow young” trope? Why no elderly vampires? Older looking guys can look cool, too. Look at Walter from Hellsing before he became a vampire….heck, he looked better before his youth was restored! Alucard even points out Walter looked better when he was old!

    The “Vampire hunters are evil/stupid” trope particularly gets on my nerves. They’re just trying to protect innocents, what’s wrong with that? There is no reason to portray that guy from Little Vampires mistaking a kid in a costume for a real vampire, and then trying to kill him because he might be one. Heck, if done right, vampire hunters can be freaking awesome. Look at Alexander Anderson from Hellsing Ultimate. Sure, he’s violent, but he’s not evil, he even runs an orphanage, and disobeys orders to kill civilians!

    Or how about the “sexual moans while blood is being drained” trope. Like…seriously why does it exist?

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