The Vampire Diaries is a fantastic show with excellent character development and pacing. Even if you hate vampires – thanks for that Twilight – and don’t want another vampire show, this show is still a great tool for your writing.
This might be something you’re aware of already, but there are some definite feelings when you’ve spent years investing yourself in a story and it ends. There’s some bad moments, some you didn’t care for, and others you cherished. What makes a story worth experiencing is what you learn from it.
With the beloved series coming to an end, I thought I’d go over some things it did and didn’t do well in its storytelling.
Let me start by saying that I’m a big fan of The Vampire Diaries. I think the first season was pretty corny, they grew into the story through season 4, then it all went downhill from there. I’ll get into why later and show you some awesome writing tips, but let me first say that I did like season 5 and 6, and after that the story went horribly, in my opinion.
Everyone has different opinions and we might clash on this. All I ask is that you have an open mind. Discuss ideas and make a healthy contribution to this idea. Now let’s get started.
As Doctor Who’s River Song would say…
What The Vampire Diaries Story Did Well
We focus too much on the negative in our society, so let’s go over some of the good shit.
The Vampire Diaries has great content, excellent writing and a huge fan base. As writers we need to look at the storytelling technique, rather than just the fact that we L-O-V-E-D this show.
Let’s start with a few things that the show did well in its storytelling.
The Vampire Diaries had a lot of epic moments – both big and small.
– Elena and Damon kissing at the motel in Colorado.
– Bonnie and Damon “dying” as they enter the prison world at the end of season 5.
– Klaus and Caroline – all moments they had because seriously, that chemistry.
There were epic mini scenes that took up space in our hearts such as:
– Stefan kissing Elena after she said she loved him in season 1.
– Klaus ripping out hearts and throwing rolled up newspapers through the Gilbert’s window.
– Caroline kicking Mason’s ass as a baby vamp.
– Liz accepting Caroline as a vampire twice.
– Liz pointing a gun at Caroline’s father, Bill, when he held Caroline captive.
There were a lot more, I know. What’s great about these moments is that they’re minor in the storyline, but they make us love the characters. They keep us coming back for more.
Storytelling Tip: Use epic moments to your advantage.
I know you have some. They’re the ones that stick out in your head, that you relive over and over again. They’re the fanfiction stories you want to write, the movie scenes you wish you saw that play over in your mind. Build it up. Don’t go throwing epic moments around like confetti. Spread them through your story and make sure they aren’t every five seconds.
You never quite knew what was going to happen as a viewer. People died left and right, Damon was going around ripping throats out or snapping Alaric’s and Jeremy’s necks, and the whole brother vs. brother thing played out quite nicely.
Tension provides proper pacing in story.
There was always a moment where the reader didn’t quite know what was going to happen before the big action (otherwise known as the purpose of that scene) or when the episode cuts to another scene. There’s tension – even in a split second – where we don’t know what’s coming, but we keep moving forward in the story.
Every episode has multiple things going wrong with several characters involved – and the circumstances just keep getting worse.
– Season 3 episode 5, “The Reckoning” – Klaus traps the gang in the school on Senior Prank Night in an effort to figure out his hybrid issue. It starts with Klaus taking Elena, threatening lives, and Stefan waking up and turning against Klaus for Elena. Tensions rise when Rebekah gets involved, kidnapping Tyler. Then Matt and Bonnie get involved. Stefan has a countdown timer put on him for the rest of group to figure out how to make Tyler a hybrid or he kills Elena.
You can see how the story keeps getting worse for the characters. It had excellent pacing, always keeping you on your feet, and several factors making it worse.
Tension keeps your readers involved with the characters. The Vampire Diaries writers executed this pivotal part of storytelling in nearly every episode. It was part of their style.
Storytelling Tip: Use tension between your characters to move your story forward. How do you do that? Don’t let your characters or your story be predictable, for one. Damon was somewhat predictable because he lashed out, but you never knew what would make him snap, until you looked back on the previous behavior.
