Thursday, November 13, 2014

What Makes for a Compelling Gothic Romance Story?

We all have personal preferences when it comes to reading for pleasure.  Of course, if we didn't, then there would be no such thing as a 'genre.'  And although I believe that gothic romance has either been largely regrouped into 'paranormal romance' or 'romantic suspense,' it is still characteristic of the same timeless elements.  The same spooky, mysterious plot twists and engaging atmospheres that hooked readers in the early 60's are the same ones you find in today's more contemporary gothic romance novels.

And while somewhere in the future I may want to elaborate more upon the plot twists (rather formulaic or not), today I want to talk about the gothic elements that I find most compelling.  The bits and pieces that keep me turning the pages.   Being a collector of these books (probably close to 1,000 or more, not counting ebook editions), people oftentimes ask me what is in the history of this genre for me?  Do I not find these old, outdated books boring?   Of course not!  Because while they may be old, indeed, they are neither boring or outdated.

For me, the vintage gothic romance is timeless and endearing.  All good books are timeless.  And what is 'good' or 'bad' really is left to the discretion of the reader.  Many of these books have served as excellent history lessons.   A reminder of simpler, more innocent times...way back to days before the emphasis of technology and computers and smartphones.  I am pulled into each of these stories not for an erotic display found in many 'romance books,' nor because they are the 'latest and greatest' from the New York Times.  Rather, I genuinely find them interesting, page-turning, different (and oftentimes even better) than the books that mainstream authors spew forth at an alarming rate these days.

Anyway, I've had a lot of people ask me why  I prefer this genre to, say, just general horror.  And while I do love authors Richard Laymon, John Saul and some works of Stephen King, the vintage gothics (and the good contemporary ones that are reminiscent of the originals) have my heart!

But what do I love most about them, you ask?  Well let's take a look... (remember, there are many, probably innumerable) elements that make great gothic reads...these are merely my favorites!

When it comes to settings, I want to go somewhere I've never been:
-a rambling mansion on the Moors
-Yorkshire chateau
-A grand old ancient castle somewhere in England
-somewhere near the ocean, or ocean cliffs (Cape Cod, for example)
-an isolated old mansion turned bed and breakfast, hotel, or boarding house
-a cottage somewhere in the desert
-traversing ancient ruins, like that of the Mayans
-somewhere in the bayou, Louisiana (think 'Ruby' by V.C. Andrews)
-an old haunted house inherited by unfamiliar relatives
-a cottage/house in the woods
-the city or boarding house of a foreign country
-any kind of ruins
-ship or houseboat on it's way to a creepy, isolated location
-tropical island with coves, skeletons, and hidden treasure
-family graveyards and creaking tombs
-a grand Victorian Christmas....with a horrific twist
-an old house with hidden rooms and secret passageways
-ancient graveyards or tombs
-musty old shacks in the woods or bayou
-a rambling house on a sea cliff
-dangerous sea cliffs and ocean, in general
-dangerous, dark woods
-fleeing from a place of peril in the darkness and danger of night
-a haunted house, in general


