Gothic fiction has the power to disturb and enrich the reader.
In this blog post, I’ll share my best writing tips on crafting gothic fiction. Not only will I address the misconceptions people have about the genre, but I’ll add a unique perspective that will inspire you.
This blog post contains very light spoilers and has affiliate links.
Tip 1: Juxtapose The Darkness With Light
The Gothic is associated with gloom. And that’s why it is tempting to make your story utterly depressing and dreadful. Yet, it is beneficial to add ‘light’ to the darkness. If your novel is one bad event after the other, and there is no ‘pause’ or brief escape, then the tension in your story won’t stand out. This is a problem I have with modern gothic fiction, such as Lars Von Trier’s film Antichrist. The endless misery.
Yet a sophisticated writer knows the power of juxtaposition. They can make the sad moments sadder by adding light in select times. No, you don’t need to ‘lessen’ the horror in your story. ‘Light’ can mean a sympathetic character, or even a cheerful conversation among friends.
Consider A Series Of Unfortunate Events. The moments that stand out to me aren’t the misery or the pain. However, the pleasant conversations among siblings and friends do. Those moments make the tragedy more tragic, because we know it’s happening to characters we care about.
Tip 2: Use Metaphors to Add Depth
The Gothic loves metaphors, and often uses imagery (such as ghosts, vampires) to convey a deeper meaning. That could be political, sexual, or emotional. Either way, metaphors, when done right, add a new level of terror in your story.
Take Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The monster is not just a blank slate. He’s representative of birth and creation, and God. However, what makes Frankenstein effective is that Shelley is vague. She does not directly say any characters represent someone or something. She leaves it up to the readers’ imagination.
Metaphors can be done poorly. Yet if you remain subtle and clever, your gothic story will be richer. Think long about what ‘metaphors’ you want to use. It’s a field that requires care.
Tip 3: Add Romantic Elements
‘Romantic’ doesn’t always mean a love story. No, ‘Romantic’ refers to Romanticism, the art and literary period of the early 19th century. Defined by beauty, nature and medievalism, romanticism celebrates what the modern world often forgets. Consider the ‘inner world’ your characters experience, and flesh it out with romantic details.
Romanticism is heavily subjective, as is the Gothic. Filmmakers such as Guillermo Del Toro acknowledge that and use it as an excuse for more originality. Remember: romanticism is not tame. It’s a movement that encourages you to be outlandish and unique.
Look into Romantic literature. It will add inspiration to your story and offer you fresh perspectives on how to convey exciting ideas.
Tip 4: Have Rich Characterisation
In my previous review for The Phantom Of The Opera, the novel by Gaston Leroux, I praised the characterisation of Eric. To me, it added to the gothic experience. It also helped the novel seem more real and was therefore more poignant.
When authors craft Gothic stories, they must focus on character. Not every character needs the same attention. However, the Gothic is a thrilling opportunity for fantastic character study. In The Picture Of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde’s commentary on vanity and youth work because Wilde focuses on character.
In our modern world, we believe that focusing on character comes at the expense of plot. Not true! You can have both. That’s why I love Dracula and a lot of gothic fiction, because it proves that fiction isn’t dictated by a silly binary.
How you write your characters is up to you. But focus on them. Figure out their motivations, their strengths and their weaknesses. Allow them to be vulnerable. By doing so, you’ll increase the ‘gothic factor’ of your work.
Tip 5: Work On The Setting
Gothic writers are experts at crafting the perfect setting. There’s something enchanting and dangerous about a medieval castle during a thunderstorm. With The Castle Of Otranto, Horace Walpole creates a labyrinth of intrigue. He utilises his setting to the full extent, and the novel is better for it.
Often, in contemporary fiction, authors treat setting like a ‘backdrop’ and not an active player in the plot. This is a mistake. Settings influence, character, action and thought. They can dictate the novels events, and can shape the ending. Take advantage of that! Develop the ultimate setting for your story. It can add to the memorability factor of your novel, and your readers will appreciate it.
Tip 6: Add Mystery
The Gothic is unsettling, it’s a madness hymn to horror. That’s why when you write gothic fiction, it’s best to have elements of mystery. It’s a good idea to have a few characters where you do not reveal all the information about them. Or, with H. P. Lovecraft, you can inject mystery to absolutely everything.
