101+ Gothic Story Ideas To Inspire Your Next Horror Story

Gothic Story Ideas

Horror, as a genre, has the unique power to captivate us. It lures us in with its eerie atmosphere and holds us, hostage, leaving us with the deliciously spine-chilling sensation of fear. But how do you find a new idea for your next gothic-inspired project?

Fear not, because I have created a list of gothic story ideas to help you beat your writer’s block. Whether you're crafting a story about a young girl's exploration of a haunted house or a serial killer's sinister spree, this list of gothic story ideas will fuel your inspiration.

Gothic Story Ideas

1. The Last Letter: In the eerie atmosphere of a haunted house, a young girl discovers a dead body and an unread letter with her name.

2. An Unexpected Companion: A child's imaginary friend turns sinister when scary stories about the house's previous inhabitants come true.

3. The Twilight Manor: New owners of a creepy manor start experiencing supernatural powers. They're forced to dig into its gothic history to prevent their family from a curse.

4. The Girl Who Woke The Dead: A girl wakes up in a grave, remembering nothing about her life. Strange occurrences make her question if she's living or dead.

5. The Village Secret: In a small town, children keep disappearing. Rumors swirl about a devilish pact made by the town founders with a blood-thirsty vampire.

6. The Shadowy Companion: A lonely little boy's new "friend" may be the ghost of a serial killer who used to live in their house.

7. Mirror Mirror: A young woman purchases an antique mirror only to discover it's a gateway to a parallel universe filled with every person she's lost.

8. The Whispering Walls: Family moves into a new house to find the walls whispering horror stories of its past residents.

9. The Collector: An old lady collects dolls, but her collection has a creepy twist – every doll is a cursed soul trying to escape.

10. The Unseen Servant: A strange woman is employed as a servant in an aristocratic family, but only the children can see her.

11. The Homeless Heir: A homeless man is the last descendant of a cursed family whose ancestral castle harbors an evil secret.

12. Lady of the Lake: A young man falls in love with a woman he meets by a lake, only to learn she's been dead for decades.

13. Forgotten Shadows: Friends find an old book that can bring stories to life. The horror genre stories start to wreak havoc.

14. The Siren's Call: A woman finds a beautiful antique locket that allows her to hear the thoughts of a serial killer, leading her on a terrifying journey.

15. The Puppeteer: A child's imaginary friend controls people in her small town like puppets, leading to terrifying events.

16. Mary Shelley's Forgotten Manuscript: A student of English literature discovers an unpublished work of Mary Shelley that accurately predicts their life.

17. The Faceless Portrait: In a new apartment, a young woman finds a portrait of a faceless woman. She starts seeing the faceless woman in her dreams and her waking life.

18. The Monster Inside: As documented in his secret journal, a troubled young man slowly transforms into a monstrous creature.

19. The Devil's Waltz: Every night, the piano in a haunted house plays a waltz. One night, the music stops.

20. Dolls in the Attic: A family moves into a house to find an attic full of antique dolls that move when nobody is watching.

Gothic Story Scene

21. The Timeless Clock: A man inherits an old clock that not only tells the time but can transport him to different eras, though always to the scene of a horrific crime.

22. Diary of the Vanished: A young woman moves to a small town and stumbles upon a diary belonging to a girl who mysteriously disappeared years ago. As she reads, eerie similarities begin to emerge between her life and the vanished girl's story.

23. The Last Breath: A homeless man is gifted an old harmonica, which, when played, raises the spirits of the dead, seeking vengeance on the living.

24. The Moth Collector: An old woman obsessed with collecting rare moths starts to transform into one of her captive specimens.

25. The Sealed Room: In a sprawling mansion, a sealed room is opened after centuries, releasing an ancient curse upon the house's new owners.

26. The Inn at the Crossroads: A couple purchases an inn, rumored to be a stop for spirits stuck between worlds, where paranormal activity happens at midnight.

27. The Forgotten Carnival: An abandoned carnival on the edge of a small town awakens every Halloween night, inviting unsuspecting victims to a macabre performance.

28. Portrait of the Lost: A painter gifted with the power to paint the future foresees his death through his artwork and seeks ways to prevent it.

29. The Conductor's Symphony: A haunted music hall is said to come alive with ghostly music conducted by its deceased original conductor, seeking a standing ovation he never received in life.

30. The Devil's Playground: A family moves into a house with an eerie playground where children's laughter can be heard at midnight, but no child is ever seen.

31. The House of Mirrors: In a gothic mansion, each mirror leads to a parallel universe with darker versions of its inhabitants.

32. The Gardener's Sin: An old gardener is the only one who can see the ghostly inhabitants of the manor he tends. When the property is sold, he must protect the new owners from his past mistakes.

33. The Heirloom: A young girl receives a strange locket that once belonged to her late grandmother. When worn, it shows horrifying glimpses of the past.

34. The Weeping Statue: A statue in the local churchyard begins to weep blood every full moon, and a curse befalls those who witness this phenomenon.

35. The Blood Moon Festival: A small town hosts a festival every blood moon. However, this year, the festival summons an ancient beast from the depths of the nearby lake.

36. The Possessed Pen: An aspiring writer purchases an antique pen that forces her to write tales of horror that begin to happen in real life.

37. Staircase to Nowhere: A couple renovates a Victorian mansion, uncovering a hidden staircase that leads to another dimension of terror and despair.

38. The Uninvited Guest: A woman invites a charismatic stranger to her annual Halloween party, unaware he's a real vampire looking for his next victim.

39. The Forgotten Lullaby: An ancient lullaby, when sung, summons a spectral woman who steals the souls of those who hear her melody.

40. Shadow in the Lens: A photographer develops her film to find a dark shadow present in every picture, growing larger and more defined with each shot.

Foggy setting of a gothic story

41. The Haunting of Room 303: An author books into a haunted hotel room 303, hoping for inspiration, but gets more than he bargained for when he finds his own story being written in blood each night.

42. The Sleepwalker: A young man wakes up every morning with muddied feet and torn clothes. To solve the mystery, he must delve into the dream world and confront the nightmare haunting him.

43. The Dark Carnival: A carnival appears overnight in a small town. It's a magical place during the day but turns into a nightmare after dark.

44. The Unseen Artist: Paintings in a gallery start changing overnight, depicting the gruesome fates of the gallery visitors.

45. Woods of the Forgotten: Deep in the woods, people start disappearing, only to return with no memory and an unshakeable sense of dread.

46. The Lost Script: A theatre group finds a lost script from the 19th century. As they perform, the tragic events depicted in the play start happening in their lives.

47. The Wishing Well: A new family in town discovers an old well that grants wishes but at a horrifying cost.

48. The Silent Ballroom: The local mansion's ballroom is said to come alive at night with spectral dancers forever stuck in their last waltz.

49. The Librarian's Secret: The local librarian has a secret – each book in her library tells a tale of the town's residents, not metaphorically, but literally, with chillingly accurate details.

50. Dance of the Marionettes: A puppeteer's marionettes come to life every night, recreating their master's unsolved murder in a haunting performance.

51. The Widow's Walk: A grieving widow paces the widow's walk of her seaside mansion. Sailors swear they've seen her ghostly figure walking even during the worst storms.

52. The Perfumer's Secret: A perfumer creates a fragrance that can summon spirits, leading to unexpected encounters with the supernatural.

53. The Dream Weaver: A woman has the power to manipulate dreams, turning them into terrifying nightmares that trap people in eternal sleep.

54. The Haunting Melody: A music box melody from a haunted antique shop begins playing on its own at midnight, inviting ghostly entities into a young woman's home.

55. The Carousel Horse: A merry-go-round horse, thought to be a harmless antique, carries a malevolent spirit that preys on those who dare to ride it.

56. The Weeping Widow: A sculpture of a weeping widow in an old graveyard sheds real tears every full moon, reviving ghosts from their eternal slumber.

57. The Apothecary's Potion: An old apothecary's potion promises to bring back the dead but at a gruesome price.

58. The Silent Echo: A mute girl starts hearing voices, turning out to be cries of ghosts seeking justice from the realm of the dead.

59. The Bone Harp: An ancient harp made from human bones, when played, summons the spirits of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

60. The Waxwork Museum: A night guard at a waxwork museum finds the figures shifting positions and taking on sinister appearances under the moonlight.

Gothic character walking rainy street

61. The Ghost Ship: A cursed ship appears every fifty years, sailing with a ghostly crew, awaiting the return of their lost captain.

62. The Devil's Maze: A family inherits an estate with a vast maze. As they venture in, they realize it's a playground for devilish entities.

63. The Secret Room: A man uncovers a secret room in his home, decorated for a child who was never born, with toys moving independently.

64. The Haunting Portrait: A man is obsessed with a haunting portrait in an old gallery. The woman in the painting begins to appear in his dreams.

65. The Sleepless Town: A small town is plagued by an eternal night, and the residents cannot sleep, leading to horrifying hallucinations.

66. The Confessor's Veil: A priest hears a chilling confession from an invisible entity, detailing his gruesome crimes in frighteningly vivid detail.

67. The Blood-Red Roses: A florist discovers that her roses turn blood-red every time someone in the village is about to die.

68. The Damned Theatre: Actors rehearsing for a play in a reputedly haunted theatre begin to die in the same manner as their characters.

69. The Crypt Keeper's Diary: A diary of a crypt keeper is found, chronicling the terrifying events leading up to his mysterious disappearance.

70. The Disappearing Train: A midnight train appears once a year, carrying spectral passengers to an unknown destination. The boarding pass: your soul.

71. The Spinning Wheel's Curse: A spinning wheel in an antique store brings horrifying fates to those who dare to use it.

72. The Devil's Gamble: A man obsessed with gambling risks his soul in poker against a mysterious stranger who may be the devil himself.

73. The Green Lady: A spectral woman in green haunts a grand mansion, targeting those who dare to uncover her tragic past.

74. The Night Watchman: A night watchman starts his duty in a graveyard, only to realize the statues shift places each night, getting closer to him.

75. The Dark Sacrament: A young priest uncovers dark secrets while delivering last rites in a cursed village.

76. The Haunted Circus: A circus shut down for its horrifying past reopens, and the performers start to meet gruesome ends.

