Worldbuilding: Help Vaunted

Vampires, disease, chi, breath, and blood; it’s all connected. Western vampires drain the life from people with their blood, while eastern jiangshi steal qi from their victims’ breath. (So if you hold your breath, they can’t find you. As was well-illustrated in sometimes wacky detail in the 1985 Hong Kong jiangshi film, Mr. Vampire.) And both kinds of supernatural killers are known for spreading disease, through bites and evil miasmas. Which gives them a lot in common with mosquitoes. Yes, down to the finding people by their breath. Mosquitoes track carbon dioxide gradients to zero in on their warm-blooded prey. If you can keep that from them, they have a much harder time finding you.

Then again, if you can successfully block a carbon dioxide trail you’ve got something airtight so bugs likely aren’t getting in anyway. Oxygen might not be getting in either. In which case you’ve got bigger problems than itchy bug bites.

So vampires and mosquitoes have a lot in common. Possibly not enough; it’d be refreshing to have vampires that could be warded off by a good swatting. Though maybe these days a good SWATting would work….

What does this have to do with worldbuilding? Research. If you want to build something, say a fantastic version of vampires, you need solid foundations. That often means going back to the oldest sources you can for your research, so you can dig up what was originally written down about a monster, place, or event before someone decided to do a Freudian analysis or (shudder) a post-modern deconstruction of what it really meant.

Don’t make a copy of a copy of a copy. That way lies the blurry gray soulless sameness of AI art and Hollywood Marvel. Instead, think of how they designed the art for Stargate: read all the history, art, and legends, then close the books and create a new vision for the story.

Obviously your ability to dig will be limited by your resources; money, time, how many languages you read and speak, and so on. But persistence can sometimes pull up amazing stuff. I recently found a free article on falconry in Joseon Dynasty Korea, for one; and I’ve dug up vampire lore from all over the place through the years. Modern horror’s focus on the gore and supernatural speed and strength of the vampire ignores the fact that traditionally, once you’ve established that there may be a vampire killing people, the real trick is finding it, so you can deal with the corpse-monster once and for all. Original lore, especially in Eastern Europe, has all kinds of bits on how to track down the vampire’s grave, how to properly stake and/or burn it, and how to trap it in the grave by way of a net, rose branch, or other devices in case you can’t dig it up and dispose of it yet.

Which is a depressingly plausible scenario when vampires spread disease. By the time you’ve pinned down exactly which grave the damned thing is hiding in, your people may be too sick and exhausted to do more than drape a net over the spot and hope to buy a few days for somebody to get their strength back. Cows need to be milked or there’ll be no cheese for the winter. Fields need to be tended. A vampire killing people may not be everyone’s first priority.

Especially if it’s only attacking one family. (Not uncommon in certain areas.) And eh, no one much likes them….

Someone once said that if you watch enough monster movies you realize the problem is less the monster and more people’s reactions to it. Like cutting corners, trying to take advantage of the situation, or just refusing to believe it’s an actual problem until it tries to eat them. Mr. Vampire shows all of these; from fengshui apprentices horsing around with magic (because guys) to rice merchants mixing long-grain rice with the mystically effective sticky rice, to the head of the local police who got his position by nepotism arresting the one guy who knows what he’s doing. Yes, it’s a comedy, but man they came so close to a mass undead uprising.

Yet it didn’t happen. Because enough people paid attention and fixed things once they realized what was wrong. Which takes brains, more than firepower.

Do your research. Help heroes win by their wits!

8 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Help Vaunted

  1. This also works for other monsters as well. Maybe not as well as it does for vampires since vampires look explicitly human. if you don’t know the original lore then you can’t tweak it, tune it on its head _or_ deconstruct it properly to make something that _looks_ new.

    Vampires are just one of the easiest examples to use.

    Still not sure what the conflict will be in Draco, but monsters and reasons for those monsters in a good place to start!

    Liked by 5 people

  2. When faced with an interpretation of folklore, remember it’s all a solar myth.

    That was amazingly popular during the 19th century. One writer famously proved by the standards they used that Napoleon was a solar myth.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. So here’s a thought that comes up when you consider guns vs vampires.

    Vampires are ambush predators.
    They either hide, or blend in until they get close enough to strike.

    So lets say you have your vampire-detecting, thermal-vision, mirror-goggles.
    With garlic-spritzer attachment.

    You scan the crowded club.
    You see one person that might be a vampire.
    Or it’s a trick of the light, or you confused them with the person next to them, or someone that came in from outside recently…

    The question is are you confident enough to open fire with your gun from a distance?
    Or would you want to get closer for a better look?

    One possibility for a vampire-hunting anti-hero/antagonist would be someone who is highly effective, and successful… but with lots of collateral damage.

    They’re effective because they hit first at the slightest sign, but they aren’t always right.

    Then the hero is trying to argue for getting in arms reach of the vampire.

    “We need to double check. I’ll get closer.”

    “That’s where the vampire is.”

    “Maybe. That’s where someone you *think* is a vampire is.”

    “Yeah, and if I’m right, you’ll be grabbed.”

    “It’s worth the risk.”

    “I’ve known people who said that before. They all became vampires eventually.”

    Liked by 4 people

  4. I still haven’t seen Mr. Vampire, but I’ve seen one of the baby hopping vampire movies. That one is a hoot. I will try to find it.

    Oh, and I didn’t know that Wu Tang Collection has a full-movie YouTube channel! Awesome!

    The unbelievably weird but fun Lady Iron Monkey. The Hong Kong dubbing is funny too.

    Do not watch this for believable makeup or effects. Do not expect great drama. Treat it like a martial arts Chinese play. It cheers me up whenever I watch it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Okay, I found the toddler vampire movie in question. It has the highly misleading title “Five Venoms Vs. Wu Tang” (because three of the guys from the Venoms movies are in it), and is also called “Vampire Busters” and some other names.

      It was part of the Wu Tang Collection DVDs, but they must have lost the rights or not put it up yet.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. You know, they use dry ice to trap ticks to study populations, because they use the same “follow the breath” trick….

    :sudden mental image of a vampire that is *really lost* on a movie set, because they’ve thrown dry ice all over the place to make the Super Creepy Cool Fog:

    Liked by 1 person

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