Do you thrive on writing atmosphere and high emotions? Do you love twisty plots and crafting spine-tingling mysteries? This masterplot has all that and more. It runs the gambit from spooky suspense, all the way to bloodcurdling horror. This is also one of my favorite masterplots. I love to read Gothic literature, and it’s a genre that’s been going strong for about two hundred years.
Gothic Plot Notes:
A malevolent presence is residing in the same confined space as the main character, and that force is stalking them. This masterplot needs a confined setting. That creates the foreboding, trapped atmosphere. The setting can be anywhere, even a spaceship, as long as the hero can’t easily avoid the antagonistic force.
Gothic exploits the emotional instabilities of the characters. It uses the fears and problems of society as themes. The darkness and frailty of humanity is a reoccurring element. Race, class, gender, mental illness or any social or medical issue is fair game for this masterplot. Some of the best Gothic stories also include a paranormal element, like a demonic possession or a ghost.
Gothic stories once contained only stereotyped characters – Byronic men and frail and melodramatic women. Now Gothic characters enjoy more diversity. The main character is often scared, manipulated and a victim for the bulk of the story. This plot also embraces unreliable narrators.
Romance elements are common. These are often new relationships and the partners don’t trust each other. This adds tension and increases the feeling of isolation so common in a Gothic protagonist.
This plot contains an element of denial. The menacing events and body count will grow before the other characters start to believe the main character.
A Gothic plot almost always uses the arrival of new characters with specialized knowledge to advance the story. This can be prophecy based information or factual information. It is these characters that move the story forward and create memorable twists.
Gothic masterplots resolve in one of two ways. One, the evil presence is discredited. Therefore the fear was all in the character’s mind. Or two, the evil is unmasked. When unmasked it’s often an unexpected source creating a twist ending.
Example to Study:
I picked REBECCA by Daphne Du Maurier. Although this book employs some of the genre tropes, its worldwide success and the fact that it has never been out of print in over 75 years, make it a perfect example of how to write Gothic right.
CONFINED SETTING: Rebecca takes place at Manderley, a remote mansion in Cornwall owned by Maxim de Winter, the husband of the unnamed protagonist who narrates this story.
CHARACTERS: Cut off from family and friends, the protagonist starts to compare herself to her husband’s first wife, the late Rebecca. Rebecca’s legacy is everywhere at Manderley creating an almost otherworldly presence. Fear that she will never measure up to Rebecca starts to prey on the protagonist’s mind. She starts to question the events surrounding Rebecca’s mysterious death. The protagonist’s concerns are encouraged by the housekeeper, a woman who worshiped Rebecca. The protagonist quickly becomes unstable. She fears for her life, and later considers suicide.
ROMANCE: The protagonist and Maxim were married after a speedy courtship and the newlyweds barely know each other when they arrive home at Manderley. The protagonist’s obsession with Rebecca makes her constantly question Maxim’s love and his motives for marrying. The relationships suffers and Maxin becomes distant and volatile.
BONUS: Three catalyst characters advance this plot. I don’t want to spoil the story, but trust me each one delivers a bombshell.
Two of my favorite Gothic stories are THE TURN OF THE SCREW and THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, but you can’t go wrong with modern writers like Anne Rice or Stephen King. Almost every movie ever made by Alfred Hitchcock is a Gothic. And we can’t overlook the Southern Gothic tradition and notables like Cormac McCarthy. There are many more Modern Gothic suggestions on Goodreads.
Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, educator, and historical consultant. She writes mystery fiction, with diverse characters and a touch of snark. She's currently working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook(https://www.facebook.com/robin.rivera.90813). However, Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/RRWrites/) is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.
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