77. The Invisible Tormenter: A family is tormented by an invisible entity in their home. They must uncover their identity to survive.

78. The Silver Locket: A woman inherits a silver locket that transports her into the life of its original owner, who was accused of witchcraft.

79. The Plague Doctor: The ghost of a plague doctor haunts an old hospital, attempting to continue his sinister experiments on unsuspecting patients.

80. The Hollow Eyes: A sculptor creates a statue with hollow eyes. Anyone who peers into them is met with a horrifying fate.

Gothic story library

81. The Forgotten Nursery Rhymes: A forgotten book of nursery rhymes tells the chilling history of a small town haunted by a dreadful secret.

82. The Creeping Shadows: A town is engulfed in darkness. As the shadows deepen, the townsfolk's worst fears come to life.

83. The Blood Moon Prophecy: Every blood moon, a prophecy comes true, predicting the gruesome fate of a chosen victim.

84. The Bone Collector: A lonely gravedigger begins collecting bones, unaware each bone houses a vengeful spirit.

85. The House of Ravens: An isolated house is haunted by a murder of ravens, signaling the arrival of death.

86. The Blind Seer: A blind woman can see the future. She must find a way to alter her fate when she predicts her death.

87. The Resurrected King: A king buried beneath a castle rises every century, bringing terror upon its inhabitants.

88. The Puppet Master's Curse: A puppeteer cursed to become one of his puppets must break the curse before it's too late.

89. The Widow's Shadow: A widow is haunted by the shadow of her late husband, leading her to uncover a dark secret he took to his grave.

90. The Lighthouse's Call: A lighthouse beckons lost souls during stormy nights, guiding them into a different world from which there is no return.

91. The Lost Children of the Woods: A group of friends finds themselves lost in a forest inhabited by the spirits of children who have disappeared over the centuries.

92. The Ice Queen's Castle: An abandoned ice castle in the far North houses the frozen spirit of a queen, waiting to be thawed and unleashed on the world.

93. The Phantom Orchestra: The concert hall of a sunken ship comes alive on silent nights, playing the Phantom orchestra's haunting symphony.

94. The Shadow Puppet: A child's shadow puppet takes a life of its own, reenacting chilling stories from the town's grim past.

95. The Ghost Writer's Revenge: A famous author's ghost haunts his former protégé, wreaking havoc on his life for stealing his work.

96. The Forgotten Twins: Twins separated at birth reunite and discover their shared ability to foresee death, a gift they must use to save their town.

97. The Scribe's Curse: A scribe's quill brings to life whatever it writes, leading to terrifying outcomes when it falls into the wrong hands.

98. The Spirit Train: A phantom train appears at an abandoned station each Halloween, and the curious souls who board it are never seen again.

99. The Haunting Sonata: A young violinist plays a haunted sonata that has the power to awaken the spirits trapped in her old music academy.

100. The Book of Shadows: A book that writes itself, depicting the reader's darkest fears, drives a man to the brink of madness.

Character in gothic story

101. The Hangman's Noose: The ghost of a wrongfully executed man haunts the town's execution grounds, seeking revenge on the descendants of those who wronged him.

102. The Unearthed Coffin: An unearthed coffin in the local cemetery is found empty every morning, no matter how many times it's filled with earth.

103. The Gargoyle's Curse: A stone gargoyle perched atop a cathedral comes to life every night, bringing doom to anyone who crosses its path.

104. The Timekeeper's Watch: A pocket watch belonging to a long-deceased timekeeper brings about disasters whenever it strikes midnight.

105. The Widow's Tears: An old widow's tears can bring back the dead, leading to a terrifying reunion with her late husband.

106. The Reaper's Game: A man challenges death in chess with his life as the wager.

107. The Demon Barber: A barber in a small town uses his razor to groom his customers and collect their souls for his demonic master.

108. The Sinister Séance: A group of friends accidentally summons a vengeful spirit during a séance, setting off chilling events.

109. The Ghostly Bride: A bride left at the altar haunts her ancestral mansion, seeking revenge on the descendants of her unfaithful lover.

110. The Cursed Symphony: A forbidden symphony, when played, unleashes a series of horrific events on the town it's performed in.

111. The Cryptic Dollhouse: A Victorian dollhouse mirrors the lives of its owners in chilling detail, predicting their horrifying ends.

112. The Devil's Heir: The heir to a cursed family discovers he is of demonic lineage, a secret he must accept or fight against to save his loved ones.

Gothic story setting

From a child's terrifying imaginary friend to the unspeakable horror that unfolds when a young man unwittingly summons a demon, our list of  101+ gothic story ideas  is a treasure trove for fans of the horror genre.

These prompts tap into the dark, often unspoken fears within us all. After all, the things that bump at night often make for the most enthralling stories.

Horror, gothic fiction, and suspenseful narratives are prominent in English literature, allowing us to explore the darkness within and around us.

Whether you're a seasoned author seeking new story ideas or a budding writer searching for the perfect scary story idea, this extensive list promises to stir your imagination and guide your pen.

Remember, the night is dark and full of terrors. So, let's bring them to life on the page. Use these prompts to breathe life into tales that are as unsettling as they are irresistible.

Ready to embark on a spine-chilling journey? Grab your pen, summon your courage, and delve into the world of horror writing prompts.

Bridge in gothic story

Frequently Asked Questions about Gothic Story Ideas (FAQs)

What is a gothic story.

A gothic story is a literature genre that combines elements of horror and romance. It originated in the late 18th century and is characterized by an atmosphere of mystery, suspense, and terror, often set in a haunted castle or house.

What are the key elements of a gothic story?

Typically, a gothic story might include elements such as a haunted setting, weather used to set the mood, damsels in distress, an atmosphere of suspense and mystery, supernatural beings or occurrences, and a sense of doom or impending disaster.

How do I come up with a gothic story idea?

Drawing inspiration from classic gothic literature, such as Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" or Bram Stoker's "Dracula," can be a great starting point. Think about common tropes in these stories and how you can put your twist on them. Using gothic story prompts or ideas like those above can also be helpful.

How do I build a setting for a gothic story?

Gothic stories often occur in eerie locations such as haunted houses, decrepit mansions, graveyards, or isolated villages. Pay close attention to describing the architecture, weather, and an atmosphere of fear and decay.

What kind of characters should I include in a gothic story?

Characters in gothic stories often have a sense of being threatened or are in danger. This could include characters haunted by their past, tormented by supernatural entities, or caught in a situation they can't escape.

How do I create suspense in a gothic story?

Suspense in a gothic story can be built by keeping secrets from the reader, adding unexpected twists, or putting characters in situations in danger or fear. The atmosphere should be heavy with uncertainty, fear, and overwhelming dread.

How can I make my gothic story scary?

The fear factor in a gothic story comes from the atmosphere of suspense and the unknown. This can be achieved by employing elements of the supernatural, the uncanny, or the macabre. Descriptions of the setting and the characters' feelings also play an important role in creating a sense of fear and unease.

Are all gothic stories set in the past?

While many classic stories are set in the past, modern gothic (or neo-gothic) stories can be set in contemporary times. The key is maintaining the gothic atmosphere and themes, regardless of the period.

Can gothic stories have a happy ending?

While traditional gothic stories often have tragic or horrifying conclusions, it's not a hard and fast rule. The ending should align with the overall tone and theme of your story. A lighter resolution might be a surprise twist that can add to the reader's enjoyment.

Can I mix other genres with my gothic story?

Absolutely. Many great works of literature blend gothic elements with those of other genres. For example, you might write a story that's part Gothic horror, part romance, or part mystery. The key is to balance the elements so the gothic atmosphere isn't lost.

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21 Gothic Fiction Writing Prompts

By Rebecca Parpworth-Reynolds

gothic fiction writing prompts

In this post, we’ve included 21 Gothic fiction writing prompts to give you some ideas for your scary novel. Scroll down to read the prompts !

1. The Lighthouse Keeper

On a stormy night, a shipwreck survivor seeks refuge in an ancient lighthouse on a desolate island. Inside, they discover the journal of a former lighthouse keeper who mysteriously vanished, leaving behind chilling accounts of ghostly apparitions.

2. A Haunting Muse

A reclusive artist moves into a long-abandoned, Gothic-style mansion to find inspiration for their next masterpiece. However, as the paintings take form, they begin to reveal haunting visions of the mansion’s tragic past.

gothic writing prompts

3. In Loving Memory

In a forgotten cemetery hidden behind an overgrown and abandoned church, a young woman discovers a mysterious tombstone with her own name on it. As she investigates further, she uncovers a family curse that has plagued her ancestors for generations and could soon claim her, too.

4. By Any Means Necessary

A renowned scientist becomes obsessed with the idea of conquering death and begins conducting forbidden experiments in his secluded laboratory. As he delves deeper into his research, he unleashes dark forces that threaten to consume him and challenge how far he will go to achieve his goals.

5. Anything for Love

A rich mogul loses his beloved wife to an illness. Instead of having her buried, he instead decides to try to bring her back to life at any cost, while maintaining the illusion that she is still alive to visitors. However, does this goal truly stem from his devotion or truths that he needs to conceal?

6. Sinister Reflections

A lonely boy, ignored by his affluent parents, begins speaking to the mirror in his room. When the reflection in the mirror starts talking back, what will it start to reveal about himself and reality?

7. Inspired by Real Events

An acclaimed writer seeks inspiration for their next gothic novel and accepts an invitation to stay in a supposedly haunted inn. As they spend the night, they begin to experience ghostly visitations and uncover the inn’s tragic past.

8. An Otherworldly Dilemma

An archaeologist unearths an ancient tomb containing an ornate, mysterious key. The key is said to unlock the gateway to a hidden realm inhabited by malevolent entities, and the archaeologist must decide whether to explore the otherworldly secrets or seal the tomb forever.

9. To Heal or To Harm

In a remote village, a doctor stumbles upon an ancient medical text with forbidden knowledge. Driven by the desire to heal the sick, they unwittingly unleash a malevolent force that feeds on human suffering. How far will they go to keep the malevolent force satisfied while still being able to save lives that would otherwise be lost without the tome’s help?

10. Dark Devotion

Deep within the heart of a dense forest, a group of explorers discovers an abandoned abbey. As they venture inside, they encounter unsettling signs that the abbey was once a site of dark rituals and unspeakable horrors, and may not be as abandoned as they first thought.

