Tag: vampires

Guest Post: Margaret L. Carter – Making Monsters (#writing post)

Unleaded: Fuel for Writers is pleased to host horror, fantasy, and paranormal romance novelist Margaret L. Carter as our Guest Blogger for Saturday, March 26, 2016. She has written for you a fantastic, post about making monsters and the careful thought and detail necessary to make them fully realized characters. Something that can be a little harder than it looks, especially if you are just starting out.

Monsters need to be as carefully considered as your heroes (even more if they ARE the heroes), otherwise, they aren’t really characters just 1-dimensional one-note “dolls”, mindless bloodthirsty “critters” or mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplashes, chewing scenery and monologing about the evil they will do.  BUT, with Margaret’s notes, we have a little help in thinking about how to make our monsters just a little more “real.”

You can find information about her published works, filled with the monsters the adores – vampires, werewolves, ghosts, dragons, and more! dragons, and the discontinued fanzine THE VAMPIRE’S CRYPT (all issues still available in PDF format) on her website: Carter’s Crypt.

Making Monsters

Suppose you want to write a story or novel featuring vampires (my specialty)? How do you decide on their traits—powers, weaknesses, nutritional requirements, method of acquiring blood (or energy, if they’re psychic vampires), attitudes toward ordinary mortals? One of the strongest attractions of vampires as a literary motif, in my opinion, is that there are so many different varieties of them in folklore and fiction. No matter what kind of vampire you want to create, you can probably find a precedent for it somewhere.

view-of-a-church-in-the-countryside-victorian-woodcut-engraving-dated-emj53hHow much blood do they need and how often? Do they habitually kill when they feed? Are they completely nocturnal? Do they involuntarily fall into an undead coma at daybreak or simply prefer to rest by day? How do they react to sunlight? Does it destroy them (a trope invented by the silent movie NOSFERATU, not found in classic fiction of the nineteenth century or in folklore—legends that prescribe a return to the grave by sunrise imply that daybreak simply immobilizes the vampire), cause them some degree of pain or discomfort, or not bother them at all? Do they sleep in coffins or require native earth? If sunlight harms them, do they become tougher or more vulnerable to it with age? Do they belong to a secret subculture with an elaborate hierarchy, or are they mainly solitary predators (as I prefer)? What attitude do most of them take toward ordinary mortals? Do crosses and other religious objects repel them? If so, does the effect depend on belief (the vampire’s or the attacker’s?) or is it an objectively real power? If the latter, how do you deal with the metaphysical implications of an objective spiritual force? (The BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER universe appears to be completely secular, yet crosses work on vampires, a fact that is never explained.) Do your vampires radiate a charismatic glamour to seduce their victims? In one novel I’ve read—which presents the undead as terrifying rather than romantic figures—the newly turned protagonist discovers to his horror that the magnetic allure of vampires is just that, glamour. A vampire’s true appearance is that of a decomposing corpse, disguised by a constantly maintained illusion.

In creating her “good guy” vampire, Count Saint-Germain, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro said she compiled a list of folkloric vampire traits and gave her Count the most common ones. (A few, however, she definitely borrowed from Bram Stoker, such as the lack of a reflection and the need to rest on native earth, which he seems to have invented.) If you don’t already have a fixed idea of what your vampires are like, you can survey folklore and fiction to pick out the characteristics that work best for your story. Did you know that some folkloric undead, rather than being the nearly godlike immortals of many novels, have a strictly limited lifespan after which they “die” on their own? There’s one legend of a type of vampire that goes through several transformations in the course of its postmortem existence, at the end of which he or she can pass for human and travel to a different area to start a new life. While some folkloric vampires conform to the older assumption (as exemplified by Saint-Germain) that the undead can’t engage in normal
sexual relations, others have a lusty reputation of visiting their widows and fathering dhampirs. You might decide to use a folkloric element that hasn’t often appeared in fiction, such as the belief that you can entrap a vampire by scattering small objects such as seeds on the ground, because the monster has a compulsion to count them one by one. (An X-FILES episode included that detail.) In one of my stories, I referenced the superstition (I forget which European ethnic group it comes from) that you can defeat a vampire by stealing his left sock (raising the question of how you can tell which sock is the left). My vampires, who belong to a naturally evolved species, not supernatural, drink milk as well as blood. I got the idea from Guy de Maupassant’s classic tale “The Horla,” in which the invisible vampiric monster drains a glass of milk in the night, and also from folk beliefs in some regions that vampires dry up cows’ milk. Terry Pratchett’s vampire clan in CARPE JUGULUM struggles hilariously with all the best-known traditional superstitions as well as some lesser-known ones such as the sock thing.

