5 Tips for Writing Gothic Fiction

This is a guest post by author Bryan C. Laesch

Bryan C. Laesch is a writer from Metro Detroit, Michigan. Despite being academically successful in studying foreign languages and even being a certified a dog trainer, he prefers to chase his true dream and passion in writing. He started his first novel, a Gothic Epic, Remnants of Chaos: Chaotic Omens almost a decade ago and recently self-published it. Interested in many genres, Laesch also has books in the fantasy, horror, and Shakespearean genres, and he means to try out several others, but his heart will always return to the Gothic.

Hello, everyone. I am Bryan C. Laesch, author of Remnants of Chaos: Chaotic Omens (ROCCO). When I first started writing ROCCO, I was originally inspired by the music of the gothic metal band Nightwish and Capcom’s video game series Devil May Cry. As a result, I wanted to create a story that was both Gothic and had over-the-top action. Unfortunately, books aren’t a great medium for action so I had to tone that down a bit. But the Gothic feel was something I kept working on all throughout the writing process. I wanted to capture the majesty and beauty, but dark, uncomfortable feeling of what the Gothic is. Hence, this question arises: how does one write Gothic fiction? Well, I spent some time on this and I’ve come up with five tips to help you write Gothic fiction.

  1. Dark but Beautiful

In order to create the perfect atmosphere for Gothic fiction, you must keep in mind the dichotomy of Gothic atmosphere: dark but beautiful, grim but poetic, scary but aesthetic, bleak but romantic. For example, imagine a castle completely made from black brick, tall and imposing with an almost otherworldly feel to it. Yes, it is scary, but its impeccable Gothic architecture with its pointed vaults, flying buttresses, stunning stained glass windows, and the heights its spires dare to reach out to all leave your character feeling awestruck and desiring more. The halls within are lit with golden candelabra with plush, violet carpets under foot, and the paintings, though grim and perhaps covered in cobwebs, are richly colored. Then in a bedchamber, there’s a four-poster bed laid out with black satin sheets. Your character lies on the bed and though he feels like he shouldn’t be there, he is tempted to sleep by the softness of the mattress and pillows. Suddenly, someone appears at his side—a lady in a corseted dress. Her eyes pierce his soul, but he is ensnared by her beauty and intense stare as if she has never seen anyone as fascinating as him. She offers him a glass of a dark colored wine and gets into bed with him. And as her lips move to his neck, he slowly begins to realize he’ll never be able to leave that Gothic castle, but then he thinks why would he ever want to? The Gothic atmosphere is everything a person could ask for, but not exactly what he wants.

  1. Morbid and Macabre

Taking cues from writers like Edgar Allan Poe, you shouldn’t be afraid to dabble in the morbid and macabre. Themes like death, blood, and sickness are all pretty normal. There’s a bad case of tuberculosis running around town. Good. People are dying everywhere. Fantastic. Some of the people in town think the deaths are the result of witches and are planning a good, old-fashioned witch hunt which will definitely result in innocent people burning to death? Outstanding. The key is to take the morbid and macabre, and have them intrude on the lives of your characters. They should be familiar, but not so familiar that your characters stop caring when someone dies. Of course, you could make the price of those deaths impact your characters all the more by digging even deeper into morbidity by suggesting corpses are piling up, people are being buried in shallow, hastily dug mass graves which are being robbed by rabid animals, and that children are constantly being orphaned. Now, you don’t have to go so over the top with it like I suggest here; these are just ideas. But you shouldn’t shy away from a healthy dose of putrescence in a Gothic work.

  1. Science and Superstition

Gothic fiction came into being in the Victorian period which was in the 19th century. It was an interesting time because modern science was only just beginning to grab hold of the minds, hearts, and imaginations of the people. Much of the scientific fact that we take for granted today was still undiscovered back then. As a result, they still had their fair share of superstitions, and religious beliefs were much more prominent than now. So, in crafting the Gothic novel, being able to mix science and superstition will really help to capture the time period in which Gothic fiction was actually made. A good example of this combination is Mark Shelley’s Frankenstein. Dr. Frankenstein’s creature is an amazing accomplishment of science, but reanimating dead flesh brings with it all sorts of ethical and moral quandaries. Even in Frankenstein, the creature himself starts asking questions like whether or not he has a soul and what is Frankenstein’s responsibility to him? Is it like God’s responsibility to man? Science and superstition don’t need to be at odds in the Gothic novel but are rather just elements of the world. In my book ROCCO, the characters are demon slayers for a religious order, but since the book takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where our modern implements are only starting to come back into use, the characters do use firearms and grenades in their battle against the minions of hell. The two elements are blended together in harmony and hark back to a time when belief in both science and religion was not so strange.

  1. Deep Imagination

One of the most iconic elements of Gothic fiction is to go beyond the physical world. In the Medieval period, the ends of maps read “Here there be Dragons” because they didn’t know what lurked at the edge of the map. But now with the ends of the map being filled in, we have to look for our monsters elsewhere. As a result, we have monsters that mean to do us physical harm, but their origin doesn’t necessarily lie within this realm. These monsters are beyond our own world and understanding, whether they’re beyond death or beyond the limits of our own planet. They’re at the edges of our sanity, within the deepest desires of our heart, beyond life, and beneath the sea or above the sky. Delve deep into the reaches of your imagination and see what you can find. If it terrifies you, you may just have your monster.

  1. Read Gothic Writers

And the last tip I have is to just read other Gothic writers. I know it’s a bit of a cop out, but there’s something to be said for my telling you how to craft Gothic fiction and you being able to see Gothic fiction for yourself. Some of my favorites are Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, and HP Lovecraft. But other examples include Bram Stoker, Ann Radcliffe, Robert Louis Stevenson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Victor Hugo, and Gaston Leroux along with many modern writers like Anne Rice and even Stephan King. Personally, I prefer the earlier Gothic works because their creepiness seems to have intensified with the passage of time, but read whatever you like.

 

While Remnants of Chaos: Chaotic Omens had many inspirations, it would not be what it is without a strong Gothic element, and likewise with all the books in its series that will follow it. I also intend on writing many other Gothic works in the future. Perhaps I am infected or possessed with a Gothic spirit, but truly I tell you, I do not want to be cured or exorcised of it.

Keep writing, my friends.