11. A Life in Pictures

A young woman wakes up in a lavish Victorian mansion with no memory of how she got there. As she explores her surroundings, she discovers paintings of herself depicting events she cannot remember, with each one more unsettling than the last.

12. For the Greater Good

A village appears to prosper despite the odds, even when other nearby settlements suffer from disease and poor harvests. A traveling missionary visits the village and learns that their success seems to come from a darker allegiance and that he is the next sacrifice.

13. We are the Freakshow

A carnival freakshow comes to a Victorian town. However, instead of the expected exhibits, the townspeople find that each of the “freaks” represents their deepest and darkest fears and secrets.

14. Shelter from the Storm

A weary traveler caught in a vicious storm enters a seemingly abandoned mansion in search of shelter. However, as soon as the doors creak open, he realizes that the house and its inhabitants have been eagerly expecting his arrival.

15. The Pursuit of Knowledge

In a search for knowledge, a budding academic works their way through dark and dusty library shelves. One particular tome draws their interest, although they soon find that in order to unlock the book’s information, heavy prices must be paid. How far will they go in the pursuit of knowledge?

16. The Clockwork Coup

An eccentric inventor working in a dilapidated warehouse creates lifelike clockwork dolls. As he brings them to life, they display emotions and a desire for freedom, leading to a chilling battle for control as he reassesses what makes someone truly human.

17. In Her Dreams

A young woman starts having vivid dreams of a mysterious manor. The dreams become so lifelike that she decides to visit the manor in reality, only to find that the line between dreams and real life is far more blurred than she could have imagined.

18. Encroaching Moonlight

A powerful curse plagues a quaint village, causing its inhabitants to transform into monstrous creatures every full moon. The townspeople must unravel the curse’s origin before they lose their humanity forever, especially as civilization and technology draw ever closer to their community.

19. The Greatest Show on Earth

A famed Victorian illusionist performs his greatest show yet in a grand theater where the line between illusion and reality becomes increasingly blurry. As audience members start to disappear during the show, it’s unclear whether it’s all part of the act or something far more sinister.

20. Not Just an Act

A Victorian fraudster poses as a medium in order to con grieving families out of their money for a chance to be able to commune with their loved ones, using elaborate tricks and props to fool them into thinking that they are there. However, they soon realize that the spirits are real, and out to seek vengeance for their living relatives.

21. A Sharp-Fanged Truth

A young woman has long romanticized the idea of vampires, reading every legend about them and secretly wishing that she was one. However, when she is turned by one of the creatures that she idolizes, she soon finds that the reality is far more unsettling than her dreams.

Digital Phrases

36 Gothic Writing Prompts and Story Ideas

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Calling all fans of flickering candles, stormy nights, and a good dose of the macabre!

Are you ready to unleash your inner Gothic writer?

Whether you’re a seasoned storyteller or just dipping your toes into the genre, this post is for you. We’re all about to dive deep into a world of creepy castles, haunting mysteries , and characters with secrets darker than a moonless night .

Let’s go.

Gothic Writing Prompts

  • The House of Whispers: A gothic mansion stands on the outskirts of a decaying village. Inside, whispers echo along the dusty corridors, carrying secrets and hints of lost inhabitants. When tragedy forces you to seek shelter within its walls, these whispers become your only guide, leading you deeper into a twisted past .
  • The Porcelain Children : In a grand, crumbling orphanage, porcelain dolls sit upon windowsills with unnerving, life -like eyes . Legend says one of the children from the orphanage went missing, and their soul was trapped within their favorite doll. As you investigate the truth of this tale, the dolls seem to watch your every move, and you can’t shake the feeling that one just blinked.
  • The Woman Behind the Veil: On a fog-drenched moor, a lone figure stands perpetually beside a forgotten grave. Clad in a long, black veil, she remains silent and unyielding, a specter rooted to the spot. Drawn into her silent mourning, you uncover a heartbreaking tale of love , loss, and the desperate lengths someone will go to defy death .
  • The Painted Garden : You awaken in a vibrant, beautiful garden – but something is horribly off. Each flower boasts impossibly rich colors, and the trees have twisted into grotesque shapes. The air crackles with an energy that hums in your bones, promising madness and something far more sinister lurking within the garden’s depths.
  • The Unseen Melody: The mournful notes of a phantom piano echo through a decaying manor. They draw you into darkened rooms filled with strange instruments and scores for music that seems impossible to play . As you become obsessed with the music, the line between reality and the spectral melody begins to blur.

Gothic Writing Prompts

  • The Forgotten Mirror: A tarnished mirror, its reflective surface swirling with shadows, beckons you with the promise of revealing hidden truths. Each reflection pulls you deeper into a tangled past filled with lost loves and betrayals. The longer you look, the more of yourself you lose to the shadowy depths of the mirror.
  • Shadows Beyond the Gates: Wrought-iron gates stand guard over an abandoned asylum. Locals say those who enter never return, their screams lost to the wind. Yet, at night, you glimpse strange, elongated shadows moving inside, hinting at the horrifying reason behind the asylum’s grim reputation.
  • The Devil’s Manuscript: You discover an ancient manuscript, its pages whispering promises of power and forbidden knowledge. Each word is written in blood, the pages crackling with dark magic . As you delve deeper into its secrets, the manuscript begins to change you, twisting your desires and revealing the darkness lurking within your soul.
  • The Village of the Damned: A remote village hides a terrible secret. The children, all with eerily similar features and chillingly blank eyes, hold a strange power over the adults. As a traveler passing through, it becomes clear you’re not welcome, and your attempts to escape draw the attention of these unsettling children.
  • The Endless Ballroom: Lost in a maze of hallways, you stumble upon a lavish ballroom frozen in time. Figures waltz in perpetual motion, their laughter hollow echoes in the grand room. You soon realize you’ve become a prisoner of this ghostly dance , and finding an escape may mean shattering the illusion that keeps it all going.

Gothic Writing Prompts

  • The Shadow Collector: An eccentric old man roams the city streets with a tarnished silver lantern. It’s said he collects people’s shadows, trapping them within the lantern’s flickering light. When your shadow disappears, you begin a desperate hunt for the collector, fearing what losing your shadow truly means.
  • The Weeping Portrait: Within a secluded art gallery, a single painting draws your attention – a woman whose tears seemingly drip from the canvas. Legend says the woman was painted alive, her despair infused with the oils. As you study the image, the woman’s gaze follows you, pleading, and you realize her spirit may be begging for release.
  • The Unquiet Forest : An ancient, whispering forest borders your town. Those who enter never return, their disappearances explained away as the wood’s hunger. But when your loved one is taken, you defy the warnings and venture into the tangled depths, where the trees themselves seem alive and intent on keeping their secrets.
  • The Carnival at Midnight: A traveling carnival with faded tents and rusted rides appears mysteriously overnight. The laughter rings hollow, promises of wonders seem tainted with a lurking menace. As you explore, you realize there’s no way out and the carnival itself is a living entity, feeding on the thrills and fears of its trapped patrons.
  • Bloodlines and Curses: Inheriting a crumbling estate uncovers a sealed room and a forgotten family history . Whispers of a generations-old curse begin to leak out, infecting your reality. Dreams turn macabre, shadows play tricks, and you fear that the blood you carry may be your undoing.

Gothic Writing Prompts

  • The Clockwork Heart: A renowned, but reclusive inventor resides in a mansion filled with ticking contraptions. He offers you a mechanical heart, a marvel promising to replace your ailing one. You agree, but soon discover the clockwork heart has an insatiable hunger – not for blood, but your deepest emotions .
  • The Cult of the Pale Moon : A mysterious cult promising eternal life operates in the shadows of a bustling city. Whispers tell of strange rituals beneath the pale moon. Drawn by the promise of defying death, you infiltrate their ranks only to discover the cult’s true purpose – and the terrible price they demand for their gift.
  • The Dollmaker’s Lament: An isolated dollmaker crafts unsettlingly realistic dolls, each imbued with a fragment of their creator’s fractured psyche. The dolls, filled with a longing for life, turn their eyes upon their maker. As you visit his remote workshop, the dolls begin to speak, demanding the one thing their creator cannot give.
  • The Seamstress Who Weaves Fate: In a forgotten corner of the city, an ancient seamstress works tirelessly, threads gleaming with an otherworldly light. It’s said she can stitch fortunes into the fabric of reality. Desperate to change your destiny, you seek her aid – but tampering with fate always comes at a steep cost.
  • Of Wax and Whispers: A museum houses a collection of eerily lifelike wax figures, each with secrets frozen in their eyes. At night, hushed whispers fill the exhibit, hinting at lives interrupted and spirits trapped within the waxen shells. As a night watchman, you must uncover the unsettling truth or join the figures in their silent vigil.

Gothic Writing Prompts

  • The Anatomy of a Nightmare : Unexplained nightmares plague you, filled with grotesque imagery and a sense of impending doom. When you begin to see elements of these nightmares seeping into your waking reality, you’re forced to confront the question: Are your nightmares bleeding into the real world, or is something in the real world invading your dreams?
  • The Ghost Train: A spectral steam engine streaks through the night, visible only to those marked for misfortune. When you glimpse the train hurtling toward you, carrying wraith-like passengers, you know your time is running out. Can you unpuzzle the train’s purpose and escape its deadly prophecy?
  • The Music Box of Lamentations: You inherit a delicate music box, its haunting melody filling you with inexplicable sorrow. The music holds power, bending reality subtly around its tune. You must discover the music box’s origin and break its melancholy spell before it consumes you entirely.
  • The City Beneath the City: Whispers tell of a labyrinthine city below the cobblestones, inhabited by those rejected by the world above. Driven by curiosity, you descend, only to find a society bound by strange rules, fueled by desperation, and holding dark secrets that will forever change your understanding of humanity.

