Masterplots Theater: G is for Gothic

Gis for Gothic Masterplots TheaterWelcome back to Masterplots Theater!  We continue today with G is for Gothic. However, if you’re joining us for the first time, here are the masterplots we’ve covered so far:
A is for Adventure
B is for Buddy Love
C is for Chosen One
D is for Dystopia
E is for Escape
F is for Fool Triumphant

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.

Daphne Du MaurierExample 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.

Future Research:

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.

Please come back tomorrow for another installment of Masterplots Theater, H is for Happily-Ever-After.

Please share your thoughts on Gothic stories in the comments below.

Author: Robin Rivera

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( However, Pinterest ( is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.

27 thoughts on “Masterplots Theater: G is for Gothic”

  1. Great theme – I’m playing catch-up today. Lately I’m on a kick to improve my understanding of the various genres and sub-genres, a sort of ‘compare and contrast’ assignment. This theme is just what the writing doctor ordered. Also am enjoying the Writing Excuses podcast for the same reason.

    I’m not a huge fan of Gothic for two reasons: I’m a sissy when it comes to scary stuff; and the setting is often so dreary. Superficial, I know, but there you have it.

    1. Hi Lissa,
      Thanks for joining us.
      Gothic is not for everyone and that’s okay. It sounds like your genre project will be a good match for our theme this year. Masterplots cross genres, but learning how to see them will help you compare and contrast story structures with ease. Good luck with your research.

  2. I have never read Rebecca, but now I’m very curious. That cover is absolutely fantastic too!

    I like gothic stories, especially 1800s ghostic literature. Sure, I like new ones too, but the 1800s have a flavour all of their own 🙂

    The Old Shelter – Jazz Age Jazz

    1. Daphne Du Maurier is one of the first spooky writers I really feel in love with as a teen. I think she only wrote one book I didn’t care for. This is a great cover, the original one was not as pretty.

  3. Love this! ? I never fully understood what Gothic meant in reference to literature. I mean… I did but this a great reference. “atmosphere and high emotions”? Yes, please!

    I have to be honest here. It’s difficult for me to keep up with this A to Z blogging thing. But I am loving your posts. Thanks for linking to previous ones in each post.

    1. Thanks, Sarah. I know what you mean about A to Z, I start to fall behind on reading blogs too. And it’s not even easy to post this much. I gain new respect for daily bloggers every April. I’m glad you’re going to add some Gothic to your reading list. I think you’ll like it.

  4. J here, stopping by from the #atozchallenge – where I am part of Arlee Bird’s A to Z Ambassador Team.
    How has the first week of the challenge been for you so far? Are you meeting your goals of posting and hopping to other blogs?
    My blog still has a giveaway with bonus a to z challenges to encourage people to visit more stops. Thanks for your visit.
    The world needs more Gothic books. Great post.

    1. Hi!
      Thanks for the check in visit. I’m happy to say we are on track to win the challenge again this year.

      I agree, the world does need more Gothic!

  5. This is a technical comment and I’m not sure you can help me with it. Every time I submit a comment on your blog, I’m asked to confirm follow as an additional task. It will pop up on my emaiI. I don’t usually have to do this to comment on most other blogs – one initial confirmation usually covers for all future comments. Is there any way to eliminate this requirement? Or is this a problem I have with my computer, and not something you’re able to correct from your site admin? Thanks in advance for helping.

    1. Hi Sharon. Techie boyfriend and I investigated the situation, and I think this is what is happening, but I’m not 100% sure, so correct me if I’m wrong…

      Below the comment box there are two options to check or not check. If you check the top one, it will subscribe you to follow the comments on that one particular blog post and send you an email. But when you comment on a different blog post, well, that’s a separate group of comments to follow, so that’s why the system sends another email to confirm following that post’s comments.

      The bottom option is to subscribe to in general. Even if you check that a second time, it shouldn’t send you another email. At least it didn’t when techie boy and I tested it.

      If you don’t check the box, you shouldn’t get an email.

      Does this help?

      1. I’m going to try this out. I did notice that the very last comment I sent you did not kick a confirm requirement to me so maybe the ogre under the bridge has retreated. The only option I see attached to this reply email is to check Post Comment box and another box that I thought was to be contacted regarding new email replies for this post. I’m only going to click the Post Comment box. If you don’t hear back from me, problem solved. And please thank you BF for me.

  6. Robin, I really appreciate your description of Gothic masterplot because until this post, I’ve dismissed it out of hand. I’m turned off by the name itself but can see that the plot concept merits attention and can prove an enjoyable read.

    1. There are tons of Gothic short stories, The Turn of the Screw is super short. Maybe start with some of those and see how you like it.

      1. I’ve read Cormac McCarthy, whose work I love, just didn’t realize it qualifies as Gothic. By your description I see it does but would have never known until I read this post. You’ve opened my eyes. (I might be a bit small minded.)

        1. You are not alone! Modern Gothic (especially Southern Gothic) tricks a lot of people into thinking it’s not Gothic.

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you like the theme. I’m already worried it will be impossible think of one to top it for next year.

We love comments and questions.

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