You Are a Killer: Resisting Change in Interview With a Vampire
by Josh Flynn Views: 1949
Our stories, no matter if set in long-forgotten lands, nightmare, or galaxies far away, most often contain strands of our lives—a human experience that allows readers to better connect with the unusual world we present them with.
Anne Rice did just that when she wrote her first novel, Interview with the Vampire, after her young daughter was diagnosed with and died from Leukaemia. The experience is echoed in many ways in her vampire narrative. When we meet Louis he is self-destructive, seeking death following the loss of his brother in the book, his wife and child in the 1994 film.
Story is conflict. And our daily life is ripe with conflicts of varying degrees of difficulty to overcome. Illness and death bring with them a special challenge to continue living a normal life when a loved one is lost.
We want to see our protagonist change from the process of overcoming all challenges that block their goal. But what if the protagonist doesn’t want to change? Does it detract from the story?
Rice tested these waters when she wrote Interview with the Vampire, and the film again challenged the idea by making the central conflict the battle not to change—to not become a monster following great loss.
Interview with the Vampire tells the story of Louis—or rather, is the story of Louis telling his story—a man who “seeks a release from the pain of living.” He gets his wish, sort of, when he meets the vampire Lestat who brings Louis over to the world of the undead. Where Lestat is decadent and lascivious, viewing the living as an all-you-can-eat buffet, Louis fights to retain his humanity. He is contemplative towards his nature and refuses to feed off humans, choosing rats as his food source. Lestat challenges him at every turn but Louis continues to defy his new nature and hold on to what he can of his past self.
One of the primary conflicts Louis encounters throughout the story is parenting. The tests he is faced with include:
- Adopting the child vampire Claudia as a surrogate daughter. He raises her as a parent would while Lestat tries to acquaint her with the vampire life.
- Creating Claudia a new companion—Louis’ first attempt at turning a human. Here the natures of parenthood and vampirism are in direct opposition. Louis wants to protect Claudia, but to do so he must tarnish a human life by turning it into a vampire. When the process is complete, Louis proclaims “what died in that room…was the last breath of me that was human.”
- Louis slaughters a vampire troupe masquerading as humans after they kill Claudia and her new companion. His actions, born from parental love, propel him beyond the bounds of vampirism. He is separate from the monsters. By killing his own he finds power over them.
Through a second chance at parenting, an attempt to protect and avenge Claudia, Louis finds he is more human than the other vampires. He is able to reject their lessons about vampire life—lessons he had searched for from the moment of his transformation—and throughout the decades integrate himself to some extent within human society.
Louis is able to adapt to the times thanks to his insistence on remaining as human as possible, something other vampires struggle to do. The vampire troupe is described as failing to grow beyond their outdated decadence. And when Louis finds Lestat in 1988, Lestat is a shrivelled husk unable to cope with modernity. He has traded his decadence for filth and fear, flinching away from man-made light. Louis, however, seeks it out. Modern technology is a means to immerse himself in human life. Film allows him to watch the sun rise and fall, something that was lost to him two centuries before.
So how does Interview with the Vampire succeed as a story where the protagonist doesn’t want to change?
By making the readers/viewers contemplate whether they would fight like Louis or fall like Lestat if they were tempted with power. This happens by reaching out to readers and testing their natural instincts through devices such as parenthood.
When conflict that everyone can relate to is paired with the fantastic, it allows readers to more fully tap into new realms—be it horror, fantasy, or science fiction. And we see that in Interview with the Vampire. Underneath the vampire story are human emotions and problems—the love of a child, the need for knowledge, controlling one’s destiny and the fear of change.
By connecting the believable to the unbelievable, your readers can easily insert themselves into unfamiliar landscapes. Readers can share in the conflicts your characters encounter. They can celebrate and sympathize with a character’s successes and failures. They can grow with a character or fight alongside the protagonist to retain their core values.
Don’t be afraid to take a reader to places never before imagined. But if you give them something human to grasp on to—even the most basic elements of human emotion—you give readers an experience they can lose themselves in.
Create a character and choose a challenge they must overcome. Set your idea in the modern world so as to contrast it from the second part of the exercise.
- Does your character succeed? If so, how?
- What tools or skills did they use to overcome their obstacle?
- Where do they stand at the end of your story?
Now take the character and the same challenge but set your story in an entirely new world.
- Is your character suddenly some creature or alien?
- Does your character have advanced technology to work with or limited resources in a medieval landscape?
- How do these new settings or new character attributes change how your character approaches their challenge? What skills do they now use to overcome their obstacle?
- Where does the character stand at the end of your story? If it’s in a different place than the first draft, how did your changes to their world change the outcome?
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