Good tension comes from characters with different goals that are important to them. Keep adding on the bad elements to raise the stakes, and always have more than one thing adding tension to the situation.
Extra Tip: Epic moments and tension should play hand in hand with one another.
They make your story. How your characters interact is pivotal, so simply writing about how your two main characters are making dinner won’t cut it. The characters in The Vampire Diaries were loved and hated simultaneously, and they went through things that we as human beings can relate to.
Let’s look at a few –
Elena and Stefan: Love interest, torn apart multiple times, and sometimes on opposite sides of the struggle, especially post-Damon/Elena get together in season 4. This relationship worked because you saw Stefan struggle with his humanity, while Elena tried to keep him that way.
Elena and Damon: This relationship had more tension than most in the show. From being acquaintances, to opposite sides of the struggle, then friends, then lovers. There was always Elena’s relationship with Stefan pulling them apart, and even after they got together, their choices had an impact on their relationship, too.
Damon and Stefan: These brothers go from a love to hate relationships faster than you can take a breath. They add tension to the story, epic moments of brotherly love and betrayal. That bond that lasted, despite a promise of eternal misery, caused the viewers to cheer them on in their bromance moments.
Klaus and Caroline: Fans broke the internet over a phone call because writers knew how to tease well. Over season 3 and 4, the Klaroline storyline was sprinkled into the show, giving viewers a taste of them. When the Originals left at the end of season 4, the crossovers hit record high numbers because of these characters. This relationship had opposing forces in the storylines pulling them apart – Klaus being the bad guy and Caroline’s loyalty to her friends – but they were still attracted to one another. It helped the fans think about bad behavior of the characters as something we all partake in, and forgiveness is possible.
The Mikaelsons: We see a dysfunctional family dynamic that is chock full of constant betrayal and secrecy, but we also see a bond that is tested and lasted centuries. This relationship between siblings (and their parents) showed us the humanity in the monsters. It worked well because despite their “always and forever” bond, we constantly saw conflict pull them apart. At any point in The Vampire Diaries or The Originals you didn’t know which side each of them would be on.
Liz and Caroline: The lack of a mother-daughter bond in the first season morphed into a healthy relationship throughout the series. We saw a teenager and her mother unable to connect with her, then a baby vampire figuring out her place in her new world while her mother hunted her kind. We witnessed her mother understand vampirism for her daughter twice, then eventually accept her completely and protect her from the council that she was once a part of. When Liz died of cancer, we felt that loss for Caroline, and it stuck with us.
These are obviously not all the relationships in the series, but they’re a few notable ones. The relationships work because we see turmoil. They fight, cry, work side-by-side and fight again from episode to episode. We see loyalty, betrayal and love from all types of relationships. We see our characters challenge each other, force the other to come to term with something and grow.
Relationships in this story are well written because as the viewer we can put ourselves in their place.
Storytelling Tip: Write down the relationships your character has, then figure out how you want the relationships to begin and progress. What do they bring to the progression of the story overall, and the development of each other’s character. If you want to add tension between them, ask “what would cause conflict between these characters?”
Your characters can’t always be on the same side, even if they’re mother and daughter, or best friends. Sometimes they need pulling apart to help them find their way separately and grow.
What can go wrong will go wrong. It’s what keeps stories from burning out.
In nearly every episode of The Vampire Diaries the characters had a mini-problem. They thought they could kick ass, then ended up failing.
Some examples are:
When they thought Mikael was going to kill Klaus, but he ended up killing Mikael instead in season 3.
– When Damon realized that Katherine was pretending to be Elena in the season 1 finale/season 2 opening. – Then she caused a rift between the brothers immediately, and killed Caroline, declaring war and turning her into a vampire.
