A Glimpse Into Researching for the Make-Believe

July 28, 2011

Articles, Arts & Literature

by Mark D. Evans:

My current WIP—of which I’m currently polishing the final draft—is a vampire story like no other.

“Yeah, yeah.” “Heard it all before.” “There’s no originality left for vampires.” “Vampires have been done to death.”

That’s what you’re thinking, right? Didn’t I tell you I was psychic? And my puns aren’t bad either.

If like me you’re a bit narked off with the objects of lust that our favourite horror creation has turned into, don’t fret because there are those of us dedicated to worsening their reputation—in the best possible way. I suspect most of “us” are here on this website.

“So, what’s this got to do with research?” I hear you wonder.

My vision—or version if you prefer—of vampires evolved from a desire to make them as realistic as possible, while still keeping as many of the common traits we’ve come to recognise (minus the whole sparkling in the sunlight thing). At first you may think that this would take no research whatsoever; that it’s all made up. This couldn’t be further from the truth. With my initial idea for a single book having turned into an epic series (planned series at least), research demanded many years of my time before I wrote the first word.

Without going too much into detail about the specifics of the research (for this would give away a lot of the story further down the line), I’d like to give you a glimpse into the research, which may help you with your own or give you ideas, or at least give you an idea of how much investigation is required for a “simple” vampire book that’s all make-believe.

The Vamps

With realism and plausibility being foremost in my mind, I had to know how my vamps got to the here and now. I had to trace their steps back through time. With fantasy this is easy, because you make it all up, but my story is based in the very real world that we live in. Queue endless research of mankind’s exploits, so I could fit my vamps in to our history. This isn’t even seen in my first book, but it was essential to build the foundation of it.

I also wanted to tone down the supernatural elements, so I had to devise ways of how my vamps could live in our world and their physiology seem believable. To do that I needed to know about the human body first. I don’t pretend for a second to know even a fraction of what the worst doctor does, but I learnt far more during my research than I did at school, that’s for sure. One thing they definitely didn’t teach at school was how long it takes for various parts of the human body to decompose in a variety of environments. Research like this is both gruesome and utterly fascinating.

An Example

Of course, in our real world we have many tales and stories of vampires, and I can’t just ignore those so instead I had to explain certain things away. Here I will give you an example, for it’s a mighty interesting one. One of the coolest flaws with vampires is that they burn in sunlight, and as such I definitely wanted to keep that with my vamps. However, through my research I found out that this was only introduced into vampire lore at the beginning of the 20th century, with the film ‘Nosferatu’, as a way to make a cheap but spectacular (for the day) demise of the vampire. As you may have assumed, my vamps existed before the turn of the last century, creating a problem for me to solve.

Further, I also found out about the beliefs of ancient peoples, where spirits are believed to have drank blood. I came to realise that although the word “vampire” didn’t come about in its various forms until over halfway through the second millennia, the idea or notion or belief of an entity which feeds off human blood has been around since before the birth of Christ.

The Setting

I keep going on about the real world, but this is also where my research got really intense. Not only did I want a creature that people could believe in, I wanted a time and a place that people felt they knew. My first book is set during the very factual Second World War. Few people are left alive who lived through that truly horrific time, fewer still who can remember it. Yet we all have some idea of what it was like through documentation and accounts. It was imperative for me to try to recreate what life was like in London during those years, and make the reader feel like they were there. I believe (or certainly hope) that if the world the reader is submersed in feels real, so will the fictional creatures I place in that world.

The Resources

For the most part, the internet has made the process of research a lot easier. But sometimes you have to figure things out for yourself, and there’s no substitute for a good book. I had countless books on vampires anyway, but over the years I’ve racked up good collections in other areas too: human anatomy, human history, ancient civilisations, World War II, and so on.

Set in specific London locales, nothing could beat a visit to the actual place in my book and having a walk around. I actually did this before settling on my location, and in my book I use real street names and houses for that added touch of realism. I got a feel for the place so I could write about it, and tried to imagine what it must’ve been like back in the old days, and to an extent doing so inspired some parts of the story. I even ended up in the local archives, getting maps of the area before the Blitz, maps of where bombs hit and numerous old newspaper clippings.

To Conclude

I think I have to admit that, certainly in some areas, I’ve done more research than necessary. But I think you should always do more than enough if you want to create a believable story. And though the internet is without doubt a great tool, there’s still something to be said for doing it the good old fashioned way (still, maybe it would be best not to stab your neighbour to study a rotting corpse via time-lapse photography).

There is a point, however, when you have to stop researching and start writing. You can never do all the research in one go, for it’s not until you actually write when you’ll find the holes you never even considered. Try not to use research as yet another form of procrastination—like I did.

If you’d like to learn more about me please visit my site where there is also a dedicated section on my book, No Shelter From Darkness, which also includes a sample.

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3 Comments on “A Glimpse Into Researching for the Make-Believe”

  1. tracey hansen Says:

    Great post. I agree that research is key to making ur story ring true even if its about the paranormal. Will share.



  1. A Glimpse Into Researching for the Make-Believe (on » markaeology - July 28, 2011

    […] 28/07/2011: A Glimpse Into Researching… now available on DarkMedia Magazine, too, with some truly awesome images added by @darkmediacity. Happy days. Related posts:The […]

  2. Top Ten Posts of Week Beginning 25th July » markaeology - August 1, 2011

    […] own site if you don’t plug your own articles, right? So, if you’ve not read it yet, here’s a glimpse into the research I did for my book, No Shelter From […]

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