How True Blood Creates a World People Want to Be In

Whenever I find a book that I can’t put down, it often has to do with the fact that I’ve fallen in love with the world. In creating such a seductive world, True Blood has used several elements of the mythic, chronotopic, historic, and genre. I thing  that involving these components play a part in creating a world people want to be in.

With regards to history, True Blood has riffed off of our modern world by creating an alternate history, one where vampires have come out of the closet, so to speak. The power of this alternate reality comes from its attention to detail. For example, “the fake commercials and vampire-rights campaign spots included in the DVD extras are” arguably “wittier than the show itself” (Tyree 32-34). The style and rhetoric of the commercials are familiar to us, but the content is not. This creates a feeling that is both familiar and strange at same time, in a word: uncanny. Also, some of the details go beyond the show itself—like the fact that Jessica, one of the characters, has a video blog at www.babyvamp-jessica.com

There are other details, like in the episode “Nothing But The Blood” when Nan Flanagan, the spokeswoman of the American Vampire League, joins a “live” news broadcast with Reverend Brad Newlin. Everything about the set-up seems familiar: the news-crawl at the bottom of the screen, and the idea of a “live” bout between the ultra-conservative and the ultra-liberal spokespeople displayed for a national audience. The especially nice touch is that Newlin is in Alabama, and Nan is in Tokyo during. That she is in Tokyo emphasizes several things about their world: first, that she is a vampire and can’t come out in the daytime, and second, that Brad Newlin is unwilling to accommodate her by having the interview after dark, which means that Nan is inconvenienced by having to fly to the opposite side of the globe for a three-minute news broadcast; that she does it, and we see her with city lights gleaming behind her, emphasizes that she is in a class above Newlin and can afford the inconvenience.

There are other details that add to the realism of the world: the special vampire airplanes equipped to carry coffins, and the special light-tight hotel rooms, which have mini-bars stocked with overpriced beverages, and that there is vampire porn on pay-per-view. These are small details, but they have the weight of global economics behind them. All of these details—the cell-phones, the discussions between Eric and Bill about who has more money, and the hotel porn—add to the sense that the world we are watching is real. “Vivid detail is the life blood of fiction” (Gardner 26). This is a technique that any author can use when creating a world: elevating mundane details by giving it a twist.

Another thing I noticed about the True Blood world is that there are certain chronotopic centers of action where time slows down many characters are brought together. The one of the major chronotopic centers is Merlotte’s bar. “From a narrative and compositional point of view, this is the place where encounters occur” and multiple storylines cross (Bakhtin 246). During the scenes that take place at Merlotte’s, the camera will pan around the bar as we glimpse multiple plot threads intersecting: Sam looks at Tara; Tara talks with Sookie; Sookie talks with Jason; and Jason talks with Hoyt. Each time we see the different characters interact with each other, it’s like you’re taking the plot threads and knotting them together. Having a chronotopic meeting space like Merlotte’s solidifies the stories and shows that they are all related. Without a chronotopic space like Merlotte’s to ground the story, the different plot threads might separate and float away from each other. In stories with multiple points of view it’s good to have more than one unifying factor.

The vampires are also chronotopic. They are immortal and whenever the humans are around them, they begin to transform their daily routines to fit the vampires, as one character points out to Sookie in the episode “Release Me” during a discussion about what it’s like to date a vampire. Whenever the characters are in Vampire time they enter a countdown until dawn. During the vampires’ flashbacks the appear the same age even though the historic dress around them has changed. The vampires are in a state of non-time. There is a tension between the vampires as well since some of the characters, like Eric Northman, are better at adapting to modern technology and modern values, while other vampires cling to antiquity.

Mythology and chronotope are connected in that they have an impact in something that makes a story appear, both present and “timeless.” The mythological nature of immortal beings is part of what makes the vampires chronotopic. Anything with mythological connotations helps create the chronotopic weight, and I think it’s the weight of the chronotope that sucks the reader out of their daily lives and into the story. Chronotopes seems to be a major part of what sucks a person into a story, it tugs at our minds much in the way that gravity tugs at our body. This is an important tool for writers to know they have: to be conscious of situations, people and places that have chronotopic and/or mythological weight.

  • Bahktin, Mikhail. Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel. 1973.
  • Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction. 1933. New York: Vintage, 1991.
  • “Nothin’ but the Blood.” Dir. Daniel Minahan. Writ. Alexander Woo. Perf. Jessica Tuck and Michael McMillian. True Blood. Season 2. 2009.
  • “Release Me.” Dir. Michael Ruscio. Writ. Raelle Tucker. Perf. Anna Pawuin, Christopher Gartin, Ryan Kwanten, and Ashley Jones. True Blood. Season 2. 2009.
  • Tyree, J.M. “Warm-Blooded: True Blood and Let the Right One In.” Film Quarterly, Vol 6, No 2. pps 31-37. 2009.
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About E.S.O. Martin

E.S.O. Martin is a writer, a California native, and a graduate of SF State's Creative Writing MFA program.
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