(or: 13 Ways to Give your Fiction the Gothic Touch)
By Rayne Hall
Gothic sells. Reader demand and book sales for this genre are growing. From a writer’s perspective, the best thing about Gothic is that it combines well with other genres, so you can layer it with the kind of fiction you love to write to create, for example, Gothic Paranormal Romance, Gothic Urban Fantasy or Gothic Cosy Mystery.
Here are thirteen suggestions how you can give your manuscript the Gothic touch. Choose the ones which suit your plot.
1. Let the story unfold in a sublime, ‘wild’ location, preferably isolated, windswept, battered by the elements: a farmhouse on the Yorkshire moors, a research station in the Antarctic, a castle in the Scottish Highlands, a chalet in the Swiss Alps.
2. Put the characters in an old, dilapidated, gloomy building, whether that’s a private residence, a hotel or a castle. Perhaps it was once a fabulous mansion, but now only remnants remain of its former glory. Show the cracks in the façade, peeling paint, faded curtains, frayed carpets, leaking roof. Let the readers hear the squeal of the unoiled hinges and the creaking of the wooden stairs.
3. Isolate the main character. She (or he) has no friends nearby, no one to turn to for help. Perhaps she’s a stranger in the community, a foreigner in the country, a new recruit to the job. The location is remote, far away from public transport, without phone or internet reach.
4. Give your characters dark secrets. Often, this includes a crime – already committed, underway or planned. Even the main character carries a guilt she hides from others.
5. Motivate your characters with passions and obsessions. Let them be passionate about whatever they try to do. Is the MC passionate about clearing her late father’s name, bringing human traffickers to justice or saving the endangered moorland? Other characters have their passions, too – some of them benign, others dangerous.
6. Create plot twists around loyalty and betrayal. Whom does the MC trust, only to discover that this person betrayed her? Whom does she suspect, realising belatedly that he is on her side?
7. A connection exists between the present and the past, or between this world and the supernatural. This could be through a prophecy, séance, a curse, a reincarnation or a haunting.
8. Madness infuses the plot. A character may be criminally insane, or simply suffering from a mental health problem such as paranoia or schizophrenia which affects her judgement. Maybe the MC herself is a veteran afflicted with PTSD, or perhaps the villain is gaslighting her until she believes she is going insane.
9. An old book, document or work of art gets discovered, and it contains a clue which changes the direction of the plot. This could be an old journal, a treasure map, or a painting of the baron’s real wife.
10. The MC discovers a secret room – perhaps a concealed passage, a hard-to-access attic, an underground dungeon or the scientist’s laboratory which she has been forbidden to enter.
11. One of the scenes takes place at dusk. Show how the setting sun bloodies the horizon or streaks the sky in purple and pink before darkness descends. Let the readers hear the twilight chorus of the birds and feel how the temperature drops.
12. Whip up a storm. This could be an icy, sleet-laden winter wind, a thunderstorm with blinding bolts of lighting, a hurricane or a squall at sea. Let readers hear the wind whining in the chimney and rattle the shutters.
13. Let the novel’s climax unfold against a dramatic backdrop. The house burns, the cruise ship sinks, the tower collapses, the dam bursts, or a tsunami sweeps the settlement away,
Have you already written fiction with Gothic elements? Which of these thirteen suggestions would be a good fit for the novel you’re currently working on?
Tell us about it in the comments below.