Hello! I’m wondering how far it’s acceptable to stray from certain tropes associated with traditional monsters/races? For instance, I’m wanting to use vampires in my current project, but for it to work, vampires would need to be born this way rather than created. In addition, they wouldn’t be immortal, but would live and die just as those from other races, such as humans and werewolves. I would still incorporate a unique set of abilities/weaknesses based on conventional tropes, like aversion to sunlight, healing ability, and super strength. But is it okay to take a traditional creature like a vampire, which is generally expected to be immortal/undead, and change it to such an extreme degree?-Laura
Hey Laura, thanks for writing in!
This is a tricky question to answer because what constitutes an accepted trope is in constant flux, and vampires are a great example of that. Before the 1970s, the idea of vampires with complex personal drama would have been really weird; vampires were monsters that hung out in coffins when they weren’t biting people. But then Interview With the Vampire was published, and suddenly it was expected that vampires would have a lot of angst and drama, to the point that depicting a well-adjusted vampire still feels somewhat subversive.
To me, reproducing through the bite is part of what defines a vampire. They reproduce by changing humans into more vampires. If I read a book with vampires that don’t do that, I would wonder why they were called vampires. But that could just be me, and it’s possible I won’t feel that way in a few years. I’ve even seen books with something similar. For example, the Dresden Files has something called White Court Vampires, which reproduce by giving birth just like humans. Of course, to my mind these creatures were much more like succubi than vampires, but most readers don’t seem to mind.
The main thing I would think about here is how important it is for these creatures to be vampires. If it’s critical to the story, or if you’re specifically looking to explore new vampire tropes, then give it a try. If not, see if there’s some other spooky creature that can work instead. You’ve already mentioned werewolves, so you might try banshees, selkies, sidhe, or another urban fantasy trope. Just double check to make sure you’re not mining a marginalized culture for content.
One other thing I’d caution against is using this premise to create a supernaturally evil species. Vampires are often inherently evil, but that’s not usually a problem because they don’t appear as stand-ins for a distinct race or culture. If they’re a parallel for anything, it’s serial killers or exploitative aristocrats. But if the vampires can reproduce on their own and are a separate species, then they’ll definitely seem analogous to humans. I have a post on that if you’d like to read more.
Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your story!
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Comments on How Much Can I Change Vampires?
In my mind, the core of what makes a vampire is “feed by sucking blood” rather than “reproduce by biting”. Actually, the last one feels much more characteristic of zombies.
I agree. In common modern mythology, the Vampire is defined by ‘sucking blood to stay alive.’ Especially since the reproduction by biting would lead to a lot of vampires and that wouldn’t be sustainable – they’d kill and turn all humans and would die out after us.
A lot of fantasy stories work around the unsustainability problem, though. For example, some works involve getting bitten AND swallowing vampire blood. The Vampire Diaries has a long and complicated process involving getting bit, dying with vampire blood in your system, and then finally the person drinks blood themselves. Even Twilight mentions “venom”.
Yes, they do, but this is already a reaction to knowing that ‘turning by one bite’ is not sustainable. This is already a change to the original mythology.
In old texts, there’s no mention of ‘several bites’ or ‘exchange of blood’ or other necessary steps. It is assumed that everyone who dies through a vampire becomes a vampire.
Modern media vampires seem to need blood much more often than their mythological counterparts. Under modern rules, it seems to be a body a night maybe a body every two or three nights at best. In mythology, they could go a lot longer between feeding sessions.
Even blood being the specific thing they feed on is flexible, as long as it’s something that’s comparably troublesome to people. I think the true defining feature of a vampire is their relationship to humans – being human-like parasites that feed on humans.
This is interesting and sets vampires apart from other undead creatures and fantasy monsters in a variety of ways. For one, it means that vampires not only can exist within human societies, but they are obligated to for survival, which immediately opens up interesting questions about how they make that work. Do they take the aristocratic approach, using their unnatural life to amass influence and prestige to cover up their sanguine indiscretions? Do they act as tyrants, using their supernatural abilities to lord over a flock of enslaved human livestock? Do they hide in the dark underbelly of human civilization as opportunistic bottom feeders? Are they your friendly neighborhood vampire who is entirely open about their condition, and has an account with the local bloodbank?
The only other widely known monster that has this sort of dynamic with humans are succubi, who share a lot of overlap with vampires in terms of themes and tropes. Biting necks has its obvious sexual parallels, as does the emphasis on bodily fluids, to say nothing of many classic portrayals of vampires involving the male vampire assaulting their beautiful young female victim in their bedroom. Vampires are even sometimes presented as semi-demonic themselves, being born of Hell or created by the devil in some stories, making them sort of a missing link between the fiendish and undead creature types. Succubi have largely fallen out of mainstream use as a serious monster in the modern day, between the nature of their threat being an instant rating increase on TV or film, and shifting cultural norms around sex and female sexuality. This left vampires perfectly positioned to swoop into that ecological niche of dangerous sexuality, since their threat being merely suggestive of sex and not explicitly tied to it allows them to dodge both the automatic rating increase, and perceptions of (literally) demonizing sexuality.