Gothic Writing Prompts

  • The House That Hungered: A dilapidated old house possesses a malevolent consciousness. It lures occupants inside its creaking walls, seeking to consume their fears and regrets. When an unsuspecting family moves into the house, they must discover its terrible secrets and escape its grasp before they become yet another sacrifice.
  • The Keeper of the Lighthouse: On a desolate island stands a lonely lighthouse, its beacon a solitary eye against the crashing waves. The lighthouse keeper, a figure cloaked in sea mist and legend, has a supernatural connection to the storms. As a shipwrecked sailor, you must seek refuge in the lighthouse but tread cautiously, for the keeper guards both light and darkness.
  • The Taxidermist’s Collection: A skilled yet chillingly detached taxidermist fills their home with exquisitely preserved creatures. However, a rumor circulates that amongst the animals , there might lurk a human specimen, trapped in a perpetual state of lifeless beauty. As an investigator, you are drawn into this world of uncanny artistry and morbid fascination.
  • The Unopened Letters : In the attic of a forgotten mansion, you discover a bundle of yellowed letters, every envelope still sealed. They bear the names of past occupants, each of whom met a tragic end . As you begin to read , their voices rise from the pages, painting a chilling narrative of curses, betrayals, and secrets that should have stayed buried.
  • The Lake of Glass: Hidden deep in a mist-shrouded forest lies a lake whose surface is perfectly smooth, reflecting the twisted branches like a dark mirror. Legend says the lake shows visions of lost loves and alternate destinies. Driven by longing, you gaze into its depths, but the reflected world traps you, forcing you to confront the paths untaken.
  • Of Ink and Blood: A mysterious tome surfaces in an antiquarian bookstore, filled with unsettling illustrations and passages of an unknown language . As you decipher the text, it bleeds into your reality, unleashing grotesque entities from its pages. You must break the curse of the book before the boundary between worlds collapses entirely.

Gothic Writing Prompts

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Writing and Understanding Gothic Literature [With Examples]

Posted on Jul 19, 2021

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Written by Hannah Lee Kidder

When you think of gothic literature, what comes to mind? 

Probably giant castles dripping with cobwebs, likely haunted by somebody’s long-lost lover. You might think of something like Dracula or Edgar Allen Poe, classic examples of gothic writers. 

You might also think of Southern gothic aesthetics on Pinterest or TikTok–run-down churches with broken crosses out front, murky bayous cast in a grayscale filter, stories of hauntings in abandoned houses. 

Gothic literature makes up more of our current cultural landscape than people realize, and although the name evokes literature from days of old, there’s still a place for gothic lit in the contemporary sphere!

Read on to learn more about gothic literature and how to write it for a modern-day audience. 

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What is gothic literature?

Gothic literature is a genre of literature that combines dark elements, spooky settings, conflicted and disturbed characters into a whimsically horrific, often romantic, story. It’s the darkest portion of Dark Romanticism, emerging soon after the Romantic literary era.

Brief history lesson for gothic literature: Romanticism deals heavily with individualism, transcendentalism, and emotion. Romantics were all about internal struggles and ego. Gothic literature takes this movement and focuses on the macabre, the unsettling, and dials the dramatics up to a ten. 

So in short: gothic literature takes the flair from Romantic literature and adds horror and thrill. Fun! 

Gothic Literature

Examples of Gothic Literature Authors and Novels

You’re probably familiar with many pieces that fit into the gothic literature genre. Here are some examples of authors and stories you’ve probably come across: 

Bram Stoker

When I think of gothic literature, Dracula is the very first thing that pops into my head.

It ticks all the gothic literature boxes:

  • we’ve got a deep air of mystery
  • a spooky castle lodged deep in the forest
  • a terrifying vampire
  • and a lot of emotion. 

Stoker’s Dracula has, obviously, inspired countless vampire stories in its wake. Most significant in the past couple of decades has been Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight saga. 

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allen Poe is the second thing after Dracula that comes to mind for me. Let’s consider some of the overarching themes of Poe’s work: we’ve got lots of unsettling plot devices and imagery , constant mystery and intrigue, and consistently melodramatic narrators. 

For example: The Tell-Tale Heart leads with a mystery. Suspense and drama builds significantly throughout the story. We see the narrator descend into a literal madness trying to conceal the beating heart beneath his floorboards. We’ve got an icky beating heart, a man out on his own, high emotion, some madness for good measure–this is gothic literature to a T. 

Emily Bronte

Wuthering Heights, another direct inspiration for Twilight (I’m getting you ready to talk about it later so you won’t be mad, brace yourself), is also an absolute masterclass in gothic fiction. Let’s side aside some of the, uh, iffy aspects–by which I do mean the incest–and look at the novel’s components. 

We’ve got a secluded manor deep in the woods (check), a family riddled with mystery and intrigue (check), supernatural elements (check), and above all, romantic tension dialed up to a hundred million. 

You might find with Wuthering Heights, specifically, that people will either love or hate it–I’ve personally never met someone who felt neutrally about it. When people love it, it’s usually because of how capital R Romantic it is. You’ve got the devastatingly beautiful foggy landscape, the heightened emotion, and spooky ghosts–what more could you want? 

People who hate it, interestingly, will say the same thing. They’ll say there’s too much description of the stupid fog, the emotion is way too over-the-top, and the romance is overcooked. 

Keep that dichotomy in mind–we’re going to talk about how to write gothic literature for a contemporary audience next. 

How to Write Gothic Literature

So! Maybe these kinds of stories are the ones you love the most, and you’re thinking there’s no way anyone could publish something like Wuthering Heights today and have any success at a publisher. 

And you’d be right–sort of. 

In contemporary publishing, we still have the components of gothic literature floating around in the form of thrillers, ghost stories, and, above all (in my opinion), supernatural teen romance. If you’re looking to write a novel , there is absolutely still a market for high-drama, eerie fiction with a focus on romance and suspense! 

Don’t believe me? Let’s talk about Twilight! 

Twilight takes place in a spooky, eerie forest. It follows a teenage girl who is a stranger to this location, and we watch her deal with a very intense first love with a creepy vampire boyfriend who is also kind of hot. This is textbook gothic literature, all the way down to the melodrama and maybe-a-little-too-intense love story. 

I’m not here to argue for Twilight as a great piece of literature, but I bring it up to point out that this kind of thing absolutely still sells. 

That said, it’s important to write it for a modern-day audience. Books are different now than they were during Poe’s day, and we have to adjust accordingly. Here are 4 tips and tricks to write a gothic novel that modern-day readers will love: 

1. Avoid Melodrama 

Okay, remember what we said about Wuthering Heights and how people loved and hated it for kind of the same reasons? The chief complaint is that it’s way too melodramatic and drawn-out, whereas the chief praise is that it’s got such a dramatic flair. 

You’ll also hear this complaint about Twilight. People will say it’s too dramatic and worn-out, and in my opinion, they’re kind of right. 

To some extent, this is going to be a matter of preference. I personally love the dramatic flair gothic literature brings to the table, and I consider the super-intense romance and emotional roller coasters to be a convention of the genre. 

However, modern-day audiences are used to more realistic stuff. It’s easier to get away with in YA because teenagers are going through super heightened emotions–melodrama generally makes sense to kids who are experiencing the absolute highs and lows of the human experience every day before noon. 

For an adult audience, though, you might want to keep the melodrama to a minimum. Keep the scenes believable, keep your character’s motives believable and clear, and temper your more over-the-top plot elements with a healthy amount of skepticism. 

2. Keep Emotions High for Writing Gothic Literature

That being said–emotion is at the core of gothic literature, so you don’t want to lose it altogether!

High drama and high emotion are vital.

Relying on extended metaphor can help you out here. In Twilight, for example, we’ve got a teenage romance where the girl feels like she’s literally going to die, and the boy also feels like he’s literally going to die, and everyone is freaking out all of the time. 

If they were just two regular kids, this might be way too much. But Meyer’s gone in and made Edward a vampire. Now, Bella literally might die! Edward literally might get her killed! The constant fret over dying feels more appropriate now, and all Meyer has to do is enhance the existing high stakes to really drive home that drama. 

Lean into high-stakes drama in your gothic novel. Mortal peril, terrifying monsters, and supernatural threats are all welcome! Make it genuinely concerning and frightening to your audience, and they’ll be on-board for some dramatic reactions from your characters. 

3. Location, Location, Location! 

Another way to lean into a high-drama vibe is to really hone your location. Since Gothic literature is a subtype of Romantic literature, it often deals heavily with nature–you get a lot of nature vs. man, man alone in the vast forest, that kind of thing. 

This is why the giant spooky manor in the middle of a forest is so effective.

Original gothic literature often dealt with medieval settings and drew on medieval Europe for much of its inspiration. Lean into old buildings, decaying infrastructure–if it’s a Southern piece, let’s see some churches from the 1700’s . If it takes place in Europe, let’s see a castle or an old, decrepit manor. 

It could also be as simple as a run-down house in the woods, an old apartment complex in an eerie neighborhood, or a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. We’re looking for something creepy, dramatic, and preferably isolated. And extra bonus points if our protagonist is a newcomer to this location! 

4. Make it Sensational 

It’s easy for people to scoff at gothic literature because it’s so high-drama and high-emotion. But there’s absolutely no question that it’s immensely successful, so something about it has to be working, right? 

Well, it’s that drama. People love drama. When we gossip with our friends, we don’t make a point to make the subject of gossip as uninteresting as possible. We throw in hyperbole, we get into it. The phrase isn’t “the tea is lukewarm,” it’s “the tea is scalding.” 

Gothic literature appeals to that part of us that wants the most. So write it that way!

As I mentioned earlier, you want to keep everything in check and make sure the plot checks out and still feels believable. But you want to make it a fantastic sensory experience for your reader. 

In part, this will mean delicious descriptions, especially of the macabre. It means that when something is suspenseful, it should be super suspenseful. When something is romantic, we should be swooning. Gothic literature should be a sensational experience which takes us to the emotional limit–anything less is just unacceptable. 

Long (Gothic Literature) Story Short… 

When you’re writing a gothic literature novel, lean into scary elements, spooky settings, and heightened emotion. At the same time, make the stakes clear and keep them high so that the heightened emotion feels appropriate. 

And the golden rule for all writing goes here, too: if you’re not sure you’ve struck a good balance, get some friends who loved Twilight to read it for you. 

Do you have any contemporary gothic novels to recommend? Let us know in the comments! 

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Writing Gothic Fiction: Tips To Craft An Effective Story

by Madeleine Rose Jones | Apr 17, 2020 | General Fiction , Writing Tips | 0 comments

creative writing gothic story

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 affiliate links.

