How Do I Avoid ALL of the Vampire Tropes and Clichés When Writing About Vampires?

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How do you avoid ALL of the Vampire tropes and clichés when writing about Vampires?

You can’t.

Seriously, you can’t.  If you have a story idea, just write it.  Yes, it has all been done and said before, especially if it involves vampires.  Or dystopian futures.  Or romance.  Or aliens. Or magic.  Or pretty much everything you can think of.

Who cares?  Do you have an idea?  A twist?  Are you mixing in science?  Or back to gothic supernatural?  Horror?  Something lighter?  Does it sound like it would be fun to write?  Then write it.  Later you can decide if it is useable or publishable.  People love this stuff for a reason, and a good story is always a good story.  Just don’t tell the same old story in the same old way.  Tell YOUR version.  Don’t you realize that EVERYBODY ELSE GOT IT WRONG!

I follow a couple of writer’s  Facebook pages, and I keep seeing questions like the title of this blog (or similar questions), over and over.  I used to comment, but I was one of many voices, and lost in the landslide of opinion.  Now, I just shake my head and scroll past.

Your choices are to not write about vampires at all, or just get in there and mix things up.  Play with the tropes.  Joke about them, and laugh with the reader.  Or make them scary, again.  Turn ideas on their head, inside out and upside down.  Build a world with hard and fast rules, or merely guidelines.  Find the source material and mine out the purest elements.  Take the mythology apart for the parts you want, and ignore what doesn’t work for you.

It doesn’t matter who or how many have written about vampires before.  Nobody else in the world has the exact personal mythology as you.  It is made up of all of the stories you have come across, real and fictional, liked or not, and the order they arrived in your life.  You are different from everyone else. Books, movies, family secrets, TV, conversations, cultural traditions, arguments, lucky happenings, personal tragedies; they all affect how YOU see the world.

Tropes and clichés–as annoying as they can be–are our shared mythology.  Don’t fear them.  They are your friends.  They show us that we are similar enough to understand each other, but different enough to learn from each other’s point of view.  They link us to people we have never met.

Don’t let writing what you love make you afraid of being repetitive.  Write the story you want to read.  If you decide you want to be published, then revise and edit to current standards.  It’s hard work, so decide if it’s worth it.

Just remember lots of people won’t like it , no matter what it is.  Make peace with that, or tell them to feck off, whichever is your style.  Hopefully, you will find an audience that loves the world and characters you created, and beg you for more.

Most importantly, and in the words of Noah Lukeman, “Don’t bore the reader.”

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The Low-Budget Writing Program: Part 2 The Monster in My Manuscript

Just when I think there may be some breathing room between culture crises, along comes another one.  Now, almost everyone I know or follow is pointing fingers at one issue or group as being the sum of all the world’s problems.  I think the biggest problem is too many people are screaming their opinions and not taking the time to listen to the real problems.  There is some big picture stuff happening in our culture, but we only see the symptoms.  It’s like those Magic Eye pictures, you have to step back and change your focus, then you see the three-dimensional shark.  Time to wake up, people!

Meanwhile, I will stay in my book-lined safe space and tell you about the “How to” writing books that helped me to understand that the very raw first drafts I scribbled were worth developing into manuscripts, and how I was able to approach revision.

The first of these, and the book I consider the benchmark for storytelling, is “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers” (Michael Wiese Productions, Studio City, CA 1998) by Christopher Vogler.  It analyzes Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey theory, one of the most basic story structures, from the point of view of a veteran story consultant and scriptwriter.  Vogler really delves into why this kind of story speaks to humans, and cites plenty of examples to help you to understand the concepts.  He even gives workbook questions at the end of each chapter to help you apply the concepts to your favorite stories.  If you read through it, with your own finished rough draft in mind, I think you can’t help but see ways to improve your work.  Vogler admits that any and all of the guideline he presents can be broken, sometimes to great effect, but it’s easier to be a breakout writer if you already know what is expected and actually works. [Since posting this, I have had a chance to read the third edition (2007) of this book.  Vogler goes much deeper and broader into the theory, and you really shouldn’t miss it!]

Because of the popularity of  writing stories from the woman’s point-of-view, usually more introspective and self-creative than the Hero’s Journey, many articles are being written to accommodate this shift of focus.  Personally, I haven’t found any of these articles to be half as effective as “The Virgin’s Promise” (Michael Wiese Productions, Studio City, CA 2009) by Kim Hudson.  This book maps out the journey stages of self-awareness found in many Fairy Tales, and the mythical princess breaking out of her tower plotline.  It is similar to the Hero’s Journey in some ways, but widely different in others.  Don’t assume this it is only for female characters, because it is about the idea of growing beyond the role society has placed on you.  In my current work-in-progress it is the male antagonist/love interest who is firmly on this path, and it was easier to understand him once I knew this.

Another way to check your rough draft is to run it past Noah Lukeman, a prominent New York literary agent, in the form of his book, “The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life” ( St. Martins Griffin, New York 2002).  It is written in a crisp, insightful way developed from his many years of reading manuscripts.  (Over fifty thousand in five years.  Yikes!) The first two chapters are full of questions you had better have an answer to, before you send your work to an agent or publisher.  Probably the biggest impression I got from his advice was Don’t Bore The Reader!  Boredom equals an unfinished or discarded book; a book that doesn’t get recommended, and word-of-mouth is the best promotional tool for a writer.  I personally love his Sahara-dry wit and no-nonsense advice.  Mr. Lukeman also has another book high on my reading list called “The First Five Pages” that I suspect will be just as important to read, since that is where you hook your reader into the whole story.