The nature of their bites is pretty unique, too. Where most monsters that are antagonistic toward humans are out to kill us in no uncertain terms, vampire bites are rarely inherently fatal or transformative in their lore. More often, the bite is merely how they feed, and killing or converting a victim through it is an extra mile that they may or may not choose to go. Many vampire stories follow a pattern of a vampire feeding on the same victim repeatedly, either because it takes repeat bitings to turn their victim, or just because they’ve taken a particular shine to that victim. This puts a lot of significance on a vampire’s bite because in addition to the immediate effects of having a portion of your blood sucked out, it also portends future attacks for tension building. Alternatively, a friendly vampire’s human comrades may demonstrate their trust and bond by volunteering to be fed on in absence of whatever their normal supply is.
There are many different types of vampires in mythology around the world. As a matter of fact, World of MONSTERS recently did a video list of all vampires in mythology around the world which suck blood (there are also vampires that suck energy, but they’re not always considered vampires).
I don’t agree with all on that list myself (the Germanic Aufhocker is actually driving people to exhaustion and death, as far as I know), but most of the list is very useful.
I don’t see a problem with having vampires as a species of their own which reproduces normally and isn’t immortal. That would, of course, negate them being undead, but depending on how you spin it, that would be fine, too. If they live much longer than humans, for instance, they would seem immortal to us. If they have a lower body temperature than us, they might appear like walking corpses, because they’re so cold. Higher strength, aversion to sunlight, and quick healing can be explained as well. It also bears remembering that both staking and beheading (the classic ways of killing a vampire) work on living beings just as well.
Just as a quick nitpick, Oren – succubi are defined as female demons who steal sexual energy and sometimes even sperm (depends on whom you ask). Their male equivalent are incubi. Sometimes, mythology claims they’re one and the same and the succubi steals sperm from a man, then shifts into an incubi and uses that stolen sperm to impregnate a woman. Succubi have next to nothing to do with the traditional view on vampires, unless you expand it to energy vampires and count succubi and incubi as related beings.
If they drink people’s blood, I think most readers will be good with you calling them vampires.
I would argue interview with a vampire certainly added to the idea of vampires with a sense of internal drama, but while Carmilla was unrepentantly evil, she is introspective and clearly thinks about her nature intensely.
While clarimonde does not seem overly concerned with herself her love and the priests love for her seems to be the source of much angst from him. She also seems to be the first vampire who doesn’t kill.
Aurelia absolutely hates her vampiric nature and causes her and her husband a great deal of angst.
Finally Varney the vampire even flings himself into a volcano because he longs to truly die.
All of these I think are older than Dracula.
As far as I can tell, they all are. Varney definitely is, so is Carmilla. Ther other two are as well, as far as I remember. Even Lord Ruthven has some introspective, I think, although he’s as evil as Carmilla.
Yes, vampires can have depth as well and not only since Interview came out. There are older versions which show them having personality.
I think biting to reproduce isn’t so much a core feature of Vampires. Point of fact, most vampires in popular media *don’t* turn people into vampires that way, not in itself anyways. Dracula, Buffyverse and Vampire The Masquerade (three cultural vampire juggernauts) all operate on the logic that a human has to be fed vampire blood after being drained to turn.
In my opinion, the number 1 essential trait of vampires is consuming blood; I also think them being undead is important but OP certainly wouldn’t be the first to ditch that part of the mythos, so I wouldn’t consider it essential necessarily. Aversion to sunlight, super speed and strength are all well and good but they’re all fairly generic monster traits that don’t really specifically point to “vampire”. But, if they drink blood, people would make the connection to vampires more readily.
Some possible inspiration for you:
Author Peter Watts has a mock lecture on his version of vampires – a genetically distinct variety of humans:
The website for the “Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency” – https://fvza.org/ – has another take. There, the disease is a virus that overwrites a person’s genetics.
And Charles Stross’ “Laundry Files” series – specifically “The Rhesus Chart” – has another take on vampirism. Certain mental processes involving higher mathematics open your mind to “possession” by “extra-dimensional” entities that turn you into what passes for a vampire.
If you’re looking for sci-fi flavor, Daybreakers is a good film to watch.
I do think Oren is right that making them born that way can make unfortunate implications that should be watched for.
In the past, when vampires have been shown that way it has been to push racist ideas, and I can easily see a modern writer making some parallel to LGBT (and wouldn’t be the first) I highly suggest your born that way vampire not be part of any marginalized group to avoid some unfortunate implications.
I would advise against it. The fun part of vampires is that you can kill them in the hundreds without batting an eye, the same as with zombies (to which they are related). The moment you make them born and alive you must get into the moral considerations of ending a life. Traditional vampires are monsters and as such they must be slay. Victorian vampires are capable of upper functions, but they are abominations, corpses brought back to a resemblancee of life, but nothing more than a mockery of humanity. Part of the myth is that a vampire can’t be redeemed, there is no turning back from it (unless you reset, say by putting a soul in it again, but then it isn’t a vampire anymore).