Need a word processor? I recommend Scrivener .

Tip 1: Juxtapose The Darkness With Light

creative writing gothic story

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

creative writing gothic story

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

creative writing gothic story

‘Romantic’ doesn’t always mean a love story. No, ‘Romantic’ refers to Romanticism, the art and literary period of the early 19 th 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

creative writing gothic story

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

creative writing gothic story

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

creative writing gothic story

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

creative writing gothic story

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

creative writing gothic story

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

creative writing gothic story

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.

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How to Write Gothic Fiction

Last Updated: May 17, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Christopher Taylor, PhD . Christopher Taylor is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Austin Community College in Texas. He received his PhD in English Literature and Medieval Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014. There are 9 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 363,073 times.

Gothic fiction is a subgenre of horror, exemplified by authors such as H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, and Wilkie Collins. Gothic horror consists of moody landscapes, supernatural experiences, and an atmosphere filled with dread. You can write your own piece of gothic fiction if you know about its conventions. Keep reading to learn how to write a gothic fiction story.

Developing Ideas for Your Gothic Fiction

Step 1 Choose a time when your story will take place.

  • A story about the past can make supernatural events and strange characters seem more real to your readers.
  • Or, you can write in the present but include lots of elements that hearken back to an older time. Bram Stoker includes modern technology and ancient things in Dracula. He describes typewriters and trains, but he also includes vampires and an ancient castle.

Step 2 Choose a setting.

  • The Overlook Hotel in Stephen King's The Shining is an excellent example of such a location. The Overlook was once a gleaming vibrant vacation spot occupied by many people, but now only Jack and his family occupy it. [1] X Research source
  • The mood of the environment will influence how the characters act.

Step 3 Create your characters.

  • Hero or anti-hero. There should be at least one character in your gothic fiction that readers will like, even if he or she has some dark tendencies. Mary Shelley's Victor Frankenstein is a great example of a hero who is good, even though he creates a monster.
  • Villain. The villain in gothic fiction stories often plays the role of a tempter, who leads the hero down a dark path. A good villain should be both evil and fun to read about. Dracula in Bram Stoker's Dracula is an excellent example of an interesting, yet evil villain. He does terrible things (like murdering people) and is portrayed by Bram Stoker as the epitome of foreign corruption that threatened Britain's society at the time. Since this fear of invasion was common at the time 'Dracula' was published, it was a very popular Gothic novel.
  • Woman in white. Many gothic fiction novels feature a doomed bride or damsel in distress character who never gets her happy ending. Elizabeth from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a good example of a woman in white. [2] X Research source
  • Woman in black. Other gothic fictions include a woman in black character like a widow. Miss Jessel of Turn of the Screw by Henry James is an example of a woman in black. [3] X Research source

Step 4 Develop a plot.

  • For example, in Bram Stoker's Dracula Mina redeems herself with the help of her friends.

Making Your Gothic Fiction Unique

Step 1 Add a supernatural element.

  • For example, young William Frankenstein wanders off and Frankenstein's monster murders him. [5] X Research source

Step 3 Add a prophecy or curse.

  • For example, a prophecy haunts the family in Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto. The prophecy says that the castle will pass from Manfred's line. The prophecy seems to have come true when Manfred's son dies. [8] X Research source

Step 4 Add a damsel in distress.

  • Matilda is in love with one man, but another man lusts after her, which puts her in danger throughout the book. [10] X Research source

Step 5 Consider using a found material or true story framing device.

  • For example, Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker both use found material framing devices. They present their stories through character letters and journal entries.

Writing Your Gothic Fiction

Step 1 Introduce your story.

Find continuous ways to engage the reader. "I end each chapter with a cliffhanger, resolution, a turn, a reveal, a new wrinkle ... something that will make you want to read the next chapter of that character."

Step 4 Incorporate descriptions of heightened emotions throughout your story.

  • For example, Roderick descends into madness in Edgar Allen Poe's “Fall of The House of Usher.” His decline intensifies the story and makes it scarier.

Step 6 Kill off some of your characters.

  • For example, a giant helmet crushes Conrad in Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto. Conrad was on his way to get married. [16] X Research source

Step 7 Conclude with a twist.

  • Edgar Allen Poe includes twists at the end of his stories that lead readers to question the finality of death. Poe includes one of these twists in “Fall of the House of Usher” when Madeline appears in the doorway and falls on top of Roderick. Roderick had believed that Madeline was dead.

Gothic Fiction Template

creative writing gothic story

Expert Q&A

Christopher Taylor, PhD

  • Read gothic fiction for inspiration and to learn more about the genre. The better you understand the conventions of the genre, the easier it will be for you to contribute your own work of gothic fiction. Thanks Helpful 3 Not Helpful 0
  • Going online to research all your information, like places for your setting, may also help. Thanks Helpful 2 Not Helpful 0
  • Share your work with supportive friends and family when you are finished. Ask for feedback on what they like and how you can improve your story. Thanks Helpful 2 Not Helpful 0

Tips from our Readers

  • Be patient! It may take days before you get a good idea on what to write about.
  • Read gothic books/blogs to get inspiration for your own writing.

creative writing gothic story

You Might Also Like

Write a Short Story

  • ↑ https://www.sgasd.org/cms/lib/PA01001732/Centricity/Domain/553/Frankenstein%20Gothic%20and%20Romantic%20Notes.pdf
  • ↑ https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2014/oct/28/halloween-top-tips-gothic-writing-chris-priestley
  • ↑ https://knarf.english.upenn.edu/Chars/william.html
  • ↑ https://owlcation.com/humanities/How-to-Write-a-Curse-or-Prophecy-in-Your-Fiction-Writing
  • ↑ https://www.bbc.co.uk/timelines/zyp72hv
  • ↑ https://www.virtualsalt.com/gothic.htm
  • ↑ https://www.writersdigest.com/improve-my-writing/10-ways-to-start-your-story-better
  • ↑ https://www.thegothiclibrary.com/gothic-tropes-madness/
  • ↑ https://study.com/learn/lesson/the-castle-of-otranto-horace-walpole-summary.html

About This Article

Christopher Taylor, PhD

To write a great piece of gothic horror, start by setting your story in a strange, decaying place with a creepy atmosphere, like a crumbling castle or a haunted house. Then, spend plenty of time developing your characters. Create a main character that has some dark tendencies but is still sympathetic, and a villain who tempts the hero towards a dark path. If you need some inspiration, look for examples in the works of the great gothic horror writers, including Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, and Edgar Allan Poe. For more writing tips from our Literary co-author, like how to develop an engaging plot, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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65 Romantic Gothic Fiction Writing Prompts

June 3, 2024 by Richard Leave a Comment

65 Romantic Gothic Fiction Writing Prompts

Embark on a journey into the dark and captivating world of Romantic Gothic fiction with these 65 writing prompts. Perfect for writers seeking to explore the intriguing blend of romance and horror, these prompts delve into the depths of the human psyche, where love and fear intertwine. From haunting tales of star-crossed lovers to the terrors lurking in the shadows of abandoned castles, these prompts will ignite your imagination and inspire you to create your own chilling and passionate stories.

Discover the allure of Gothic Romance as you explore prompts featuring mysterious wanderers, ancient curses, and the supernatural. Whether you’re drawn to the idea of childhood friends reuniting under sinister circumstances or the horrors unleashed by a poet’s dreams, these prompts offer a wide range of eerie and enchanting scenarios. Delve into the minds of artists, musicians, and inventors whose creations take on a life of their own, blurring the lines between reality and nightmare.

Immerse yourself in the timeless themes of love and sacrifice, as lovers battle against malevolent forces, societal constraints, and the very boundaries of life and death. These Romantic Gothic writing prompts challenge you to explore the lengths individuals will go to protect and preserve their love, even in the face of unspeakable horrors. From ghostly visions and demonic possessions to cursed artifacts and twisted dimensions, these prompts offer a wealth of inspiration for crafting tales of forbidden love and supernatural terror.

Experience the power of nature as it becomes a character in its own right, harboring ancient evils and exacting revenge upon humanity. Explore the consequences of scientific discoveries gone awry and the price of uncovering grisly truths. These writing prompts invite you to create rich, atmospheric settings that serve as the backdrop for your Romantic Gothic tales, from misty forests and crumbling castles to abandoned mansions and nightmarish realms.

Whether you’re a seasoned writer of Gothic fiction or new to the genre, these 65 Romantic Gothic writing prompts provide a thrilling starting point for your dark and passionate stories. Embrace the opportunity to explore the complex interplay of love and horror, delving into the depths of the human experience and the supernatural forces that shape it. With each prompt, you’ll uncover new avenues for storytelling and character development, creating tales that will haunt and enchant readers long after the final page is turned.