The same principle applies to other monsters such as werewolves and zombies. It seems to me that, if you don’t already have your monster’s traits mapped out in advance, it’s always a good idea to revisit the folklore and observe how movies, TV, and fiction have developed or altered the original source material. You might come across a little-known legendary characteristic that could give your work a fresh slant. Do your werewolves get infected with lycanthropy by being bitten (another trope invented by the movies)? Or do they follow the folkloric pattern of becoming werewolves through a curse, a voluntary transformation by way of dark magic, or inheritance from a cursed ancestor? Do they change only at the full moon? Can they control their transformation and suppress or perform it at will? Are they aware of what they do in beast form, or do they suffer a kind of Jekyll-and-Hyde change where a different personality takes over, as in the classic horror movies of the 1930s? Do they live in packs? Are they literally people who sometimes change into wolves, or are they more like wolves with the power to become human?

Ghosts raise their own set of questions. Are ghosts in your universe conscious entities or mere psychic traces left on the atmosphere? If a ghost really is the spirit of a dead person, is it bound to a certain spot (or object) or free to travel? Is it tied to the place of its death, the location of its body, or a site with some emotional meaning for it? Can it affect the physical world at all and under what conditions? Can it change its appearance? How much memory of its mortal life does it retain? Does your ghost yearn to “go into the light,” or do you assume its spectral existence on this plane is permanent? Is there any way for it to regain a corporeal body?

MomentoMoriDCShakespeareIn creating a “monster” such as a vampire, especially if the monster is your hero, you might consider why vampires attract readers. In particular, what is the vampire’s main allure for you? The eroticism of blood? The intimacy of sharing the essence of life? Immortality and the perspective gained by living centuries or millennia beyond a normal human span? The image of the rogue or fallen angel whom only your heroine can redeem? The plight of a character whose survival compels him to live among ordinary people while hiding his true nature? Whatever constitutes the core appeal of a vampire, werewolf, demon, or other “monster” for you, you can endow your characters with traits that embody that appeal. In creating my naturally evolved vampires, I wanted to keep the erotic overtones of blood-sharing. I justify this detail by postulating that an intelligent predator would rather not draw attention by violence and killing. So my vampires don’t have to kill when they feed, and their powers of hypnotic seduction make their donors eager to be fed on. Vampiric mesmerism also enables them to make victims forget being bitten. Another major attraction of the vampire for me is the concept of a creature who looks like us but isn’t quite one of us and therefore has a skewed angle on human existence. (It’s the same reason I find Mr. Spock fascinating.) So I enjoyed creating vampires who have never been human and never can be. Yet because they grow up among us and have to pass for human to survive, they can’t help picking up human behaviors and attitudes no matter how they resist that process. In fact, they’re so adaptable in childhood and adolescence that if care isn’t taken, a young vampire can develop a phobia of items that can’t objectively do them any harm, such as crosses—to the extent that they might suffer psychosomatic wounds from contact with such items. As another consequence of their non-supernatural origin, they can’t transform human beings into vampires, so a vampire in a cross-species romance faces the risk of falling in love with someone he or she will almost certainly outlive.

Whether your monster is a villain or a hero, a detailed conception of its origin, nature, and characteristics will help to make your portrayal of the creature fresh and vivid. You can deviate widely from the audience’s stereotypical expectations (e.g., sunlight kills vampires, silver kills werewolves) as long as your concept is consistent, coherent, believably rationalized, and clearly presented early in the story.


mcarterpaintingMargaret L. Carter received a B.A. from the College of William and Mary, M.A. from the University of Hawaii, and Ph.D. from the University of California, Irvine, all in English. She has taught literature and composition courses at various colleges and presently works as a part-time proofreader for the Maryland General Assembly.

Her first two books were paperback anthologies, CURSE OF THE UNDEAD andDEMON LOVERS AND STRANGE SEDUCTIONS. She has published several works on vampirism in literature, including SHADOW OF A SHADE: A SURVEY OF VAMPIRISM IN LITERATURE, the anthology DRACULA: THE VAMPIRE AND THE CRITICS, and THE VAMPIRE IN LITERATURE: A CRITICAL BIBLIOGRAPHY. Her stories have appeared in several of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkoveranthologies, and her “Voice from the Void” appears in THE TIME OF THE VAMPIRES, edited by P. N. Elrod and Martin Greenberg. The Design Image Group published her werewolf novel, SHADOW OF THE BEAST, in 1998. Her vampire novel, DARK CHANGELING, appeared in electronic form in June, 1999, from the Hard Shell Word Factory and won the 2000 Eppie Award in Horror.

Two vampire romances in the same universe, SEALED IN BLOOD and CRIMSON DREAMS, and WILD SORCERESS, a fantasy novel in collaboration with her husband, Leslie Roy Carter, have been published by Amber Quill Press. Other fiction is in progress from Ellora’s Cave andAmber Quill.