For the first vampires in literature, I do agree with you to a degree (Varney, for instance, is a hero, not a villain, and very much burdened by his undead nature). For those from myths and legends, I agree with you, too.
Yet, the vampires are not the kind of monster to be ‘killed in the hundreds’ – stories usually don’t feature more than a handful. Zombies are different, because they’re raised corpses often without any higher functions (I use them like that, too, for my necromancers). They’re merely someone’s tool or raised by a curse. Vampires usually don’t live in big groups – that would make feeding too hard. Therefore, while a vampire hunter could kill a hundred vampires or more over time, they’re not a big mob to send towards the hero, they’re more of a mini-boss or even end boss.
Even the Gothic (aka Victorian) vampire is no longer the kind of lowly blood-sucking creature shown in mythology and legend – thanks to the Romantic movement and its stories which changed the understanding of them.
I don’t remember anything romantic about Dracula, he just turned Mina for the lols as he thinks of himself as a ruler, a conqueror allowed to do as he please both due being an aristocrat and a supernatural force. He just want to have Harker’s girl and feed him to his “brides” (I bet him being protective towards gypsies was a way to make him even more evil, given the period).
I can understand why people like vampires, and why authors try to take them out of the villain closet (i personally am on the werewolf “team”, though) but i wouldn’t rate them as bosses while they are kind of efficient in their own domain (their lair, the night, attacking by surprise) they lack in other areas. Usually a vampire is only a threat if you don’t know their “rules” or their existence altogether.
No, there’s no romance in Dracula, but the Romantic movement is not about love and romance. The movement originated in Germany and was the opposite of the neo-classicism. While a lot of classic authors wrote their novels and plays strictly as ordained by Ancient Rome and Greece, the romantic authors wanted a ‘natural’ way of creating art. They drew what they saw, creating scenes which were emphasizing nature instead of style. They wrote poems without any strict structures. They emphasized that everything should follow inspiration and nature, not rules and structures.
Through Romantic literature, the movement came to the US and to England, too. In England, it inspired the Gothic movement (and Dracula is late-gothic literature) which emphasizes a romanticised version of the world (such as setting things in natural habitats or in ruined castles etc.).
Vampires are much more powerful and dangerous than zombies and quite some of them are hard to reach because they have guards (Dracula keeps his gypsies – as they’re called in the book – as guards as well, it’s them the heroes fight in the final battle to reach his last box with him inside) or are in places hard to reach for humans (if the vampires can manage some form of flight). Many vampires in literature were also nobles who could afford human guards while they slept. It is possible to get them, but they’re usually not just a wave of enemies thrown at the hero. (Even the ministerium tenebrae in “The Brothers Cabal” only plans on a small elite unit of vampires while having a vast army of zombies and a large cavalry of were-beings and other shapeshifters.)
There is a very big difference between book Dracula and most movie adaptation of Dracula. Book Dracula was basically combination of walking talking STD because Victorians and a late medieval nobleman, so somebody who took by force rather than seduced. Many movie adaptations drop the fact that book Dracula is basically an undead mugger in his temperament and goes for the suave sexy seductive vampire because that generally seems more fun to the audience than late medieval warlord bandit vampire.
What do you think of corpses possessed by demons? Would you consider them vampires or something else entirely? In my personal opinion, they could really go either way depending whether they have any sort of cognitive higher functions, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts.
Didn’t the first and second editions of AD&D have their vampires drain life force by touching rather than drain blood by sucking? I’m guessing this is partially because the mechanics of blood sucking would be difficult to replicate in the game, players would just stay away and have the mage fireball the vampire, and one of those things that TSR did in hopes of avoiding scandal because no way having blood sucking vampires in game would go well with American parents in the 70s and 80s. It wasn’t really until the Ravenloft setting got developed in the 90s that TSR said fine to blood sucking vampires.
I read and loved a book series with tons of novelty and that played a bit on the tropes associated with fantasy species. It had unicorns who were really smart and could unscrew their horns, dragons extremely long-lived and thus meddling in the political affairs like no one else, trolls that were vegetarians and living in harmony with nature etc…
It also had vampires who reproduced like anyone else, never drank human blood, could grow their nails into therizinosaurus like claws, and were the scientists of this world but they still felt much like vampires because they were still pale, had long canines, could turn into bats or wolves, drank blood etc…
I guess it’s really subjective, as long as you check a certain number of cases it’s okay but there isn’t really a definitive limit for when it stops being a vampire.
My own thoughts are that vampires prey on humans as a requirement, other creatures drink blood including some types of elves, are undead without being vampires or prey on sapients generally like Sucubi/incubi and none of them are actually vampires though some are thought to be in universe particularly Succubi and thankful now extinct Elven vampires