  • A lone wanderer discovers a hidden, idyllic valley harboring a dark, ancient evil.
  • A poet finds inspiration in the ruins of an ancient castle, awakening a malevolent spirit.
  • Star-crossed lovers from feuding families make a pact with a demon for their love.
  • An artist becomes obsessed with capturing the horrifying visage of a mysterious figure.
  • A hero embarks on a quest to confront the monstrous embodiment of nature’s wrath.
  • A traveler encounters a supernatural being in a remote, misty forest, which hunts them.
  • Childhood friends reconnect and discover a sinister secret that haunts their hometown.
  • A musician’s composition is inspired by whispers from the dead during a thunderstorm.
  • Forbidden lovers escape society’s constraints, only to face a nightmarish fate.
  • A painter’s masterpiece comes to life, revealing a twisted, horrifying world.
  • A poet’s dreams blur with reality, unleashing unspeakable horrors upon the world.
  • Nature itself comes alive, seeking revenge against humanity for its transgressions.
  • A scientist’s world-changing discovery unleashes a plague that turns people into monsters.
  • Lovers from different social classes fight against a curse that threatens to destroy them.
  • A wanderer discovers the ruins of a lost civilization and the horrors that wiped it out.
  • A composer’s magnum opus is inspired by visions of an apocalyptic future.
  • A solitary figure contemplates existence under a starry sky, as an eldritch horror emerges.
  • An inventor creates a machine that brings nightmares to life.
  • Star-crossed lovers meet in the afterlife, tormented by the demons of their past.
  • A poet undergoes a transformative journey, becoming a vessel for an ancient, malevolent entity.
  • Childhood sweethearts are separated by war and struggle to reunite, haunted by ghostly visions.
  • In artist becomes lost in the world of their own imagination, which turns into a inescapable nightmare.
  • A philosopher’s life-altering conversation with a stranger unleashes a curse upon the world.
  • Lovers communicate through secret letters, inadvertently summoning a malicious force.
  • A wanderer stumbles upon a mysterious, enchanted garden that feeds on human souls.
  • A writer’s fictional characters come to life, seeking to destroy their creator.
  • A musician discovers an ancient, magical instrument that drives its player to madness.
  • Lovers sacrifice everything to be together, becoming vengeful spirits after death.
  • An artist’s muse is a supernatural being that demands increasingly horrific acts of devotion.
  • A poet undertakes a pilgrimage to their literary idol’s birthplace, uncovering a grisly truth.
  • Childhood friends, separated by circumstance, are reunited by a malevolent force.
  • A painter’s masterpiece is inspired by terrifying visions of a post-apocalyptic world.
  • Lovers from warring nations discover a dark secret that threatens to consume them both.
  • A composer’s symphony is influenced by the agonized screams of tortured souls.
  • A wanderer discovers a portal to a nightmarish dimension hidden in a cavern.
  • An inventor creates a device that forces people to confront their deepest fears.
  • A writer’s stories start to predict future tragedies with unsettling accuracy.
  • Lovers reincarnated across lifetimes are pursued by a malevolent entity.
  • A sculptor’s creation comes to life and embarks on a rampage of terror.
  • A poet finds solace in the solitude of a lighthouse, unaware of the dark presence lurking within.
  • Childhood friends embark on a journey to find a legendary treasure, awakening an ancient curse.
  • An artist’s paintings start to reveal disturbing secrets about the subjects’ dark pasts.
  • A composer’s music has the power to resurrect the dead, but at a terrible cost.
  • Lovers must overcome the boundaries of time and escape a temporal loop of horror.
  • A wanderer stumbles upon a society living in harmony with nature, harboring a sinister secret.
  • An inventor creates a machine that can materialize nightmares into reality.
  • A writer’s characters become self-aware and seek revenge for their fictional torment.
  • Lovers communicate across vast distances, unknowingly attracting a malevolent entity.
  • A painter’s artwork opens portals to alternate dimensions filled with unspeakable horrors.
  • A poet’s words have the power to unleash plagues and catastrophes upon the world.
  • Childhood friends discover a mysterious, abandoned mansion, haunted by the ghosts of its past.
  • An artist becomes a recluse, creating masterpieces that drive viewers to insanity.
  • A composer’s music is the key to unlocking an ancient, world-ending prophecy.
  • Lovers must navigate the challenges of loving someone possessed by a demon.
  • A wanderer encounters a wise, ancient tree that demands human sacrifices for its knowledge.
  • An inventor creates a device that traps people in their own worst memories.
  • A writer’s stories start to manifest in the real world, blurring the line between fiction and nightmares.
  • Lovers must overcome the boundaries of mortality, but one is secretly a vampire.
  • A sculptor’s creation becomes a vessel for a powerful, ancient demon seeking to enter our world.
  • A poet’s words have the ability to bring inanimate objects to life, creating a terrifying army.
  • Childhood friends discover a hidden, magical world, not realizing it feeds on their darkest desires.
  • An artist’s final masterpiece is imbued with their vengeful spirit, seeking retribution.
  • A composer’s symphony has the power to drive entire cities to madness and self-destruction.
  • Lovers must face the challenges of loving someone from a different, nightmarish reality.
  • A wanderer’s journey leads them to discover the true meaning of hell.

In conclusion, these 65 Romantic Gothic writing prompts offer a captivating gateway into a world where love and terror intertwine. By exploring the themes, characters, and settings presented in these prompts, writers can craft stories that delve into the darkest corners of the human heart and the most chilling recesses of the imagination. The enduring appeal of Gothic Romance lies in its ability to unite the passion and intensity of love with the fear and uncertainty of the unknown, creating tales that resonate with readers across generations.

Through these prompts, writers can explore the transformative power of love in the face of unimaginable horrors, the consequences of unchecked ambition and desire, and the inescapable pull of fate and destiny. By crafting rich, atmospheric settings and complex, multi-faceted characters, writers can create immersive stories that transport readers to the hauntingly beautiful world of Romantic Gothic fiction.

Whether you’re seeking to explore the depths of the human psyche, the mysteries of the supernatural, or the boundaries of love and mortality, these prompts provide a wealth of inspiration and opportunity. By embracing the elements of Gothic Romance, writers can tap into a rich literary tradition that has captivated audiences for centuries, while adding their own unique voice and perspective to the genre.

As you embark on your own journey into the realm of Romantic Gothic fiction, remember that the key to crafting a compelling story lies in the delicate balance of light and shadow, love and fear, beauty and terror. By weaving these elements together with skill and imagination, you can create tales that will haunt and enchant readers, leaving an indelible mark on their hearts and minds.

So, let these 65 Romantic Gothic writing prompts be your guide as you venture into the darkly alluring world of Gothic Romance. May they inspire you to create stories that celebrate the enduring power of love in the face of darkness, and that illuminate the shadows of the human experience with the light of passion and imagination. Happy writing!

Related Posts:

50 Captivating Time Travel Tropes to Inspire Your Next Story

About Richard

Richard Everywriter (pen name) has worked for literary magazines and literary websites for the last 25 years. He holds degrees in Writing, Journalism, Technology and Education. Richard has headed many writing workshops and courses, and he has taught writing and literature for the last 20 years.  

In writing and publishing he has worked with independent, small, medium and large publishers for years connecting publishers to authors. He has also worked as a journalist and editor in both magazine, newspaper and trade publications as well as in the medical publishing industry.   Follow him on Twitter, and check out our Submissions page .

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How to Write Gothic Fiction with Writing Coach Joseph Sale

by [email protected] | Dec 4, 2018 | Blog , For Writers , Gothic Fiction , Horror , Writer Resources

Class is in session. Have a seat, grab your quill, and enjoy Part 2 of Writing Coach Joseph Sale’s series on how to write Gothic fiction.

HOW TO WRITE GOTHIC

So, in the  previous class  we looked at the  four key elements  of  mood, architecture, religion  and  lyricism. Now, we’re going to put these ideas into practice for writing a short piece of prose. Get ready to do some work!

Exercise 2.1.

Pick a  favourite quote  from Gothic literature (or any literature so long as the quote itself has Gothic resonance according to the four aspects) or even a film. If you can’t find one or think of one off the top of your head, then you can use this one:

“Despair has its own calms” – Dracula

Based on this quote, write a short paragraph, expanding on the quote, giving it a modern twist. It doesn’t have to be a whole story, just the beginnings of one. It can be any type of writing response, from philosophical ramblings, a series of images, or a character portrait. Let yourself go.

creative writing gothic story

Exercise 2.2

From the paragraph you’ve written in the previous exercise, you have a  basic story premise.  By this, I mean you have a  seed  of something, whether it be an idea, philosophy, or feeling, that can be expanded into narrative form. You will now transform this seed into a  five act narrative.  The five act structure for storytelling harks back to the Greco-Roman plays of antiquity by such ancient masters as Sophocles and Plautus, but if you want a more recent example, think of Quentin Tarantino’s  Kill Bill Vol.1,  which is divided into five chapters! As the saying goes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Old forms endure for millennia for a reason.

The five acts are as follows:

Act I: Inciting Incident

The event that becomes a catalyst for everything that follows, the thing which sets the story in motion.

Act II: Development/Turn the screw

We go deeper into the story here and learn more about why the event happened, possibly learn some new insights about the event and the people involved in it that may cast them in new light or confirm what we initially thought. The tension is amped. I use the phrase “Turn the Screw” in reference to Henry James’ novel  The Turn of the Screw,  a masterpiece of taut psychological and supernatural horror that continues, each chapter, to “turn the screw”, making things worse, with more at stake, and more horror. 

Act III: Peripitea

This is the moment where our protagonist starts to turn the tables and gain the upper hand in some way, whether that be by realising what they need to do, acquiring an object or ally, or just trying harder. This is a moment where the “good guys” strike back.

Act IV: Anagnorisis

A revelation, some new information comes to light that changes everything. This would be the “I am your father” moment in Empire Strikes Back, or the “I am your mother” moment in Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex.

Act V: Catharsis

The story reaches its climax and denouement. Something is lost, so that something can be gained. We experience the negative emotions, the suffering, of the protagonist as our own and then are freed from this negative emotion in a moment of sublimity. If this all sounds a bit technical, just think of an ending to a film, book, story, that really moved you at a deep level. This is the catharsis.

Optional Extra: Resolution

Though this is not technically required, most stories have a resolution following the catharsis, a kind of epilogue. This is not a specific act, as it is normally very brief and is disconnected from the central narrative in some way (it takes place years afterwards, or is written from a different perspective). This is the rounding up of things, tying off of loose ends.

Let me give you a couple of examples, so you can get the hang on it.

Let’s look at a Gothic/Horror film most of us will have seen (though it’s totally okay if you haven’t):  Blade Runner.  This has five clear acts.

Act 1,  we are introduced to the concept of replicants in that iconic opening scene with Detective Holden interviewing Leon Kowalski. We are also introduced to Deckard (Harrison Ford), eating at a Japanese noodle bar, though not for long, because he is arrested. The first thing we see is a replicant struggling to  improvise  and  imagine,  the subtle difference between human and robot,   which is tremendously foreshadowing and significant of what will follow. Leon Kowalski’s attack / breakdown is the “inciting incident” that causes Deckard to be summoned to the office to track down the other rogue replicants, led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer).

Act 2,  Deckard learns about his opponent from his former boss Bryant: Roy and his gang are Nexus-6 replicants, believed to be advanced enough that they may have developed emotions, which might make them harder to detect via VK testing. The scientists designed the Nexus-6s to have only a four-year lifespan. Bryant sends Deckard to Tyrell Corp.’s headquarters to rest the VK machine on a Nexus-6 model. It is here he meets Rachel (Sean Young), a Nexus-6 model so advanced she has memories, and doesn’t know she is a replicant. Meanwhile, Roy, Leon, Pris and other characters forward their schemes, recruiting the “toy maker” Sebastian responsible for much of their code, and gaining equipment needed to enact their plan.

