In 2008, True Blood hit the small screen with a whole lot of blood splatter. Whether you personally loved, hated or were indifferent to the show about small town Bon Temps, Louisiana and its host of sexy, violent (and frequently nude) vampires, True Blood made an impression on the scene. Especially off the back of the Twilight phenomenon and the resurgence of paranormal romance’s popularity as a genre. If you were too old to truly enjoy the teenaged angst of sparkling vampire chastity, True Blood had the solution: sex, drugs and a whole lot of deliciously gory drama.
Our What We Can Mimic articles are dedicated to showcasing the finer, grander points of a writer’s work and how a deeper inspection of inspiration material can help new writers find their feet. So, read below for our top four take-aways from the True Blood TV show.
1. Relationships Beyond the Norm
Character dynamics are what make a story. Be they connections of kinship, camaraderie or conflict. Love and romance is so popular that different facets, ideals and representations have evolved into tropes with particular plot expectations. It’s no secret that good drama comes from the tension and affection between your characters. And I’m a sucker for one dynamic in particular: the one that doesn’t fit in a box.
And the dynamic I love above all others in True Blood is the Maker/Progeny link.
Are they parent and child? Are they lovers? Are they brothers in arms? Watching characters like Eric and Pam incessantly bitch at one another is hilarious, but its underpinned by the knowledge that they have spent centuries in one another’s company. They can scream and argue all they like but the fact that these two distinctly unsocial vampires have held fast to one another is a love story for the ages. We know they’ve engaged in sex together at one point or another. So, are they lovers? Not quite. We know that Eric protects Pam as if she were his child. So, are they parent and offspring? Not really… Pam’s devotion to Eric smacks of a loving master and filial slave, but that doesn’t hit home either. An old married couple fits at times but not always and simple friendship just doesn’t seem to match with their intensity. What the hell is this connection? What binds them to one another? And why does the Master / Progeny dynamic produce differing relationships between Eric and Pam to, say, between Bill and Jessica?
I can’t help it. I love dynamics so intense that they go beyond the normal definitions of human relationships. And the ability to create these dynamics is a huge boon for the paranormal genre. So, if you’re contemplating writing in the supernatural / paranormal bracket, definitely consider True Blood’s use of beyond-normal relationships as something to mimic.
2. Your Setting Should Be Your Mirror
A modern-day vampire romance can be set anywhere, right? Given they aren’t real, there’s an argument for situating vampires anywhere in the world. Though true, True Blood proves that, whilst no context is really wrong, there are definitely settings that are more right.
Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels center around a newly revealed population of vampires, attempting to (or decidedly not attempting to) mainstream into human society. The books, and the series that followed, posed questions of discrimination, fear and the taboo. And where does Ms. Harris situate it all? In the deep south of Louisiana, where racial divides are still present and Christianity (the antithesis to most vampire lore) is strong. Excuse me whilst I chef’s kiss all over this decision.
When deciding where to place your story geographically, ponder the themes and messages of your narrative. True Blood is proof that you don’t have to go for the “easy” option. Not every popular fiction story has to be a Tale of (one of) Two Cities: New York or L.A. You can venture beyond. You don’t need a capital, you don’t need a well-known name and, with enough research, you don’t need to make up a town or city just to mould a fitting backdrop. Lean into your story and find a setting that mirrors, supports and strengthens the tone and message of your narrative.
3. Characters Can Be Useless
Have you ever noticed how every character in a show is significant? No, really. The murderer is always the one who seems the least useful as a witness. That nurse you saw spying the main cast suspiciously is totally in on the drama. Every barkeep, passersby and cabbie… if they’re on screen, they probably mean something and will eventually tie into the story. Which makes a lot of tv writing this days really, really predictable.
A beautiful example of how not to fall into this trap is Ginger. For those who haven’t watched enough of True Blood to really pick up on Ginger, here’s the basic breakdown: she’s a human… No, that’s basically it. Poor Ginger is a human in the employment of Eric Northman, vampire honcho and owner of a popular vamp club. Ginger has been in the service of vampires for so long and has been “glamoured” (mind-wiped / hypnotised) so many times that there’s not a lot of sense left up there in her noggin. In fact, you don’t see Ginger think or do anything of note in the show. For anyone. You don’t even see her working in Eric’s club, despite her constant presence there. She doesn’t poor drinks, she doesn’t handle money. You never see her do… anything. Except scream. She screams a lot. But then, who could blame her? When everything up top is being constantly re-written you’d be shocked by every little thing too.
The important take away here is that Ginger has absolutely no practical use. She’s never a driving force of any storylines, she has no singular talent that the other cast members seek from her. She just kind of… exists. In this floating void of terror amidst her vampire cohorts. And she’s brilliant. She’s funny, she’s awkward and she’s real. And the fact that she’s totally useless makes the cast list more of a diverse representation of reality than and author’s tool-belt, ready to be applied to each dramatic situation. Ginger is not a tool of use to anyone.
So, don’t make all of your characters useful. Make some stupid. Make some big, fat, always-getting-in-the-way, wastes of space. It’ll give you more red herrings for your plot twists and a tone of reality to your world. A character does not have to be useful to be entertaining.
4. Quality Equals Enjoyment… Eventually
I came to True Blood late in the game. Not a fan of waiting for episodes upon release, I binged the show’s 7 seasons back-to-back years after it had finished broadcasting. So, I can’t say for sure the reactions of loyal audiences everywhere when Sookie and Bill’s story came to its… ahem… climax. This is a spoiler-free review so for those who have not watched the last episode of the show, lets just say its final twist is a stroke of genius that I’m pretty sure had more than a few hopeless romantics pulling their hair out. Myself among them.
And yet… there’s nothing I respect more than a show or novel series that makes the right choices over the popular ones and True Blood’s finale is, on a narrative level, the perfect ending. It holds true to each character’s internal motivations. It rounds out the story in a way that says “yeah… that’s finished now”. And yet it still shows a future evolution for the characters after the cameras finish rolling, making the point that these personas existed before the show began and they will continue to exist after. A finale that can do all of that has my vote. And despite the way my eyes got more and more saucer-like the closer to that ending I got (there may have been a few cuss words thrown at the screen!), I go back to True Blood on occasion because I know it doesn’t fade into a pansy rom-com finale. Because I know that it comes to an ending as riotous and dramatic as its journey. I can’t speak on behalf of every watcher, but I’m a firm believer that audiences are smarter than most shows give them credit for. And despite any disappointments in the moment, I think writing with integrity holds on. Like an imprint on the brain… And eventually has you remembering a show or series with fondness. After you’ve had the chance to digest, cry and stamp your feet a bit, of course.
So, when planning out the final act of your story… look at your characters. What do they need for this stage of their lives to be over? What do they need for a new chapter in their lives to begin? What closure is necessary? How will your audience know that this is the actual end; not simply the point you were forced to stop writing? Forget the happily ever afters, forget the neatly tied bow. What do your characters need and how best can you deliver that messy, perfect ending?
Check out True Blood on Amazon Prime!