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WWW: Foreign Horror

Yes, I’m continuing a biweekly look into horror that started by exploring whether giant monster movies are really horror, and why traditional horror characters have become teen movie cliches.  For anyone who wants a more traditional Duotrope trolling this week, it’s available over on my blog, but for here I want to look at what may be the last installment: what is it about foreign horror that scares us more than domestic?

Closing out my discussion two weeks ago on why vampires appeal to teenagers I mentioned the odd Chinese vampire.  Really, vampire myths are almost as globally universal as flood myths.  In Chinese the vampries, or jiang shi, are decomposing corpses that hop forward with their arms stretched out in front of them, feeding on the life force of those they encounter.  This might not sound immediately scary to a western audience.  It’s almost comical, as perambulation by hopping is a rather silly way of getting around associated more with rabbits and kangaroos than the living dead.  But the idea is unquestionably different than the standard view of a vampire in the western world.  They might be ugly, but they’re typically not rotting, and they skulk instead of hop.

And that gets to the core of the power of Asian horror over the American market.  It’s different.  And we fear the different.  I don’t mean that in a xenophobic sense, but any culture grows up with its cultural myths.  In modern America that includes the myths given to us by professional story tellers in Hollywood, working in television and movies.  They tell us stories of monsters, demons, vampires, zombies.  But they all conform to certain rules within our minds.

That’s why there’s the debate over fast zombies.  We have been taught by Hollywood ever since the original Night of the Living Dead that zombies plod along.  And we’re fine with that.  The menace comes from large groups of them, and really it comes down to avoiding any fatal mistakes.  And in our minds we’re good with that, we know the mistakes not to make, there’s even an emerging literary subgenre that approaches zombie protection from a clinical, if still fictional, perspective.  Then there were suddenly fast zombies.  We couldn’t out run them.  They didn’t get tired, they didn’t give up, and they couldn’t be avoided simply by being smart and being well prepared.  And that’s what scared us anew about them.  They were different, and they didn’t conform to the rules.

And that’s where Asian Horror gets us.  It doesn’t conform to the rules that we’re accustomed to.  American horror punishes people for specific perceived misdeeds.  For being greedy.  For being lustful.  For not appreciating the severity of a situation.  For splitting up.  Any of these things is perfectly fine in everyday life, but in a horror movie is often a mark for death.  But then we have Asian horror.  And it punishes people for being curious and watching a video tape.  For buying the wrong house.  For even just being at the wrong place at the wrong time.  And ghosts aren’t there because they have unfinished business.  They’re there because they hate you and me and anyone else who happens to be in their general vicinity, even if they did everything right.  There’s nothing to reason with.  There’s no obvious way out by just being good and decent.  The ghost wants you dead, and you are going to die.

Freaks me out a little just typing that up.  Eek.

So, to bring this back to the point of Unleaded, how do we use this to our advantage as writers?  It’s hard.  We have to realize that there are rules in place, and while rules are often meant to be broken, it can be controversial when they are.  Lots of people didn’t, and still don’t, like fast zombies.  So while changing the rules can create a creature that triggers new fears within your audience, there’s also the fear of alienating the audience.  But that’s a risk that’s sometimes worth taking, and let’s be frank, we’re not going to always make everyone happy with our writing.  In a way part of the power of Asian Horror is that it’s foreign, so we expect something to be vastly different about it, it’s allowed to make changes because we understand that it comes from a different culture and a different way to think about how to be scared.  We have to be more careful, and beyond that, more deliberate when making our changes.

So play around with ideas.  Break a few rules.  Just be very aware what rules you’re breaking, and make sure to be clear about how they’re being broken.  People want to know how your world works, and if it’s different than how they’re used to it working, it’ll take that much more care to lead them deep into the dark scary forest.

And then.

When the time is right.

Scare the hell out of them.

WWW: Horror, Monsters, and Vampires

Two weeks ago I talked about how monster movies are not necessarily horror movies.  At the time, I was thinking the large scale monster movies, things like Godzilla, Cloverfield, or Super 8, but Day left a comment that got me wanting to explore this differently:

But how about now? Vampires then would have been horror, now we have the Vampire Diaries, True Blood, Blood Ties and several other vampire-oriented programs. And let’s not forget books…*cough* Twilight *cough*

Monsters…but not scary and definitely not horror. So…when did things change? Why did they change? What does this mean for horror as a genre? Do we need to make up new monsters? Or is horror something else? And if so, how is it defined?

Obviously, still musing. Thoughts anyone?