I want to read about and get into the heads and lives of characters that make the story real:
-orphans who have gone from 'rags to riches'
-an unsuspecting heiress who makes a dangerous voyage
-a student at a convent or boarding school
-a writer or artist whom has moved to a strange environment for work, school, or to solve a mystery
-missing persons, disappearances
-maids, chaperons, evil butlers
-witches and other 'evil' person's who plan for the demise of the main chracter
-protagonists who are out to get the main character (hateful grandmother, jealous relative)
-women who have married into families, only to realize someone wants her dead...but whom?
-evil in-laws and mother-in-laws
-evil husbands
-conniving nursemaids
-some of the best gothic romances I've read had at least one person who has been struck by madness
-a character who has a sort of affliction, sickness, disability
-children whose lives are endangered
-a mad scientist or philosopher
-a rich, evil benefactor
-a hateful, vindictive stepmother or step grandmother
-a flamboyant, irresponsible sibling (usually female) who has gotten themselves into trouble
-rogues, killers, embezzlers, and impostors
-witches, voodoo, spell-casters and old curses
-stalkers, ghosts, evil presences or spirits
-old murder mysteries
-skeletons in closets and secret rooms and attics
-some of my favorite vintage gothics have always had a character who was locked up in a secret underground chamber/room, or in their own private quarters because they were either mad or had to be kept away because they knew too much
- characters who have amnesia or who have been struck by the inability to communicate
-crazy wives or daughters locked away, oftentimes drugged with sedatives to keep them quiet
-a maiden who marries into a wealthy family, only to realize that her husbands previous wives have died under mysterious circumstances
-person who looks frightening...a few I can think of were characters who were once in the circus, physically deformed with birth defects, and violent cripples
-forbidden and/or incest relations (think V.C Andrews)
-heroine who has wits and determination
-hero who is a friend of heroine and becomes a love interest as the story develops
-long lost relatives reunited (some good, and some evil)
-a pregnancy or childbirth that has been kept a secret


And of course, I need  some creepy, scary elements to really set the atmosphere:
-haunted/creepy dolls
-a full moon
-a black cat or dog
-a horseman (could be a ghost, a headless horseman, or real)
-carriages voyaging long distances in the night
-cold, snowy, lonely nights
-fireplaces as a gathering spot for tea, reading, or coffee
-vampires
-ghosts and apparitions
-an ominous presence
-bad omens
-storms, cloudy skies
-possession
-magic and voodoo
-a black bird or raven
-bats...and plenty of them
-secret doors
-ancient books and keys
-candles
-dark corridors
-loss of light and electricity
-fog and mist
-rooms with spiders and snakes
-cobwebs and dusty
-rooms with covered furniture
-hidden maps
-old photo albums and journals of deceased
-jewels and heirlooms
-creepy, haunted paintings of the dead
-statues...particularly dragon
-poison and opiates
-moss and tangled vines
-mysterious cries in the night
-creaking doors, shutters, halls
-shadows across the moon
-the woods at night
-rites of passage
-rituals and human sacrifice
-legends
-wolves
-ware wolves
-hidden corpses
-trap doors
-underground tunnels
-poisoned food
-psychic children
-seances
-haunting music
-common drinks used to calm a frightened heroine:  coffee, tea, brandy, scotch, rum
-dusty libraries with antique books
-cold drafts
-old trunks and suitcases
-creepy masks
-faces appearing in windows and mirrors
-creaking steps and floorboards when no one's there
-lots of dangerous secrets
-roads blocked by trees
-vehicles that will not start
-creepy hotel rooms
-hand-written letters (especially those from the dead)
-stolen treasure and money
-wills being read
-dusty attics with secret rooms and doors
-creepy door knockers
-housemaids that are either crazy, mean, scary, or lame (unable to speak)
-the calling of birds
-lakes and ponds
-mountains and cliffs
-weather:  thunder, lightning, severe storms, crying winds
-starless, moonless sky
-weeping willows
-a weird doctor
-a conniving lawyer
-phones that do not work, or lack of phone at residence
-a guest that usually seems hostile, though little is known about them
-taking meals in one's room, with a tray or buffet stand
-phantoms in the night
-gala party events (wedding, christmas, dinners) with a deadly twist
-old cooks who enjoy gossiping, whom often inform the heroine of unknown peril
-stolen or misplaced corpses

Shew, for now I think this tops the list of things that I really find page-turning in a great gothic romance!  I'm sure I  haven't included them all, but I think it's a great idea to start taking note of each of these while I'm reading a book, that way I can expand upon the list...and hopefully this will help me with my own gothic romance writing.

And speaking of my own writing, I have new installments coming of House of Hollow Wind.  Hopefully I can resume my weekly Monday posts, so keep watch!

I hope, if nothing else, this post has entertained you....or perhaps even encouraged you to read some gothic romance!  Trust me when I say, there's nothing boring or outdated about these dark, moody, excitingly mysterious stories!

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