– The gang goes to the island in Nova Scotia for the cure and there’s a mess of bad occurrences – the natives on the island, the hunters, Silas appearing, Katherine killing Jeremy, the cure disappearing, plus conflict inside the group caused multiple bad things to happen in the story.
– Klaus kidnapping and killing Jenna, Elena dying, Elijah betraying the group, Klaus escaping, and all their work did nothing.
These moments make you love and hate characters. Apply this type of luck to your characters and your story will thrive because your characters can’t always live happily ever after. They can’t always win. It’s not plausible.
Storytelling Tip: Make a list of some of the worst possible things you could do to someone in your character’s situation. Now make it happen to them. I know how much it sucks to kick your character while they’re down, but it needs to happen. It makes them stronger, and helps them develop.
New take on an old story
Vampires, werewolves, and witches are everywhere, but the way The Vampire Diaries and The Originals developed their mythical creatures is different from any others I’ve seen. Unlike Buffy (which I love by the way), which makes the vampires become soulless killing machines automatically, vampires in The Vampire Diaries have an on/off switch for their emotions. They’re still people, but when the heightened emotions become too much, they can turn off their humanity.
Vampires are sort of like a different species – the prey that became the predator after their transition period post-death. They have veins crawling up their face when they’re hungry or angry, and compulsion abilities to control the mind. The best part is that you get to learn where the vampire species came from – and it’s a story about family. It’s not some demon from Hell or a pact with the devil.
Witches in the series practice magic in connection with spirits, or their ancestors, which gives them more power.
And it kind of sucks being a werewolf. It’s a curse that breaks every bone in your body when you turn, and they’re weak when they’re human.
Hybrids, magic siphoners, ancient immortals, sirens – their versions are much different from the shows that came before them.
Basically, putting a new spin on an old legend can work.
Storytelling Tip: Develop your story with a new take, even if you think it’s all been done before. The Vampire Diaries is about vampires, witches and werewolves, but it’s also about friendship, love and family. Write down all the crazy ideas you have regarding your main ideas.
Their hair is white. Their skin turns colors. They can fly. Write it all down, then look at it later when you try to work it into your story. It might be crazy, but so is sparkling vampires.
You never knew who was going to die and Julie Plec was not afraid to kill someone off. That’s part of what made the series great in the beginning. No one was safe.
Unfortunately this tapered off into something else I’ll go more into below, which caused the story to lose points – Resurrections.
Character deaths meant something in the story though. Vicki’s death in season one spun into several storylines until the end of the series. Kol’s death in season four not only strained the Mikaelson’s story in The Vampire Diaries, but also started several storylines in The Originals. Bonnie’s first death completely changed her character’s development from a witch, to ghost, to anchor, to witch without magic.
Characters must have a purpose in your story, which means if they die, it has to serve a purpose, too.
Storytelling Tip: Write a death that’s meaningful, if you must at all. Think about how the character’s death will move your story forward. Will it affect the characters connected to them? If so, how? This is how you make deaths meaningful.
Liz Forbes, Caroline’s mother, dies in season six. Her death was a catalyst for Caroline’s character to do one thing you thought she never would – flip her humanity switch and start killing people. This pushed her character forward and made her become everything she didn’t want, only to claw her way back.
Can the death force your character to become what they hate most and try to make up for it later? Can it cause them to change for the better?
What The Vampire Diaries Story Didn’t Do Well
There’s a downside to every story. You can’t get past it because if you have hardcore fans, they’re going to see it. There are critics everywhere. That doesn’t mean your writing requires perfection. But there are a few things you can do to avoid these issues.
The Vampire Diaries wasn’t perfect, so to dissuade your idea that you must have perfection to publish, let’s go over the bad parts, too. Hopefully you can learn from them, like I did.
Fall Back Conflict: Elena-saving
Their fallback conflict throughout the show was to save Elena, because somehow that girl ALWAYS got into trouble. From human, to vampire, to human again, then put in a mystical coma and being carted around in a coffin. Somehow she always got in trouble. Even after Nina Dobrev left the show, they kept putting the coffin that held Elena Gilbert in danger, during her stint in a magical coma.
