One issue I’ve noticed in a lot of paranormal fiction is scale: getting too big too fast.
All the vampires have a werewolf bodyguard, legions of angels are waiting behind every storm cloud, and the sewers are bursting with more vampires than rats.
In these kinds of stories, it’s almost a given that the protagonist will catch the eye of someone too big for them to handle, setting up a final confrontation with world-changing ramifications. To quote Riley from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “I suddenly find myself needing to know the plural of apocalypse.”
I offer a different viewpoint: less is more. Okay, you’ve heard it before, but it’s still a good plan.
You Don’t Always Have to Save the World
The entire population doesn’t have to be threatened for danger to occur.
This is a secret that small-budget horror films figured out a long time ago, but many don’t take the story as far as it could go without escalating it to global catastrophe. Think Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Evil Dead instead of Underworld or Twilight.
Why not create the opportunity for a few characters to really emote and have a story arc instead of just setting them up to knock them down? The entire planet doesn’t need to be in apocalyptic jeopardy to have an epic story; whether your protagonist is going to die due to a zombie invasion or just being ripped apart by a were creature is equally life threatening; dead is dead.
Ever heard an infant scream bloody murder when you take away their cookie? That’s their whole world right there is sugar-coated floury horror.
Too Many Paranormals Spoils the Soup
Limit the number of critters in the pot, preferably one or two at the most.
To keep a series going, it’s understandable that the feature paranormal—vampires or werewolves or whatever—will find themselves in the midst of other supernatural creatures, often attracted to the area due to a hellmouth, a nemeton, ley lines or perhaps a humble cave beneath a tree on Dagobah.
Putting aside the fact that modern technology would certainly expose the existence of entire packs of these creatures to the world, there always seems to be a corrupt or narrow-view high council or shadow-conspiracy government lording over such creatures, all bent on keeping things secret and punishing those who dare violate laws their subjects might know nothing about.
Instead, keep things on a local level; are there any other vampires even left in the world? What happened to them all? Is your hero or villain the last of their kind?
City Vamp, Country Vamp
Location, location, location.
How many authors know anything about actual trendy New York or Los Angeles night clubs, especially those owned by vampires and demons? Folks, those places spring up and vanish overnight; changing hands is part of a business plan, not a nest egg for immortals to retire in. Think An American Werewolf in Paris or the original Blade movie; those places are traps for the living, but if anything goes wrong, it’s exposure—they need to disappear fast.
Try relocating to the countryside if you want to scare city folk—it worked for The Blair Witch Project—like they did in those early mythology episodes of The X-Files. Paranormals should exist away from most people, preying on or befriending those that risk minimal exposure and allow them to operate as they need or like.
The Vampire Is in the Details
The details: infinitesimally tiny details, the why of it all.
Why are your vampires in Seattle? How did werewolves end up in central West Virginia? Can anyone explain—other than Anne Rice—why witches and vampires can’t stay out of New Orleans? The hidden history of your critters and their migration patterns are important even if they aren’t part of your story; they can still inform it.
Also, why do your creatures look the way they do? Are your vampire’s eyes red or black or blue, and does that mean anything? Do they shape-shift into more muscular creatures or appear strong without any increase in mass? Claws or no claws? If a witch cuts them up into pieces, would the blood or corpses be ideal for spell components? What if mortal hunters want them for their hides, not to save their souls or take revenge?
Films assume a lot simply because they don’t have time for the necessary exposition, and even more must be taken on faith; this is not a good way to write a book let alone a screenplay. If you get too big too fast, you leave yourself with nowhere to go—yay sequels!—and waste precious words covering up your creature’s crimes; unless you have a very unique take, creating a world where supernaturals are too commonplace often becomes dull and tedious.
Craft your critters, place them carefully, and agonize over the details; not only can it feel more realistic, your small-scale intimate epic can elicit as much power and emotion as any plan to devour the world.
To quote Spike—again from Buffy the Vampire Slayer—”We like to talk big, vampires do. ‘I’m going to destroy the world.’ It’s just tough guy talk. … Billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs. It’s all right here.”
Heeding a macabre calling listening to Mother Ghost Nursery Rhymes in kindergarten, Ranson started writing in grade school and filled countless notebooks with story ideas while touring the Mediterranean in the US Navy.
He is the author of The Spooky Chronicles and the vampire thriller The Matriarch, creator/critic for MovieCrypt.com and “ghost writer” for horror host, Grim D. Reaper. His author blog is at ThinkingSkull.com.