When writing supernatural fiction, I have always found it far more fascinating to focus on what people at one time actually believed, even when dealing with icons such as werewolves and vampires. The fact that these fantastic creatures were once held to be real is fascinating from a psychological perspective, but what if we decided instead to take them at face value? What if we, for the sake of a good story, asked ourselves how these creatures would be if they really existed?
The best approach, I think, is not to ask what these monsters represented–although that in itself is very interesting–but how would they be if they were real. Of course, since what fascinates me is what people actually believed, I am intrigued with what people feared. These legends, if that is what they are, did not originate from warm, compassionate feelings but as projections of fear. Although it would be enjoyable and intriguing to delve into what fears exactly these monsters were projecting, it is their physical reality as held by believers that interests me.
European history, and indeed world history, is replete with hysterical moments where vampires, werewolves, and witches were seen everywhere, causing mischief, bringing plagues, and essentially explaining every sort of calamity. These powerful psychological projections and personifications of fear and misfortune say a lot about the workings of the human mind and about the human condition, but, however fascinating this all may be, from a fiction perspective it is always–well, almost always–better to treat these fictional monsters or psychological projections as if they were real. What if, for example, these hysterical moments were not so hysterical? What if creatures from another dimension, a dark and sinister one, had been crossing into our world in small numbers throughout our history? When writing about a vampire, for instance, what is relevant for me is how would an undead creature actually look, smell, and feel.
Of course, since the foundation of my supernatural writings is based on what people actually believed in and feared, I tend to treat traditional monsters as being wicked, deformed, and extremely powerful. The modern treatment, for example, of the vampire as eternally young and beautiful is a creation of fiction, and it does tend to neuter the myth. When people actually believed in these things, they did not see them as seductive nor as attractive, but as corrupt reanimated corpses. However, I should say, the beauty of writing fiction is that we can create entire worlds from scratch, so that my preference and fascination with human beliefs is not the only way to write about the supernatural, just a way that works for me.