I finished my re-reading of Bram Stoker's Dracula last night and it's forcing me to rethink somewhat the novel I am writing for Nanowrimo.
The original idea was to recast the story so that Dracula is a psychopath, a serial killer such as those the criminologists and psychologists have studied so extensively in the last couple of decades. Thus melding my own fascination with old horror and new psychopath thriller genres.
But re-reading Dracula has put me in doubt. It reminded me of what I love about the old Dracula, and how it intersects with some rants of my own.
One of the first and most important differences between Dracula and the new vampire genre is that Dracula is a monster. We are grossed out at the thought of this filthy, evil dead thing even touching our loved ones, let alone sticking his nasty, filthy mouth on them and sucking out their blood, their life force. EWWWWW!
Now, of course, vampires are sexy, sparkly, tragic heroes and cool, too - we all want to be one.
The point that Dracula turns upon is that the vampire is an abhorrent monster and it would be better to be killed by your loved ones with a stake through the heart than to live as a vampire. Everything is about saving Lucy, and Mina, from that fate worse than death.
There was never any doubt that the vampire in my novel would be a monster. Whether that monster is supernatural, or human is the only question. Like I said, I set out to make him a "mere" psychopath - but I am now feeling like I'd like to reclaim that old monster the vampire - whose characteristics are so neatly set out by Van Helsing in this novel, and that has been so twisted and changed in modern vampire novels.
Movies, and plays, are a different media from books. They are constrained to re-tell a story as simply as possible because of both time and financial constraints. In the book, Dracula, a great deal of the book is about Mina and Lucy, the four men who love them, and later Van Helsing who comes to love the whole gang of them as if they were his own children. Six main characters (eight if you include Lucy's mother, and Renfield) and the four story lines - first Jonathan Harker being more or less kidnapped by the count, Mina taking care of Lucy and then Jonathan, Dr Seward and Lord Godalming and Quincy Morris, and later Van Helsing all fighting for Lucy's life, then six of them gathering together to solve the mystery of her illness and to put an end to Dracula and save Mina - all of that is not a story you can tell simply in 90 minutes. Thus most of the modern treatments have sometimes left a good many of these characters out altogether and concentrated on the Harkers - Jonathan and Mina - and the wisdom of Van Helsing. Renfield gets included and generally gets a much larger part than he has in the book (he could easily be left out completely) because - face it - the madman fascinates us. But in those treatments we lose the marvelous friendship and relationships between all of these characters, which actually leaves out the bulk of the book.
Also, of course, especially in movies - the strongest part of the story is the pursuit and killing of the vampire - the action. I like an action movie as much as any guy - but again, that leaves out the bulk of the story which I think also loses a good part of the psychological horror; the long, slow buildup from Jonathan's kidnapping, to Lucy's death, to the attack on Mina as our six characters come to pool their information, add some investigation, and come to the irrefutable conclusion that the supernatural monster is real.
In fact, in the book the big action scene - the pursuit - the actual killing of Dracula - is almost an anticlimax, taking up - according to my Kindle - something like 10% of the text.
Mind you, I had intended a big, climactic fight scene when my hero finds that Dracula is awake during the day (being a "mere" human psychopath) and has to kill a very much awake and physically strong and experienced killer while armed only with a knife and a wooden stake. See, I love action, too.
Another difference, that has changed slowly in movie treatments – the pendulum swinging first one way and then the other as women’s roles changed in society, is the character of Mina Harker. If you haven't read the original Dracula, you don't realize that Mina was a woman of her time. Sweet and devoted to her friend and her soon to be husband. Van Helsing describes her as "a woman with the mind of a man and the heart of a woman". The men adore her even more for her agile mind, and her courage and strength in helping them. She is not a helpless waif who needs a man to protect her, but neither does she put on men's clothes and pick up a sword. She is that especially admirable woman who is very much feminine, and courageous, intelligent, and kind. Her loving nature is her greatest strength. The Earth Mother, whose men are devoted to her and who supports them every bit as much as they take care of her. She is their source of strength. Much too complex a character to do justice to in 90 minutes or so.
So here I sit with almost 20K words of a loving newlywed couple that so far have no other attachments and my Gabrielle is no Mina. And I’ve just decided that one of the most important parts of the original novel is the six loving friends working together to defeat the monster. I've also concluded that it is psychologically important that it takes all six of them, working together, to defeat this one monster.
No wonder I procrastinated an entire day away yesterday!
But I think I’ve solved it, at least for now. We all know that Nanowrimo is about the word count and that this is a first draft that will clearly need rewriting. So for now I’m going to return to the beginning and write a prequel introducing the other characters, who can then be woven into and through the parts already written (later, later), and then pickup where I am again and go forward. So it will be a mess – it’s a Nanowrimo novel, of course it is. But by golly, it will have 50,000 words!
And sometime in the next week I’ll have to decide if the vampire is supernatural or psychopathic. Or both.