There’s an excellent thread on Twitter about magic, urban fantasy, and the Dresden Files in particular.
Since my reply to it talked about my frustration with worldbuilding in contemporary urban fantasy and how I respond to it, let me illustrate what I consider to be “good”.
The vampire has been with us for millennia. Before Bram Stoker’s Dracula, cultures around the world had their own stories about blood-drinking undead fiends. Works like “Nosferatu”, Anne Rice’s books, White Wolf’s “Vampire: the Masquerade”, and more continued to flesh out what vampires were about. They became metaphors for sexual assault, disease, and other social anxieties, but equally were cast as darkly magnetic, powerful, and tragic figures on the outskirts of polite society.
So what do we want to accomplish here? Let’s create a vampire with self-contained metaphysics (that is, they don’t require a particular religious or cultural belief to be “true”), a flexible dramatic core (an internal conflict letting them range from Byronic heroes to monstrous antagonists), and a veneer of traditionalism (that is, they operate in the way many people have come to expect). Blood drinking and some kind of physical, supernatural, and social weakness should be present.
- The vampire at its core is the embodiment of a lie, namely that a given corpse is still animated and intelligent
- The vampire derives its strength from the trappings of life - most notably blood - and can sustain the lie of its existence by taking these things from others
- This dependency is supernatural, so e.g. blood in a freezer, synthetic blood substitute, and other purely physical solutions will not suffice - the vampire is a predator of the living
- As the undead, vampires may shrug off mortal weaknesses such as hunger, injury, and exhaustion
- The vampire is susceptible to the pure elements - the primal fire of the sun, clear running water, certain herbs with warding properties, and anything else whose essential purity erodes the lie of their existence
- As a creature of deceit, the vampire is warded off by expressions of integrity - strong vows, overwhelming faith, the establishment of a home as shelter, and so on, regardless of their origin or nature
- Similarly, a vampire may not appear with perfect fidelity in reflections, cameras, or other instruments of accurate representation, although they may not necessarily be invisible - it depends on the vampire’s powers, and how much of a semblance of life they currently retain, but they will never look exactly as they seem to human eyes
- A vampire is incapable of telling the unvarnished truth or entering into pacts or agreements in sincerity
- Skilled vampires can extend their lies to acquire supernatural gifts, such as flight, transformation into animal shapes, and so on - once you’ve lied to reality about one thing, other lies come more quickly
- New vampires arise from the denial of death - someone dying with unfulfilled yearnings, or with a family who refuses to accept the loss, or at the hands of another vampire who wishes to create another of their kind, can become a new vampire
So what does all this give us? A predator, but someone who chooses on whom they prey. Someone who cannot be trusted because their entire existence is a falsehood. Someone who is physically bound by social fences. In short, a character built for drama.