In the past three years, there has been a notable increase in Gothic fiction and horror hitting the shelves, especially in the romance and YA subcategories. Data from Booknet Canada shows that in 2022, interest in Gothic fiction jumped 24% over 2021 in the Canadian market. Since it’s now spooky season, and autumn is truly here in the Northern hemisphere, we wanted to highlight this popular genre and get authors interested in this classic genre that has endured for so long – and will continue to grow and evolve in the many years to come!
So, let’s get into it. How do you write Gothic fiction? And, for those who don’t know, what even IS Gothic fiction? We’re going to explore that here, so read on!
Gothic fiction and horror has some of its storied history in English, Irish, and broader European literature, with literary giants like Daphne du Maurier and her Gothic classic, Rebecca; Bram Stoker and Dracula; the works of the Brontë sisters; and, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, which straddles both the Gothic fiction and science fiction genres! These novels, and many more, come up time and time again when one scours the archives for Gothic narratives of the 19th and early 20th century.
There is also the important and expansive subgenre of Southern Gothic – Gothic novels set in the southern USA, and even Canadian Gothic, usually set in southeastern Ontario. There are Gothics for every corner of the globe, however, and since Gothic narratives are so closely linked to place, you shouldn’t have a hard time finding a Gothic story in a (literal) area of your interest. Publications such as Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher, House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson, and Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo among, many, many others that were released by traditional publishing houses in the last three years show that the public interest in Gothic fiction has anything but waned.
Let’s look at some staples for writing Gothic fiction and how you can work on creating some of your own!
Setting – Gothic fiction can, of course, be set anywhere – but two key components of Gothic settings are as follows:
Gothic settings are isolated – a small community, a rural town, a single-family home on the open moors… wherever your Gothic story takes place, make sure that the setting is in isolation from the rest of the world. Places that are difficult to get to, with small populations, or are only home to one family or small group of people are ideal for weaving a Gothic tale. Even if your characters are not physically isolated – maybe they live in a city, for example – their isolation should be present in some way; maybe emotionally, maybe socially. There are plenty of options therein.
Gothic settings revolve around a home base – not necessarily a home or house, though that is quite common; but, with almost every Gothic tale, a central setting is introduced very quickly and almost all the action takes place inside or around it. This furthers that feeling of isolation, and also helps the house or laboratory or island or whatever else feel alive, as if it is a character itself.
These settings are often fun to develop and aid the story so, so much by being atmospheric and anthropomorphic. By creating a strong setting and central location, you are setting up your Gothic fiction for success.
Voice and character – a strong voice, usually in first person, is a staple of Gothic fiction. Gothic main characters are usually curious, determined, and unable to rest until whatever is going on around them is uncovered. They are not faint of heart and often have experience dealing with hardship in the past, meaning they are uniquely qualified for whatever disturbing events are going on.
Your character’s voice should be curious, but not paranoid; apprehensive, but not frightened or cowardly; and, above all, interesting. As many Gothic are written in first person, you want your main character to take action and investigating the goings-on. Having
Atmosphere – similar to setting, it’s important to focus on atmosphere. Make sure you appeal to the five senses – let your reader know how it sounds, smells, feels! The more details, the better; immerse your reader by making them feel as if they are actually in the space.
Often, as mentioned, Gothic novels take place in areas that are remote, experience frequent storms or bad weather, or otherwise have a very ominous environment. Of course, Gothic novels can take place anywhere, but the takeaway here is to remember to highlight aspects that go beyond the visual.
Genre within genre – know what the genre within your Gothic work is or is going to be. Are you writing a Gothic romance? A Gothic thriller? A Gothic horror? There are even types of books one might categorize as a “cozy Gothic” – taking the elements of a cozy mystery, but with a Gothic setting and characters. There are some very specific geographical locations and time periods for Gothics, Victorian or Regency-era Northern England being a couple of them; but they are not all set in Europe in the 19th century, nor should they be. Consider such settings as seen in Southern Gothic in the 2020s, for example, or Canadian Gothic (set anywhere in Canada, but usually southern and rural Ontario) in the late 90s, among many others. These are only a few examples of hundreds!
Dark academia titles can often fall into the Gothic genre as well, and, of course there are Gothic fantasy and sci-fi titles as well. Carefully consider what sub-genre your Gothic fiction falls under before writing it, or during the early stages of writing as your work gets fleshed out. It may fall under just one category, or multiple! Either way, knowing this will help you write and later market your title.
Marketing – think about marketing at an early stage. Make it clear that it is a Gothic novel! And consider publishing your title at a time when the Gothic genre might be in higher demand, such as during the month of October or the winter in general. Appeal to fans of grim stories, horror romance, and what have you by theming your marketing.
If writing a Gothic novel is new for you, be sure to highlight that! It can be exciting when an author tries out a new genre and moves into a new literary space. Be sure to let your readers know of this new venture.
Writing a Gothic novel can be challenging, but if this is a genre you already feel passionately about, or really want to break into, go for it! We hope this brief (definitely not exhaustive) overview has helped. As always, happy writing!