I’ve finished the rewrites for my gothic weird fiction novel, The Crows, which started life as a light-hearted paranormal mystery with strong weird romance B-plot. Since I had a fair few romance readers/writers reading that version, I cheesed up the romantic side a bit and had a go at cozy mystery in a paranormal/urban fantasy setting, but it’s come a long way from that version!
I’ve noticed that there aren’t many of us writers identifying as gothic horror or gothic- anything, so I thought I’d do a quick ‘what is Gothic’ post, just for fun.
There are lots of sub-genres branching off, which I’ll explore in the next few posts!
EDIT: The Guardian has done a brilliant gothic novel in pictures post to help explain the key features of the classics in the genre. Note the xenophobia, classism, racism, etc., prevalent in British nineteenth-century popular thought. I’ve left the ‘everyone who is not a white middle class Protestant is scary and Other’ out of my list, which is aimed to cover contemporary stories too. Unless you’re critiquing this, avoid avoid.
You Know You’re Reading A Gothic Story When…
- Darkness is a theme, symbol or setting
- Corruption is a theme, symbol or setting
- Monstrosity or the grotesque is a theme, symbol or setting
- The protagonist finds themselves in an isolated location [literally or figuratively but often both], and experiences feelings of alienation
- Mental and physical health is in decline, often echoed by the physical setting/landscape
- There are explicit references to folklore and/or superstition and/or the [usually dark] local history of the setting or of people connected to the setting
- Transgressive acts are committed, usually against socio-cultural norms or in opposition to the status quo, which can include the Church/representatives of organised religion. These acts are often subversively erotic in nature, but could also include various kinds of crime, such as theft, arson, murder, blackmail, you know, the classics
- There are strong elements or overtones of eroticism, particularly sexual taboos, forbidden or “unnatural” lust (so be warned that a lot of gothic horror stories and films have CW for incest in particular, but there might be taboo erotic elements with the ‘monster’ of the tale too, if the monster is literal rather than human)
- The Loner/The Outsider is a label that could apply to at least one character, as well as to the protagonist themselves. They may be symbolic or representative of the story’s themes, or perhaps a fractured part of the protagonist’s own psyche, and may not be a fully-fleshed out character
- Death, the afterlife, occultism, witchcraft (usually as transgressive/subversive activity), magic and the paranormal are all elements that can show up in the story
- Power imbalance is often a major plot point. Often the villainous characters will be members of society’s elite: in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British gothic horror they tend to be members of the aristocracy, gentry, or clergy, are usually corrupt, and prey upon the protagonist using their wealth and power
- Innocent or sympathetic characters will often die
- The ending is not always cathartic or moralising – there may be no epiphany, no happy ever after, no redemption.
Another obvious one, especially for classics in the genre, is the framed narrative – the story is being pieced together by the narrator (reliable? unreliable?) who is themselves trying to find out what happened. They may be using diaries, letters, local legends, and other research materials. Examples of this are Bram Stoker’s Dracula (epistolic novel form) and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. (Yes, Heathcliff is the gothic horror monster, not the romantic antihero).
CM’s Golden Gothic Rule
Look, as far as I’m concerned, if your story has stunning landscape/architecture, something mysterious is going on, and someone – anyone – turns up in their nightie, you’re in the gothic horror club.
I will read it.
Feel free to comment with recommendations and links!