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Blog Post #26 – Gothic Horror

Hey readers!

So in our English class recently our task was to write a short story. Sounds simple enough, right? But as some of your probably know, neither Alice nor I are the best at keeping our stories short, to say the least. Last time we were asked to write a short story, I got a bit carried away with the opening and had to rush the rest of it… it was 12 pages long in the end.

So when I was told to write a short story, my mind immediately went to the only genre I can really write and keep it short: Gothic Horror. It sounds strange that a horror story is the only type I can keep brief, but I’m going to explain how.

The difference between standard “Horror” and “Gothic Horror” is that Gothic Horror is not gory. There are no disgusting murders or gruesome injuries, no slimed covered monsters or chainsaw-wielding demons. It’s more about the element of suspense, not really knowing what’s going on, vulnerable characters finding themselves all alone on starless nights in creepy Victorian mansions… you get the idea.

And, they lend themselves very well to cliffhangers.

I find that this means I can easily write short stories of it, as basically it’s just a big build up then BAM, unresolved ending (or ‘denouement’, if you want to be technical).  It’s as simple as that.

Now what I’m going to try and do is tell you how to write short Gothic Horror stories. Please bear in mind that I learnt how to write them a few years ago so I can’t remember exactly what my teacher told us to do, but I’ll try my best. If I’m wrong in any way, please do feel free to correct me, I’d be very grateful to know!

First of all, you need a protagonist (main character). Normally this character has to be quite vulnerable in some way, so it’s likely that they’ll be the one getting attacked. Maybe they’re alone and no-one else is around to see what’s going to happen – when I write Gothic Horror, that tends to be what I do. They also have to be likeable, so that the reader connects emotionally with them and feels pathos (yet another fancy technical word, ooh look at me). If they’re an annoying self-absorbed idiot who no-one likes, then no-one’s going to feel sad when they die, are they?

Secondly, you’re going to need a setting. Typical settings for Gothic Horror stories are creepy, abandoned, empty places, such as a graveyard or old building, and it normally tends to be night time too. I guess this is because at night it’s harder to see what’s going on, and it’s less likely that someone will see what’s happening. I find this the hardest part about writing Gothic Horror – trying to give a reason as to why the protagonist has found themselves alone in a creepy place at night.

Thirdly, you’re going to need an antagonist (bad guy). This is the fun part. In Gothic Horror, at least, in the short stories that I tent to write, the antagonist isn’t actually seen. Perhaps there will be glimpses of them here and there, some glimmering red eyes in the darkness, a shadow passing overhead. This helps to evoke a sense of mystery and tension, and makes you (the reader) wonder what’s going on. They also tend to be a more supernatural being, perhaps a shadowy creature or a ghost, rather than a chainsaw-wielding mass murderer (like I said earlier, Gothic Horror tends to be less about gore and more about the air of suspense that keeps you on the edge of your seat).

Now you have those three things, you’re ready to begin. All my Gothic Horror stories tend to follow a formula, I’ve realised , so I’m going to share that formula with you know (rather than trying to explain because I am terrible at explaining)

  1. Protagonist is alone somewhere creepy and dark.
  2. A bit of backstory as to how/why they found themselves there.
  3. Make the reader empathise and relate this them.
  4. Protagonist looks around – description of creepy surroundings.
  5. Suddenly they see some movement.
  6. Look over to where they saw it – nothing there.
  7. Try to put it down as nothing, just a trick of the light.
  8. Another movement.
  9. Growing sense of fear and worry in the Protagonist.
  10. Some weird goings on, eg a shadow passes overhead, there’s a rustling sounds in the bushes.
  11. Weird goings on continue and increase in frequency.
  12. Rising sense of panic in Protagonist as they realise something spooky is happening.
  13. Sudden jumpscare followed by cliffhanger – the end.

Now I know that isn’t very good or helpful, I’m sorry, but it’s the best I can do. Like I said, I’m not the best at explaining things. And I couldn’t tell you how to write Gothic Horror with a resolved ending – that isn’t my forte.

Now, there are a couple of other small things I can remember being told by my teacher when we were learning about this genre, so I think I’ll share them with you too. The first one of these things is foreshadowing. Foreshadowing, basically, is hinting at a future event without explicitly stating that that event is going to happen. The definition Google gives you is “a warning or indication of a future event”. It plays quite a large part in most Gothic Horror fiction, although personally I find it quite hard to work into my writing. But if you can get it in – do! There is nothing more pleasing than getting to an event in a book and realising how cleverly foreshadowed it was in the build up to it.

The other thing that my teacher told my class to use when writing Gothic Horror was Gothic Language. Using a certain type of language helps to portray the mood and set the scene. So if you wanted to write a Gothic Horror story, you’d probably used language such as ‘ominous’ and ‘shroud’ rather than words like ‘sweetie’ and ‘cutie pie’. Just so you know, though, if you type ‘Gothic Language’ into Google then it comes up with a lot of search results about an extinct Germanic language, which is very interesting, but not what I’m talking about here. For some good words, instead type ‘Gothic Horror Language’ into Google and look at the images!

Anyway, that’s exhausted my knowledge on how to write Gothic Horror! I know it’s not the best written blog post, I’m sorry, but I just wanted to say what I know so other people can also begin writing in this genre! As it’s not the best though, and I’ve probably missed some stuff and got some wrong (as I was taught a very basic version of how to write it so there’s probably lots more detail you can add in) I thought I’d provide you with a link to a page that describes in lots of detail different things that you can use in a Gothic Horror Story, and also provides a nice list of Gothic Words to use: http://www.virtualsalt.com/gothic.htm

Now, that’s the end of my blog post about Gothic Horror! If I remember to, I think I’ll post the story I had to write in the English class that prompted this, probably sometime in the next couple of weeks. But if you have any questions or queries or suggestions or subjects you’d like us to write about, please do let us know! You can contact us in many different ways:

Thanks for reading – Bye!

~ April

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