I wrote a long reply to that, but I’d like to expand on it a little further and turn it into a post because, hey, got to have something to talk about.  First things first, I’d like to link to a video from a favorite series of mine Cracked After Hours that goes into the very topic:

What it boils down to is this: Vampires have become what they have in modern culture because they’re an easy stand-in for teens, and represent an ideal where all the awkwardness of the teen years is replaced by getting to experience all that’s good about the teen years forever.  And getting to fly.  And vampires aren’t the only ones getting this treatment.  Having Werewolves as a stand-in for puberty I leave as an exercise to the reader, I think it’s rather obvious.  It may not seem immediately as obvious, but the X-Men are similar.  Back in the 40s or 50s you could easily make a horror movie around most of the X-Men as the big scary monster.  Someone who can vaporize things by looking at them?  A giant blue hairy creature?  An imp that can appear or disappear at will?

But they’re not monsters, they’re just regular people who are forced to cope with puberty.  It’s no accident that puberty is when the series chose to have most mutant powers express themselves.  It’s no accident that they then go off to an awesome high school with the really cool teacher to be around other kids having similar difficulties coping with life changes, but with the promise that they’ll then get to be awesome and save the world.  Yeah, in the movies it’s turned into as much of a metaphor for homosexuality as puberty (“have you tried NOT being a mutant?”), but it’s still a very strong plot line as we follow the teens in the first movie with the already adult mutants as secondary characters.

So vampires?  They’re the teenage ideal.  Werewolves and mutants?  They’re the teenage amalgam.  So where does that leave horror to go?

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that we’re in a zombie renaissance right now.  Some will argue that zombie popularity can be tied to the economic well being of the United States, I’ve seen those graphs, they make sense.  But zombies are also the hardest of the classical monsters to tie into teenage angst, so they’re the monsters that have been free to stay in a more “adult” setting, the classic “they’re going to all kill us” sense that most other monsters have occupied at points, but have moved out of.  People fantasize about being, or at least being with, vampires.  They fantasize about killing zombies.  Come on, you all know that one guy who talks about it and it sounds like a joke, but you know deep down he’s ready to go at a moments notice.  This contrast is why Twilight is the most popular recent vampire book, but the Survival Guide is the most popular zombie book.

And just to close out, let’s not pretend that the modern push towards romanticizing vampires is something new.  While there’s often been the element of grotesque about them, there’s just as long been the elegance and romance about them as well.  They’re stylish European counts who creep into women’s bedchambers to nibble on their neck and make them into their brides.  There’s always been the allure, the charm, the raw sexuality associated with them that any woman can become a pawn.  Is it creepy?  Yes.  And in a completely different way than the several hundred year old falling in love with the sixteen year old.  But it’s been around almost as long as the modern Western vampire has been around.

Now you want scary?  Try eastern vampires.  Hop.  Hop.  Hop…

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How you know the vampire thing has gone too far…

Image via Unleaded contributor Andrew B. discovered at the Scholastic Store in New York city.

Dick and Jane and Vampires Book

In Defense of Sparkly Vampires

(In Defense is going to be a recurring column on what we can learn from those we usually denigrate in the writing field.)

Admit it.  You hate Stephanie Meyer.  You hate her stupid sparkly vampires, ridicule the writing style, think Bella is a twit and Edward is a creepy stalker pedophile, and in general think the whole Twilight thing is the sign of the End Times (at least of intelligence).  You hate it so much you wouldn’t touch anything remotely Twilight tainted with a ten-foot wooden pole with a pointed stake end.

I’m here to tell  you that you should get over yourself and see what you can learn about Meyer’s Twilight, and how it will make your writing better.

Why sparkly vampires can be a good thing for the genre

Yeah, so you think that the dumbest reason ever for vampires avoiding the sun is that they would sparkle in it.  It is kind of…different.  But different is a good thing.

On one hand, everyone complains that everything is always the same, that no one tries new things.  Vampire fiction hasn’t changed much since Anne Rice showed the sexier side of the fanged.  Or so I’ve been told.  Then along comes Stephanie Meyer.  She does something different, changing up the myth a little bit.  You may think it is stupid, that it is the most ludicrous thing you’d ever heard of.  But remember this:  at least she did something different.

Go out and try it yourself.  Pick a trope and play with it.  Make your dragons afraid of fire or constructed out the bits of the hoard it collects.  Treat your werewolves to glowing in the moonlight or being brainwashed/trained by followers of the Dog Whisperer.  Make your elves despise iron not because it is any more harmful to them, but because they just think it’s dirty and are Above All That.

And so on.  Pick stupid new tropes, play them straight and serious, and maybe you’ll start a trend.

Other reasons to not look down on Twilight

You can’t argue with her paycheck.  Seriously, slam the writing all you want, but if you want to be as famous and as

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