The opening lines of his famous short story, The Call Of Cthulhu, are:
“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.”
This is the perfect statement on the Gothic. By leaving things mysterious and unsettled, the reader’s mind is free to develop the rest. And as you’ve geared the reader to a horrifying place, they will add their own fears and anxieties to your story. Isn’t that creepy!
Writers do not have to give easy answers. They can leave things up to the imagination. And I’d argue they should.
Tip 7: Inject Emotion
Gothic fiction has characters with heavy hearts, strong burdens, and prone to dramatic declarations. This is a trait in Romanticism literature, and it’s still present in the Gothic today. The film ‘Edward Scissorhands’ is a terrific example, as it is genuine in its attempts to pull heartstrings.
Likewise, the novel ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte is fond of emotionalism. This adds a dramatic gravitas to the novel that makes it that much richer.
Similar to point one, the way to implement effective emotionalism is through contrast. Not every scene has to be life or death. Just a select few. Pick wisely, and you will have strong moments that your reader will remember.
Tip 8: Don’t Worry About What Others Think
Gothic fiction deals with the dark side of the human soul. That means, at times, depicting rape, murder and torture. Other times, the gothic writer will deal with death and depression. These examples are controversial, and potential readers may assume the very worst about your intentions.
For authors, that is distracting and worrying. We craft our fictional worlds, and fleshing out our characters. It’s unfair to assume that we endorse the banality we depict.
The solution is simple. Defend your writing. The gothic is all about the mysterious, the unsettling and the horrifying. Please do not sanitise or make your writing ‘safe.’ I’m a huge advocate for dangerous, upsetting fiction that disturbs the universe. Is defending your writing hard? Yes, it is.
But it’s necessary.
Tip 9: Play With Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is a powerful device in fiction. It ‘earns’ the big moments in the story. Also, when readers revisit the book, they will have a fulfilling experience rereading it. My example of this point is a movie. The Prisoner Of Askaban, the third Harry Potter movie, is a brilliant example of foreshadowing in gothic cinema.
We have the motif of clocks ticking throughout the story. This gives dramatic weight to Hermione’s time-turning device. Also, the divination lessons with Professor Trelawney are effective. The scene where Harry’s cup has ‘The Grim’ printed on it, and the appearance of one in a Quidditch game, makes Sirius Black’s appearance near the end of the film satisfying.
Although a few examples of Alfonso Cuarón’s skill, I think I’ve made a solid case for foreshadowing. It can also be a wonderful way for the author to engage with darker themes, such as death.
There are many ways you can use foreshadowing, such as prophecies. Not all of them will suit your gothic tale equally, and I recommend ‘testing’ out different forms.
For further information on foreshadowing, I recommend this video by Hello Future Me. It goes into significant depth about the different foreshadowing, and what stories they suit.
Tip 10: Consider Tragedy
All Gothic fiction has elements of tragedy. That means tragic endings, characters or relationships. Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is a terrific example. The three main characters: Quasimodo, Esmerelda and Claude Frollo, are all tragic in their own ways. This heightens the emotional reactions readers will have of their arcs. With Quasimodo, the readers will be empathetic. However, for Frollo, they may be frightened or enraged.
Tragedy does more than ‘make you feel sad.’ It’s an opportunity for empathy, greater engagement from readers, and a chance to explore darker themes. That is a strength of gothic fiction.
People are drawn to tragedy, and it makes for memorable endings and characters. I’d argue that tragedy is essential to the Gothic. That’s because gothic fiction focuses on the macabre and the unusual. And a strange existence often leads to a tragic tale.
To conclude this point, consider tragedy. If you do not want to end your story disturbingly, then I’d use a mysterious or vague ending instead. (Like the final book of A Series Of Unfortunate Events). Remember: The Gothic is unsettling. Don’t be afraid to disturb.
I hope this blog post will assist you in crafting your gothic story. What’s terrific about gothic literature is that it can both disturb and delight. Although initially challenging, it is possible to write gothic literature. All it takes is work, and the ability to see the darker side of our humanity.