Act 3,  is the peripetea, the “turning point”. This is when good gets the upper hand. This is when Deckard uses a number stamp on a snake scale to locate one of Roy Batty’s crew, Zhora, and hunts her down. Deckard tracks down Sebastian and goes to his apartment. As Deckard searches the mess, he is surprised by a disguised Pris, who assaults him using acrobatics. As she performs a series of back flips to finish Deckard off, he shoots her through the abdomen. She spasms violently for a few moments before Deckard shoots her twice more and finally kills her. Many of Roy’s crew have been picked off now.

Act 4,  anaganorisis, is the “revelation”. With  Blade Runner,  this could be a number of things. Roy killing Tyrell whilst muttering the word “father”, to me is a revelation, because it humanises Roy whilst also showing him at his most monstrous. It is proof, if ever it were needed, that the replicants can in fact feel, are human, and even identify the same emotional attachments. Another revelation is during Deckard’s final pursuit and battle with Roy. This is one of the most hotly debated aspects of  Blade Runner,  which is :  Is Deckard a replicant?  I believe that the evidence shows Deckard is, himself, a replicant created to hunt replicants. His patchy memory, impulsiveness and childish behaviour, and his callousness (shooting a fleeing and wounded Zhora in the back without hesitation), all serve to support this. But, if final proof were needed, it’s when Roy saves Deckard from falling – gripping his arm and hoisting him up over the ledge. Roy says: “Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.” To me, this indicates that Roy knows Deckard is a “slave”, a robotically programmed replicant like himself. The two are similar, and Roy pities Deckard, which is why he saves him.

Act 5,  catharsis. This comes when Roy utters his final speech: “I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe…” We realise the full extent of his humanity and experience the tragedy of mortality, the frailty of human life, and how fleeting experience truly is: “…lost… like tears in rain”. This is where we  feel  the pain, sorrow and suffering and then are released from it.

Resolution:  Deckard and Rachel flee together.

BACK TO THE EXERCISE

Write a plan for your story. This can be as detailed as you like but should start as just five bullet points conforming to the above. Read and reread your structure, keep adding detail, until your are satisfied that this will be a story that hits home.

We now have the  basic five act  structure for your story, the “bones” of the piece. We will go on to look at these story bones in more detail, cloaking them in flesh.

creative writing gothic story

HOW TO WRITE YOUR OPENING

Now, you will write an opening for the story you just planned out! We’re going to look at the first 1 – 3 paragraphs only, as these are so critical. We will look in detail at opening lines, how they work, what you need to be doing to make it gripping and in keeping with Gothic.

Writing a Gothic story opening is very different to writing the opening to another novel. If you look at Crime novels, for example, the work of someone like Lee Child or Jodi Piccoult, all their openings follow a very strict formula, almost like a screenplay.

They introduce a  character,  an  action,  a  place,  and a  time.  And, they have a  hook,  something we want to know. Or, at least, something intriguing or out-of-sync or unusual. In strict structures, the  hook  must tie in with the climax of the story.

Every time its the same formula. Gothic is a little more experimental precisely because of the  lyrical  element, the poetic nature of the genre. Gothic can be more  suggestive  or  symbolic  in the way it handles it opening. Let’s look at some examples.

This is the opening of Mark Shelley’s  Frankenstein .

‘I am by birth a Genevese, and my family is one of the most distinguished of that republic. My ancestors had been for many years counsellors and syndics, and my father had filled several public situations with honour and reputation. He was respected by all who knew him for his integrity and indefatigable attention to public business. He passed his younger days perpetually occupied by the affairs of his country; a variety of circumstances had prevented his marrying early, nor was it until the decline of life that he became a husband and the father of a family.’

If I’m honest, I don’t really like this opening. It’s fairly dull and obsequious, which I guess is due to the character’s voice – but it doesn’t help grabbing my attention. However, this opening is here to create  verisimilitude. We are meant to believe this manuscript we hold in our hands really is the journal of a Genevese aristocrat, who has an astonishing encounter in icy wastes with Victor Frankenstein. This was not in the original draft of the novel, however. Originally, Mark Shelley opened the novel at Chapter 5:

‘It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.’

This is exemplary Gothic. It is poetic, visually intense, and dark as night. The language is elevated, which suits the voice of a mad genius, and the importance of the event – the creation of life. There is tremendous mood and atmosphere here, created with the wonderful details. This, to me, is where the story should have begun, and shows Shelley’s true talent.

Let’s look at the opening of something more recent, like Haruki Murakami’s  After Dark :

‘Eyes mark the shape of the city. Through the eyes of a high-flying night bird, we take in the scene from midair. In our broad sweep, the city looks like a single gigantic creature – or more like a single collective entity created by many intertwining organisms. Countless arteries stretch to the ends of its elusive body, circulating a continuous supply of fresh blood cells, sending out new data and collecting the old, sending out new consumables and collecting the old, sending out new contradictions and collecting the old. To the rhythm of its pulsing, all parts of the body flicker and flare up and squirm. Midnight is approaching, and while the peak of activity has passed, the basal metabolism that maintains life continues undiminished…’

So here, we don’t even have a character (unless it’s the ‘night bird’) or an action (unless it’s the ‘sweep’), but we  do  get a strong sense of  place, time  and, all-importantly,  mood.  We also have lots of questions. Why is it significant that ‘midnight is approaching’? Why is the city so vividly described? Could it be that the city  itself is a character in this novel? The imagery is also quite disturbing and Lovecraftian: this colossal monstrous creature emerging. It’s very Gothic.

creative writing gothic story

FIRST LINES

In Gothic style, the game is saying what you want to say symbolically, so, try to set up your story indirectly. In  After Dark,  it’s by creating this ominous foreboding of the city as a body. The fact the ‘basal metabolism’ is keeping the city alive is also foreshadowing of the character Eri who is locked in a coma, unable to wake up.

Let’s look at the opening of  The Turn of the Screw  by Henry James:

‘The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as on Christmas Eve in an old house a strange tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered until somebody happened to note it as the only case he had met in which such a visitation had fallen on a child.’

Long sentence, but it touches all the bases of openings:  character, action, mood, place, time.  It is very self aware: its a ghost story about people telling ghost stories around a campfire. The  hook  is the reference to the child at the end. We know this story is going to be very disturbing because of this. It’s also evasive. There aren’t particulars about what was gruesome about the story or what, exactly, the ‘visitation’ was.

Exercise 3.

Let’s write an opening using these above points as a reference. We’ll start with the  first   line . Your  first line needs to hit hard and stand alone. Arguably, like the first shot of a movie, it should encapsulate the entirety of the meaning of your story. While this sounds impossible and ambitious, it is more a guideline, a good thing to aim for.

Have a go at writing your first line now! Read it back, does it touch on some of the above requirements of  character, action, mood, place, time  and one or two of the Gothic elements of  mood, architecture, religion  or  lyricism?  Can it be improved or shortened? Does it  hook?

There is an old saying: “Sweat your fist line”. It’s one of the most important aspects of your story. Think of how much store you put in “first impressions” in life. This is your first impression!

First Paragraph

After your first line, you need to broaden out more. This is where your  second   hook  should come, another reason to read on.

Exercise 4.

Write a paragraph following on from your  first line.  Explore what’s going on, deepen the symbolism, or perhaps pull back and offer clarity. Go on to give more information but do not overload your reader with data. Allow the story to emerge naturally. Your reader is  always  smarter than you think. You need to give them further reasons to read on too.

Henry James’ really long first line works as both a first line but also a first line  and  paragraph. The first segment: ‘The story had held us’ works like a stand-alone line. In fact, it would be more grammatically correct if there was a full-stop there.

So, a snappy first line that stands alone, and has some kind of greater resonance. Then, a first paragraph that draws us in to the narrative that will follow. Try giving it a go, then share it with friends/family/someone you trust, and see what they think. Do they want to read on?

From here, you can start building your story piece by piece, in accordance with the five act structure. I would go into detail of how to write your ending, but there is too much to say about writing a Gothic ending (or indeed any story ending) to include it here. If you liked this article, and feel you would like more – including about writing a good ending – please do leave me a comment, or message me on Twitter, and if enough people are interested I will write a Gothic article about endings.

Well, time for me to leave you on a favourite quote:

“The curse of life is the curse of want. And so, you peer… into the fog, in hope of answers.” – Dark Souls II

Thank you so much for coming this far. I hope that this class has been of use to you. We’ve now reached the end of Part 2, and the class has a whole. I really enjoyed writing up these notes from my seminar, and I hope they are of use to you in some way. Thanks very much for taking the time to read it, it means a lot to me.

If you feel that you have benefited from today’s class, then please check out my  KoFi page , where you can donate $3 to “buy me a coffee” to help me keep producing free resources like this. Do not feel pressure to do so, but small contributions can go a long way for creators like me.

Until next time, my friends!

Connect with Joseph Sale

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TeachWriting.org

Gothic-Inspired Creative Writing Assignments

Gothic.jpg

October is one of my favorite times of year because it’s a perfect time to get into one of my favorite genres of all time— the Gothic genre. However, when is there a wrong time of year for Poe? The Gothic genre became one of my favorite genres because students love it! And when students engage with the content, they tend to be more successful. Besides that, there are just some incredible Gothic authors such as Mary Shelley and Stephen King that are worth the study.

If you already know you love teaching Gothic literature, click here to check out The Complete Gothic Unit for High School from Bespoke ELA. 

Ultimate Gothic Bundle by Bespoke ELA-- PDF Version1.jpg

Here are THREE Gothic-inspired writing assignments… great for anytime of year, but especially October!

“Diary of a Madman”

This writing assignment takes inspiration from the spooky stories entitled “Diary of a Madman”— three ways— by Gogol, Guy de Maupassant, and Lu Xun. In all three versions of the story, there is a disturbed narrator that is either going insane, has committed murder, and/ or showcases a chaotic mind. Nonetheless, each story is written in a diary format from the perspective of some sort of “madman.”