“How to Write a Damn Good Novel” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1987) by James N. Frey is another excellent resource you can use to refine your story.  He covers the usual topics of character, conflict, plot, climax, voice, etc… in a very readable and engaging way, but also covers such in-depth topics as theme, premise, and symbolism in a way that makes sense to the writer and satisfies the reader (and how to not over-use these hidden gems).  The age of this book makes it a bit out of date in the current e-book and internet savvy world, but you should still be able to wield those skills he tries so hard to instill. I won’t re-read it after every first draft, but once a year or so might be a good idea.

Another important book, if the sheer number of sticky paper tags sprouting from the closed book is any indication, is “By Cunning & Craft” (Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati 2007) by Peter Selgin.  He covers many of the same topics as the other books, but everyone has their own spin on the way to address and analyze the questions EVERY writer asks themselves when trying to tell a story.  Mr. Selgin has a deeply insightful way of choosing the tone and style of a particular story, and–more importantly–why.  The subtle nuances of storytelling are his to command, and he will show you by example.  He also encourages you to be as true as possible to your voice, as a writer, while still producing a marketable book.  The chapter on Revision is a well written pat on the head, a tight hug, and some wise words as you are sent on your way.

My internal conflict between the writer’s voice and marketability prompted me to grab onto “The Joy of Writing Sex” (Story Press, Cincinnati 1996) by Elizabeth Benedict with both hands when I found it by chance in a used book store, and to not let go until I had it home.  It was one of very few books that addressed this topic when it was published and completely novel in its approach, although now her advice is the standard model for mainstream novels.  Current trends in off-mainstream books have shifted away from “Less is more” and graphic detail is standard for some sub-genres, especially the many bastard children of Romance and all of the other Speculative Fiction genres, not to mention the increasing popularity of Erotica.  Still, I got a lot out of her examples of restrained detail, along with a greatly increased reading list.  And even this main proponent of “less is more” nearly tittered in horrified fascination as she gave a few examples of the bolder, more graphic writers of her time.  My biggest take away from her book was to be subtle if you can, but if you can’t… go all out!

These are the books I have kept as valued hard copies on my book shelf, and I have saved them for going back to if stuck or confused about my writing.  This is a tiny sample of what is available, so please, feel free to add any books I haven’t mentioned in the comments.  What helped YOU on the road to becoming a writer?  It may just be the one book that will help the next writer coming along.

If you missed it, last week the blog was about “Butt in Chair” and getting the first draft finished.  Next week will be something about how to “Take Over the Literary World!”

My Prestigeous, But Low-Budget, Writing Program

 

 

 

For those of you keeping track I napped my way out of the post-finished-manuscript funk after about 48 hours.  For someone who has problems bouncing back from depression I consider that fairly good.  I couldn’t let go of that fictional world, so I spent the last week typing up the short stories that occur about the same time as the main story.  They may never see the light of day, or they could be freebies for those future readers interested in my world.

So now, I am tackling the Editing…

<cue dramatic music>

While I was writing this manuscript, I realized my extremely shaky grasp of spelling (due to undiagnosed dyslexia) and a high school level of grammar (from thirty years ago-eek!) was just not going to cut in the fast-paced World of Publishing, independent or traditional.  So, OCD Capricorn that I am, I studied, I organized, and I thought it through.

The books I found in my local used book store, because I’m broke, were my starting points.  I learned from Stephen King that my new method of writing was OK, even though it was the opposite of what I was taught.  Terry Brooks explained how to do it properly, like I was taught, but to just keep going if that didn’t work.  Christopher Vogler took me on the hero’s journey in a way I understood, while Kim Hudson gave the female counterpoint.  John Warner taught me to laugh with the muse.  Alice W. Flaherty explained exactly what was wrong with my brain to make me a writer.  James Frey helped me push the story deeper, with hooks for the reader.  Noah Lukeman, while rolling his eyes, and in a Sahara dry tone, explained how to not be a total idiot, and bore my readers to death.

Currently, Elizabeth Benedict is explaining to me that it is OK for a book to have sex scenes, while not overdoing it… unless that is what the story needs.  Next on the pile is my very own Strunk & White, just brought home from a used book store like it was the Holy Grail.  (I’m not kidding, angelic voices sang as it was brought into the house.)  Below that is a couple of grammar books, written in catchy ways that will hopefully push past my weird memory blocks, and giving me a better working grasp of rules and modern usages.

I’ve learned a ton of things from these writers, and they have pointed me toward even more books; both about writing and great fiction that I have missed.  My ‘To Read’ list is massive, and judging what is next is becoming impossible.  Still, I persevere, hungry for more.  And frankly, all this newfound knowledge should have ripped my manuscript to pieces.

But, it didn’t.

It tweaked, it clarified, and it deepened.  It showed me ways to reach the reader without hitting them over the head with my ideas.  While I was learning to tell a ‘damn good story’ with words, I kept finding my characters and story, hitting the important points these teachers were making, over and over.  I started to think that I may have something, maybe something good enough for someone else to read, maybe even enjoy.

It gave me hope.

I have stories to tell, and I’m going to do that.  I hope you’ll join me, and tell me some in return.

Do you have any favorite books about writing?