Scribbler’s Saga #76 – Who Is The Vampire?

Posted: January 15, 2019 in Uncategorized

A vampire? You decide kids…

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Concerning Facebook, I seem to have quite a few Pacino moments – “every time I get out, they pull me back in!” The latest came in the form of a writer posting about wanting to write a vampire story and being stuck because of how large Twilight looms in our recent consciousness. My advice, I gave two variations of the same suggestion; develop a story independently of the vampire and then add it back in later.

My assertion backing up this advice: a vampire story is first and foremost a story that can be read and understood even without the bloodsucking. Yes, changes will occur the minute Elisabeth Bathory bathes in young virgin blood, but they will be minor compared to the core story. And, yes, I just validated all the writing manuals rooted in the Hero’s Journey, even the ones I barely tolerate. Part of the reason you can do things this way, a vampire used to be human, speaks dramatic dialogue and wants something he/she isn’t getting…a character, the same rules apply.

Let’s leave aside that the poster rolled over and splattered chum for a certain type of commenter waiting to pounce with variations of “read other vampire stories like Dracula,” or “simply do the opposite of Twilight.” Okay, read or at least see the movie is sort of helpful in the case of the Bram Stoker. Do the opposite of Twilight is less so, but I digress.

Okay, so the dark and lush tale of Vlad the Impaler all vamped out in his spooky castle high in the Wallachian mountains gets to be my first example. What is the story told without a single fang, bloody neck or bat framed by the full moon? It’s a creepy, obsessive love triangle turned ugly and stalker-iffic.

Mina Harker nee Murray travels with her husband Johnathan Harker in the Romanian backcountry that used to be called Wallachia. The dark roads and local superstitions serve to portend a dark but ultimately transformative narrative. Mister Harker intends to help a mysterious and reclusive count with estate matters. Despite the misgivings of the neighbors in the village at the bottom of the hill the couple contrives to spend the night at Castle Dracula.

The count becomes enamored of the young Mina recognizing qualities of his long dead wife. The initial stay becomes a highly charged knife dance for Mina’s hand. The count’s female hangers on or ex-wives move in on Mr. Harker as distraction. The count has limited success that goes as forward progress. The visit ends.

The count packs up his roadshow with his faithful servant and follows Mina to London to continue the pursuit. Mina’s best friend, Lucy dies at the hand of the count. Mina and Jonathan with the help of a knowledgeable expert turn the tables and track her stalker back to his home in Romania for a fateful conclusion where Mina chooses the man she wants.

Could you tell this story without anything vampiric? Yes. Abraham van Helsing becomes more of an alienist advising Mina on the ins and outs of obsession and the dark sexual urges popularized in the recent work of Sigmund Freud. Maybe you drop the character altogether. But, people actually using their library cards and streaming accounts would immediately go – “this sort seems like that Dracula movie.”

Are there other stories possible in the vampire genre that don’t get underfoot with Twilight? Yes. One of my personal favorites that I 80-percent guarantee you haven’t seen Razor Blade Smile has another take. The story of a female vampire assassin on a multi-decade mission to hunt down the members of a small offshoot of the Illuminati bent on word domination.

Okay, the actress is pretty, gets naked and spews all the pseudo-Cockney attitude of a character likely to show up in a Guy Ritchie film, but pay attention to the twist. The leader of the Illuminati group turns out to be the vampiress’ equally vampiric lover. All the humans killed in the middle were just callous sacrifices to the fact that living for centuries has a way of ruining the fun of sex. Violent role playing prior to renewing vows with monster sex.

If you aren’t thinking – “wow, are there ways to tell that story about a human billionaire and his bored wife setting in motion a violent set of events designed to renew their spark?” – you aren’t paying attention. Maybe the plot of Fifty Shades of Grey Part Five: Fifteen Years Later? Please, anyone? I can dream.

What was my actual advice? I used up a lot of paragraphs saying this writer should put aside the vampire for the moment and come up with a character that wants things from other characters likely to be resisted by the other characters…drama. The writer stays away from the vampire just long enough to figure out the story between all these characters writing either a non-bloodsucker trash draft or a serious outline. And then adds the vampire back in later.

Like the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich thought experiment to teach people to give precise directions, I said something that wasn’t fully explained in the previous sentence. I said they should read the trash draft or outline and decide who in that proto-story acted most like the vampires they wanted to present; that character is the vampire and everyone else are the humans.

What I didn’t say is that I felt sure that this writer waking up one day saying, “I’m going to write a vampire novel” would have their subconscious mind do the heavy lifting guiding one or more characters towards behaviors easily switched out for a vampire later in the process. My bad, even when we give incomplete directions the world still lands on edible PBJ sandwiches…most of the time.

Even reading this suggestion back I’m a little bored so let’s go nuts with my second suggestion to do the same thing, develop a story that can then be adjusted to vampires later. My second simpler suggestion, pick a story that doesn’t have vampires and rewrite it so that it does. Pay attention, this is where writers of posts like me expose our favorite books; I used Three Musketeers as one example.

Which of the many rich characters in Alexandre Dumas’ classic would most likely be revealed as a bloodsucker? And depending on the choices how does it change the story? Do we go with Milady De Winter, famously played by Faye Dunaway the only time I could stand watching the movie? Do we go with Cardinal Richelieu? Athos? Porthos? Aramis? Le Comte de Rochefort? Or even D’Artagnan?

Considering that Dumas sneaked two books into one serialized narrative we have choices. The first part, The Queen’s Diamonds, shows young D’Artagnan arriving in Paris with his father’s sword to make his way as a musketeer. The Gascon quickly makes friends with the three friends, falls in love with the Queen’s trusted handmaiden, Constance, and saves the Queen from the political and personal consequences of a rashly thought out affair.

The second section, Milady’s Revenge, starts two or three days later and Milady De Winter simply wants to wipe out D’Artagnan by all means expedient. Cardinal Richelieu lets out a big sigh and writes her a warrant making the impending violence legal, largely because the lady is good for all kinds of dirty deeds done dirt cheap. People die.

The cardinal revealed as the vampire in the new version turns the story into a metaphor about great players divorced from the rest of humanity by their position and perspective, or more than is already on the page. As always, I have few opinions about pitches until I see something on the page, but the great Christopher Lee (Rochefort in the Salkind production) did once quit playing Dracula in the Hammer movies when he saw a script where the vampire pretty much had become Dr. No. But, hey, good writing saves many silly pitches, we’ll see.

For those of us that paid attention reading the book, Milady De Winter is so obvious a choice to be nominated the vampire. Especially in the later revenge chapters she tries everything, poison, seduction, threats to Constance and hired assassins just to wipe out the uppity Gascon and his annoying musketeer friends. She will not lose.

The later chapters are already an awesome cat fight between women tied up too tight in whalebone corsets with D’Artagnan caught in the middle. Milady also needing to drink Constance’s blood? Wow! I’ll skip the other possibilities for space and repetitiveness and trust the reader will spark their own story engines.

Cool! I busted out 1,500 words suggesting a good way to get past this scene where a writer grips their head, “Twilight is such a huge thing that I don’t know what to do!” Develop a story that works without vampires and see where that takes you. It may help and sure is more constructive than the many repetitions of, “do the exact opposite of Twilight,” or “vampires don’t sparkle ever” in the feed. Though the people saying to read a wider set of vampire stories for ideas, I think are trying to get to the same place as me in fewer sentences.

With that this post is over, go home! Carry garlic with you…

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