When she was human, it was easier. Being human in seasons 1-3 meant she was fragile, so the bad guys used her to their advantage from kidnapping to actually killing her. When she turned into a vampire she had as much strength and skill as everyone else around her, yet the story still revolved around saving her.
– Finding the cure to vampirism.
– Turning her humanity off and everyone trying to turn it back on.
– Getting taken by the Augustine Society, and The Travelers.
– Getting kidnapped by Kai, and Klaus.
– Dealing with Damon’s death, and turning off her memories.
The writers of The Vampire Diaries fell back on it more than they should’ve.
Storytelling Tip: Don’t depend on one character to cause all the problems or be the reason the problems all happen. Storytelling needs multiple factors making it worse, and no fallback because you ran out of ideas. It doesn’t help your story or your character.
Look at your Murphy’s Luck list and create situations out of that. Spread them around to your characters.
Falling back on one character to save everyone
Case in point: Bonnie Bennett
Daylight rings, locator spells, fight Klaus, try to turn Elena back to human before she fully transitions, bring Jeremy back, fight Silas… and the list continues.
It’s great if your character is powerful and kickass, but the character shouldn’t only exist for that purpose. Their existence in the story needs to have a larger meaning, and sometimes they need to push back on being the savior. Bonnie did this sometimes, but multiple characters repeatedly let it be okay that she sacrificed everything for her friends.
Storytelling Tip: If you have someone in your story that’s the fallback savior, then why not make them on the opposite side? In The Vampire Diaries Bonnie was part of the inner circle, but what if she’d been out for herself? Or wasn’t on any side and created some I.O.Us for all the favors she did?
What if her bloodline was obligated to help the Originals instead, but she was on Elena’s side? Talk about tension and character building.
Forcing characters together
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you need to. We tend to get this idea in our head that as writers we can do whatever we want because we control the story. That’s true. We do control it, but the sheer fact that you can do something doesn’t mean it’ll help your story, so be humble about it.
Here are some relationships that either damaged the story or did nothing:
Liv and Tyler: Their short-lived relationship didn’t do much to add to the story, except give Tyler a purpose that disappeared in the show a long time ago.
Stefan and Caroline: Their relationship started out as friendship, which brought a fantastic platonic bond to the show. The writers demolished that unique relationship in favor of a chemistry-less romance that actually pulled their characters back in their growth.
Stefan and Valerie: This storyline was haphazardly thrown into the post-Elena departure. The relationship added tension between Caroline and Stefan, but it didn’t add much value to the story, and Valerie’s character disappeared at the end of the season.
Elena and Aaron & Elena and Liam: I’m combining these two because their purpose was to add tension to Damon and Elena’s relationship once Stefan couldn’t anymore. They were short-lived, lacked storyline progression, and honestly wouldn’t have made much difference to the story if they’d been taken out.
Alaric and Meredith: Although I liked Meredith and she played a part in season 3 and 4, the fact that her character disappeared quickly convinced me that she was a filler character/relationship. Her character’s main purpose was to administer blood to Elena and unknowingly turn her into a vampire for the next few seasons. This gave her character a purpose, but she and Alaric together had no purpose for story progression.
Alaric and Caroline: I didn’t have much love for this relationship in a romantic way. In my opinion, it was kind of odd. As a storytelling catalyst, the only thing it really did was keep Stefan and Caroline apart. Their friendship was much better. Candice King’s pregnancy caused a shift in story, but honestly the writers didn’t have to use that in the story. There are ways around it. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Gemini twins and Caroline’s mothering instinct, but it was one of those random storylines.
Storytelling Tip: Does this character collaboration make sense? Does it move the story forward in a big way? Does it challenge the character’s beliefs in some way?
