Sorry gang, but the topic will not be covering actual literary blood suckers, sparkly or otherwise. What today’s topic refers to is those characters who suck the lifeblood out of your story…or who just plain suck.
Some vampire characters come on scene and outshine (out-sparkle?) your main characters. Suddenly your mains feel dull and listless, and even they don’t seem to care much about their conflicts. These are the sidekicks that are more interesting than your main characters, or the Best Friends who are better characters than your Dashing Heroes.
Sometimes, more truly to stereotype, they’re the villains who are so much cooler than the people who are supposed to be the good guys. These sparkly scene-stealers may take your story to a surprising place, but if that’s not a place you want to go, then you owe it to your story to stake these suckers.
You can identify these vampire-boyfriend types (and no, they’re not all men) by asking yourself or your beta readers if they’re on “team so-and-so” instead of “team hero.”
You can also identify these types when your beta readers enjoy what’s supposed to be your “skanky villain sex” scenes more than they enjoy the passionate consummation of your main characters’ longings for each other. If your villains have more chemistry between them than your heroes, you need to give your heroes some buffs to their personalities.
These kind of vampires are the most redeemable, because they are great sequel fodder. Promise them their own story in the sequel, in exchange for toning it down. Or if you’re really in the mood to bring out the vorpal swords, find a way to make them the heroes of the story, since they’re a lot more interesting anyway.
Other vampire characters don’t steal the scene, they steal the very energy from your story. These are the Debbie Downers, and can sometimes be manifestations of your own doubts about your story. Not only should these guys be staked, they should be beheaded and buried in salt and garlic. As writers, we have enough self-doubt on our own without help from our characters’ peanut gallery.
These characters, when they make an appearance in your story, are the ones who react inappropriately or worse–don’t react at all. They ignore the elephant in the room, they crack jokes at funerals, and they’re generally unhelpful to moving your plot forward. Not only that, their inappropriate actions–whether they’re melodramatic or catatonic–also serve to pull your reader out of the story.
The last type of character vampire is just plain lame. He wears a bad costume, or she plays her role in an ill-fitting suit with plastic teeth that make her lisp her lines and drool a lot. Show this character the full sunlight of a good, tough revision and give her part to someone with more life than the undead. The lame vampire will often manufacture Big Misunderstandings in place of real conflicts, or can sometimes end up being Mary Sue Vampire (or Gary Stu)–especially if she’s a main character–this vampire never has any sort of trouble in overcoming your plot obstacles because her super-vampire powers are tailor-made to scoff at your plot problems. Kill it with fire.
Beyond liberally stringing your story with garlic, you can avoid vampires by ensuring your main characters are as sharp and toothy as they can be. It’s your story that’s at stake…