Welcome to part two of Releasing Your Inner Poe. If you missed part one you can find it here. With fall rapidly approaching I’m hard at work on a few projects with dark gothic themes, but more on that in a future post. Since I’m struggling with the task of establishing the right balance of elements, the perfect plot, the right characters and some eerie world building, I’m researching, studying and sharing what I’m learning about gothic fiction in these blog posts. You can also find more of my tips on horror fiction plotting here.
Although gothic is a subgenre of horror and the two share many elements, gothic is a poorly understood form. Hopeful these tips will help sort out some of the facts from the misconceptions.
- Gothic often doesn’t follow the standard fiction rules and most lovers of the genre tend to think that’s just fine. Don’t expect a traditional story arc, or even a clearly established hook. The ending might feel unexpected with a resolution that came out of nowhere. These are messy and complicated stories, full of small insignificant clues that the reader was supposed to read over. Good gothic should leave behind some questions, a level of confusion or a feeling that the author tricked the reader. The story should stick in your head and make the reader want to go back and see if they can catch the tricks. That’s part of the genre’s charm.
- There is often a lack of protagonist transformation in gothic. Distressed and bedraggled protagonists sometimes stay distressed and bedraggled right to the bitter end. Or the protagonist might be saved by outside forces or dumb luck, rather than by their own ingenuity.
- The antagonist is often favored over the hero in terms of page count and plot development. Gothic villains are usually the most memorable characters. If you don’t believe me please feel free to name the protagonist in Frankenstein.
See below when you’ve given up.*
- In gothic, the reader should expect unreliable narrators, negative character arcs and/or protagonists that are unlikable, or unrelatable. I’ll be addressing the differences between these types of narrators in my next gothic post.
- Gothic does not require a historical setting. There are many great gothic plots set in a more modern or even futuristic world. Some media examples are the TV show Twin Peaks, or in movies like The Crow and Blade Runner.
- The genre has its own tropes and stereotypes, like the antagonist who develops a sense of self-loathing and/or grows a conscience and regrets their earlier misdeeds. Also the disgruntled servant, the helpless orphan, and the dark brooding love interest are recurring tropes in gothic fiction.
- A love interest is not required. Sure a bit of romance never hurts and lost, damaged, or unrequited love is a favorite theme, but so is injustice or triumphing over inhumanity. Morality, or lack of morality, is often the central emotional theme, but it’s masquerading as a straight forward love plot.
- There are some formulaic aspects in gothic, such as the idea of achieving a balance between good and evil. Gothic likes polarity, but the battle is not necessarily in a physical sense, it can be all internal, or an ideological struggle. It’s a wide open field limited only by a writer’s imagination to restructure and reinterpret the central theme of polarity.
- Spirituality, and supernatural and other worldly elements are not required for great gothic. Science and technology can mimic the same human vs. the other dynamic of a supernatural presence. The classic example is The Matrix, a film positively dripping in gothic flavor.
I read many of the gothic classics as a child and reread them again as an adult. I know for some readers the prose style is difficult to manage, and the early works can be heavy with moral judgement and religious overtones. However, it’s well worth the effort and anyone who wants to craft some gothic fiction should give the classic works a try.
For more posts by Robin click here.
*This really was a trick question, since Frankenstein has no classic protagonist. Did I mention gothic likes to break rules? The story is framed by a narrator and his name is Captain Robert Walton.