The best relationships challenge your characters, which is why Damon and Elena, Klaus and Caroline, and Bonnie and Enzo worked. It’s why the friendship between Bonnie and Damon and the one between Stefan and Caroline were so big in the eyes of the fans. Don’t put characters together just to piss off fans and don’t make the relationship last longer just for minor tensions in the story.
When you keep bringing characters back to life, death is meaningless.
The Vampire Diaries gave us a lot of deaths – and I mean a frickin lot – and as someone who loves to see people come back, I say this with the best intentions –
You cannot repeatedly bring people back and expect people to still think your story is good. Why? Because death has to have meaning, otherwise we’ll ask “what was the point of that?”
Let’s go over a few:
Alaric – His death at the end of season 3 had big meaning. It was painful and pushed Elena into her vampire phase, but when they brought him back, it was less epic. We felt the pain of the gang when he died. Don’t get me wrong, I love his character and am glad he was back, but by the time he came back the fans were like “oh, so you’re bringing back ANOTHER character. Great. Can’t anyone stay dead?”
Bonnie – over and over again. I’m not even going to go into that. When they fell back on Elena-saving, the writers also fell back on Bonnie-dying. Hell, they made Bonnie the reason Elena was stuck in a magical coma, and she had to die for Elena to come back. Her deaths became meaningless because all the fans knew that eventually she’d come back.
Damon – He had a lot of close calls, eventually dying in the season 5 finale… then he came back. Again. Season 8 turned him into a soul collector for the Devil (Cade) and he died over and over again.
Stefan – Stefan died in season 5, then came back. He also joined Damon as a soul collector for Cade, dying over and over, but coming back.
Death became meaningless in this show where death was everywhere.
Storytelling Tip: If you’re going to bring someone back, make it mean something, give them a good story and stop killing them, just for dramatic effect.
Not providing closure
In the first season of The Vampire Diaries Damon and Caroline got together. Some less than savory things happened to her – including vampire abuse – and the writers never really closed that chapter. One thing that irked me most about The Vampire Diaries is that they didn’t address this at all.
Caroline becomes a vampire in the season 2 opening, remembering everything that Damon did to her, but they never mentioned it after that. I have to say this was a big miss for the writers – especially considering her best friend (Elena) quickly forgave Damon, Stefan ignored it, her mother became best friends with him, and no one lifted a finger to help. Even if it was only an acknowledgement or an apology, that would’ve helped. An apology wasn’t common with Damon’s character, but they did let it happen with another character, Alaric. They probably wanted to move on from that storyline, but a bit of closure can go a long way with readers, even if it’s just an apology. Providing a small bit of closure addressing that specific issue is something to keep in mind.
Storytelling Tip: Pay attention to your character storylines. If two character hate each other, then are cool a second later, then your story won’t survive unless you show that catalyst. Write the hard conversations. Your fans will thank you for it and your storyline will be better.
Changing the Roots
Once you start a story, you can’t change the roots of it.
The Vampire Diaries did it twice.
It makes the story seem unstable, like the writer didn’t know what to do once the writing foundation was gone.
Once – when the Mikaelsons left to the spin-off The Originals.
Twice – when Nina Dobrev left the show.
When you do this, your story starts to not make sense anymore and your audience will notice. The entire show was based around the idea of Elena Gilbert as the Doppelganger, a weird link to Katherine Pierce, and the two brothers that loved the same women. But that’s only the first layer of the story. As the show goes on, you see that the Katherine Pierce storyline – including her time in Mystic Falls and turning the Salvatore brothers – rooted directly into the Original’s story. In fact, The Vampire Diaries couldn’t exist without the Originals. (Which we saw after they left, in my opinion).
This lead to random storylines like The Heretics, Valerie and Stefan, Cade and Hell, the Armory.
It was all cohesive until The Originals left. I can even include the 5th season, which included Silas, since that storyline opened in season 4.
