QUESTION: I write vampire novels. It seems like creating a paranormal or fantasy race is almost like a catch 22. If you stray too far from the norm, readers dislike it, but if you stay too close to the norm, it is seen as a been-there, read that type of thing. What is the best advice you can give for making your race of creatures/humans/ etc. something believable, yet fresh?
Study what other writers have done in fiction and media that is similar to what you want to do.
If you want an intelligent alien, think about the signature aliens in our popular culture. What is it about Spock that attracts and fascinates us? Or Dr. Who? How about ET if you're looking for cute and cuddly?
Or, if you want a scary alien, analyze the ones that scared you to death. The alien in the movie of the same name? The Daleks? The Borg? Why are they so scary?
When you find the core elements that push your and other readers' emotional buttons, then you have the key elements for your own race of beings. That's far more important than building an extremely different race for your book. The outer elements are only window dressing.
When you write one of these creatures as a viewpoint character, you must remember that the reader connects with the human elements of that character, not its difference. Spock, for example, became so wildly popular because he was the outsider, the misunderstood one on the Enterprise. Viewers, many of whom considered themselves the outsider, connected with that element of Spock even though Spock never complained about being the outsider.
In other words, when your creature is the viewpoint character, write it as a person, not a monster. Write visceral emotion when you are writing about monsters who aren’t viewpoint characters.
For vampire novels, your biggest selling points are the voice of your main character, the intensity of your storytelling, and the level of your craft. Difference is further down on the importance scale so don’t let that be your only guide to what you write.