The show was spun into this story about brothers when Nina Dobrev left. They said that was the story from the beginning, but Elena’s storyline was the main one, and that’s how they spun it to us in the beginning. You can’t just change that. It’s ingrained in your fans. What if Harry Potter wasn’t in the Order of the Phoenix novel? And JK Rowling said that the story was actually about Voldemort or Ron and Hermione the entire time? It wouldn’t work.
Storytelling Tip: Don’t throw in a story just to have one.
Here’s the thing – you can open one loop in writing before closing the current one in a ton of different ways, but that doesn’t mean you should. The writers did an excellent job of opening a new storyline in the series before they closed the previous one –
– Bringing in Silas before the Originals exited.
– Silas storyline leading to the Travelers.
– The Travelers storyline ending with Bonnie and Damon going to the prison world and the Gemini coven coming in.
– The Gemini coven leading to the heretics.
The audience was used to the premise of the first 4 seasons. The other storylines weren’t stable because of it. The audience tends to roll their eyes and get a little fed up when things get crazy in the storyline.
When you’re writing ask yourself, “Does this hold true to my storyline?”
If not, don’t add it.
When you set up your own story, you have all the power with that world.
But every world has rules and when you start to unravel them, your story will fall apart and fans will notice.
Case #1: The Heretics (Season 6) The main story involving Klaus Mikaelson being the original hybrid was a huge part of foundation for The Vampire Diaries. Klaus was the only hybrid that could make hybrids, which made him unique. The Heretics storyline is unbelievable because the writers made the rules of nature say that a vampire couldn’t also be a witch.
Vampire/witch hybrids are badass, don’t get me wrong, but you’re telling me that the oldest vampires in the world didn’t know about them? Why didn’t the Originals turn all the siphoners in the world, then compel them to be loyal to the Original family?
The fact that they exist makes Klaus Mikaelson being a hybrid not that important because guess what? Heretics are hybrids, too. The writers canceled out their other storyline, which was the basis for the show. The storyline with the Heretics was full of plot holes.
Case #2: Caroline getting pregnant. I know Hayley’s pregnancy was a loophole, but when the story went to Caroline’s magical pregnancy, the story got weird. As a viewer I rolled my eyes. I got annoyed as a writer.
Understandably, Candice King was pregnant, and I love the twins in the story, but this storyline made me think as a writer that they didn’t know what else to write. They love resurrections so much, but they couldn’t bring Jo back if they really wanted to keep the twins?
Storytelling Tip: You might be thinking, “well why not? It’s my story. I can do whatever I want.”
Some things are set. Readers get pissed when you change the rules. You can get by a few times, but it’s tiresome after awhile. Imagine reading a blog or website that constantly changes it stance on something. You’d get annoyed that they’re not consistent, right?
Set up your rules, then follow them. If you have to break them, do it epically. Not because you are on a power trip or you’re out of ideas. Sometimes it’s better to end a story on a high note than to drive it into the ground and break apart the world you created. Be cool, writer.
The Vampire Diaries has amazing writers. They knew how to get to you as the viewer, to keep you engrossed, and make you root for the good and the bad characters. In fact, they showed us that there is no good or bad in the world, only opposing views.
Unfortunately, in my opinion as a writer, some of the personal feelings of the writers and circumstances of multiple actors caused the story to go downhill in some ways. There’s an annoyance that comes from readers wanting to know why something isn’t happening on the show, but as a writer, I suggest you take it with a grain of salt. Don’t do something in your storyline that makes it go downhill because you’re annoyed. Play to your strengths in the story and it’ll come out on top.
The Vampire Diaries might be coming to an end, but the storytelling magic continues in The Originals, which is taking its time slot. The series is over but you can learn a lot about writing from watching it.
Do you have any writing lessons you learned from watching The Vampire Diaries?
Share them with me below!
If you liked my analysis and tips, and have another TV show or movie you’d like me to go over, I’ll dive in. Leave me a comment below!