The Assignment

Students read and discuss at least one of the three stories. My first choice would be the Guy de Maupassant version, which is written from the point of view of a judge who writes about committing murders and watching other people be imprisoned for what he has done. The story is like seeing inside the mind of a serial killer, which is quite disturbing!

After reading at least one of the stories, students can work in groups to write their own versions of “Diary of a Madman.” Allow students to be creative with the narrator and experiment with the concept of a “madman’s” diary.

Allow students to share their stories and discuss how they created an unreliable, insane narrator.

Redrum writing

This assignment gains inspiration from Stephen King’s novel The Shining, specifically Chapter 16 when Danny sees the word REDRUM and then Chapter 50 when Jack attacks his family. We all know from our middle school slumber party days that REDRUM is “MURDER” spelled backwards. Even if students haven’t read all of King’s novel, they can read these chapters or even watch the REDRUM scene from Kubrick’s film version. It can be found here.

Students should read the two chapters from Stephen King’s novel and/or view the scene from Kubrick’s film so that they have some context for the word “REDRUM.”

Then, have students get into groups to create their own “REDRUM” stories. There are two options for this.

Option #1). Students can write a new story in which the word “REDRUM” is used and then revealed to mean “MURDER.”

Option #2). Students can write an original story in which any word of their choice is initially said or read as backwards and then is revealed correctly in a dramatic way.

Again, allow students time to share and respond to their peers’ stories.

Frankenstein and Villains

Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein is a phenomenal pice of writing, but whenever I’m teaching it, I can’t help but feel like I am seeing how a murderer is created by rejection. This is a frightening concept but rings true for many true-life murder cases. For this creative story assignment, students can take inspiration from reading the parts of the novel that show Victor Frankenstein’s rejection of his monster (chapter 5) and then the monster’s murder of Elizabeth (chapter 23) in order to observe the cause/effect relationship of the monster’s story arc.

Students can read and discuss the two chapters from the novel Frankenstein.

Then students write the creation story of a villain. They can create a monster similar to Frankenstein’s monster, or they can create any villain from their imaginations. You can also have students follow the same character arc and theme as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: “rejection leads to murderous consequences.”

Student share their villain origin stories with the class and provide feedback accordingly.

As an extension to this activity, students can listen to a true crime podcast episode that connects to a similar concept of rejection and murder. There are several options from Crime Junkie or Wicked Words .

Do you have a favorite Gothic-inspired creative writing assignment? Please share in the comments below!

Related Resource

If you’re interested in an entire Gothic unit for your high school students, please click here to check out the The Complete Gothic Unit for High School-- Close Readings, Creative Writing, Assessments + MORE!

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Meredith is the founder and creator of TeachWriting.org and Bespoke ELA. She has taught high school English for 10+ years in Dallas, Chicago, and New York City and holds a M.A. in Literature from Northwestern University.  She has always had a connection to the written word-- through songwriting, screenplay writing, and essay writing-- and she enjoys the process of teaching students how to express their ideas.  Meredith enjoys life with her sweet daughter and insane Yorkie.

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Master the Art of Sumptuous and Chilling Gothic Fiction

Want to try your hand at writing a gothic story or maybe you have a draft novel in another genre that needs more passion, atmosphere and thrills step through the portal of the old mansion. can you hear the hinges squeal duck under the cobwebs, and mind that trap door under your feet. take a few steps along the dusty crimson carpet while we light a candle to show you the way... writing gothic fiction offers you a step-by-step journey through the key elements of crafting a delectable gothic tale, including: the tropes of gothic fiction. building main characters and a supporting cast. driving passions and obsessions. how to plot, start and end your story. using evocative description to convey mood and stir emotion. using deep pov for a stronger experience. how to add a gothic touch to just about any genre. and lots, lots more. this on-demand course features 28 chapters of video and text lessons, complete with recommended exercises you can use to bring your new skills to life on the page. whether you're looking to master the foreboding atmosphere of shirley jackon, mary shelley or bram stoker, or want to conjure your own modern approach to the gothic tale, writing gothic fiction is the perfect choice. skill level: beginner to advanced suitable for writers of: short stories, novellas, novels.

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Your Tutor: Rayne Hall is the author of the extensive Writer’s Craft guidebook series, plus fiction collections such as The Bride’s Curse: Bulgarian Gothic Ghost and Horror Stories. She is also the editor of multiple anthologies including Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts, Among the Headstones, and The Haunted Train.

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This course is on-demand and entirely self-paced, so you can dig in immediately. One you've purchased the course, we'll email you instructions for accessing the AutoCrit Academy education platform, where your course will be ready and waiting.

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Enjoy 28 chapters of text and video lessons, guiding you from foundational principles to advanced techniques in gothic fiction. each chapter includes recommended exercises for you to undertake, so you can see your new skills come to life on the page..

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Your course admission includes a free 30 days of access to autocrit pro – no strings attached. this powerful writing and editing platform offers you all the tools you need to craft and polish your stories, plus a private member community so you can chat, make connections, and get thoughtful feedback on your work., your step-by-step guide to writing unforgettable gothic fiction..

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Master the art of crafting sumptuous Gothic fiction that drips with atmosphere.

Develop a cast of characters that meets the needs of a Gothic tale, while putting your own spin on expectations.

Find the perfect beginning and ending to match the mood and tone of the story you wish to convey.

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Discover how to add a Gothic flavor to just about any genre – not just horror.

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The Dark Secrets of Writing Gothic Fiction

ChipperEditor

Gothic Fiction has become so associated with horror, that the traditional roots of the genre are often lost amidst the noise of vampires, werewolves and gargoyles. These creatures of gothic literature are representative of the gothic tradition, but as writers, to adequately write within a genre it is important to have a deeper than surface level understanding of that genre.

How to Write Gothic Horror That Will Forever Haunt Your Readers

Gothic tradition

Touchstones of the gothic tradition include Bram Stoker's Dracula , Mary Shelley's Frankenstein , and Shirley Jackson's The Lottery . There is a common thread within these works, but it cannot be pursued without understanding the concept of "natural philosophy." During the period in which early gothic writers began producing their best works, there was a push in culture to approach the unknown via a scientific lens. "Natural philosophers" were early scientists which attempted to find logical, objective truth, through reason. In short, early gothic works were rooted in science and exploration of the natural world.

Not all gothic fiction is horror, but a fair amount of the most famous works deal with the horrific and the unknown. This is by contrast to Eldritch or Lovecraftian horror which deals with the horror of the fundamentally unknowable. Where Eldritch horror seeks to paint a picture of something so incomprehensible that it breaks minds and shatters souls, gothic literature is the exploration of the dark unknown, in an effort to reveal the sensations associated with these mysteries. Rather than reach the conclusion "I don't understand this evil" as eldritch horror often does, gothic horror often seeks to delve deeply into the source of evil, and the nature of the antagonists of its works. With this as a guiding principle, we can outline a few "do" and "do nots" for gothic writers.

Follow the rules

Gothic antagonists follow rules. Establish a set of the rules by which your antagonist functions, and adhere to these rules. These might be the qualities of a monster: slain using silver, transforms during moonlight; or it might be the rules of engagement that the antagonist uses. Perhaps the antagonist is a killer like Jack the Ripper – another gothic touchstone. If this killer has rules about who they kill, where they kill or how they kill, then they will be much more palatable to the reader who is seeking a truly gothic feel. The genre is grounded in reason, and there should be an underlying cause, explanation, and logic to the actions of your antagonists.

Don't be afraid to engage with the darker side of a character's psyche, especially the antagonist; and don't be afraid to search for an antagonist in strange places: the narrator may be the antagonist, the protagonist may work against themselves, or the antagonist may be a culture – a group of people with a similar ideology. In any of these cases it is important that you justify the actions of the antagonist. It doesn't matter to the reader of gothic literature whether what the antagonist is doing is morally good, but only that the antagonist has reasons for their decisions. This advice is, of course, relevant across many genres, but it is a necessity of gothic texts. Think of the ways in which Jack from Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas is all of these: narrator, hero, villain. Consider also that his actions are motivated by a lack of understanding: he changes his actions after his motivations are revealed to him – through reason – to be harmful. The gothic seeks to understand viewpoints outside the normal and Jack Skellington's wish to understand Christmas makes him an excellent gothic protagonist.

Give answers

In the same way antagonists require rules, it is important that readers have a chance to see the answer to their questions revealed, or that the readers are given enough clues to formulate an answer for themselves. The Lottery does a great job of presenting a seemingly enigmatic scenario – a lottery for which people do not wish to be chosen – and giving a reasonable explanation for why it might exist. In this way gothic literature can be said to relate more closely to the mystery genre, than the horror genre. Though, of course, these genres already compliment one-another quite well.

What gothic literature does not do, is leave the reader hanging as regards answers to the primary motivations of the plot. Yes, there may be a few threads unresolved at the end of the story, but the central horror (or other darkness) of the text should be explicable (understood by the reader) by the time the text is finished. Again, the unknowable, the unanswerable and the incomprehensible are all elements of eldritch horror.

Smaller settings

In the same way that gothic literature separates itself from eldritch horror in terms of the size of the threat (the antagonist), good gothic literature also tends to center around smaller settings. These settings can be almost claustrophobic, and the protagonists lonely. These are not stories of nations clashing in battle, but rather of individuals grappling with a close and immediate threat. Dracula offers repeated scenes of the eponymous count dining with the protagonist; Frankenstein paints painful pictures of the creature returning to look in the window at the doctor; and works like The Lottery focus their efforts on a single community, or single town. This is not to say that your plot can't span a large geographical area (both Frankenstein and Dracula cross continents), but only that it should be concerned primarily with the intimate moments between the protagonist and the antagonist.

Archetypal characters

In gothic fiction certain characters are considered archetypal. These characters have a recurring place in many stories, and while they should not be relied upon, they should also not be shunned. Just because a character is archetypal, does not mean they are necessarily cliché. In most gothic fiction the hero is virtuous, ambitious, and self-sacrificing; they are motivated to return to or pursue a relationship, either in love, lust, or kinship; and they are separated from their goal by circumstances arising either from the antagonist of the fiction, or the horror of the fiction, or both.

For instance, the creature in Frankenstein seeks out companionship, but is thwarted by its appearance. This becomes the core motivator for the plot, and the tragedy of the creature causes conflict between the protagonist (here conceptualized as the creature) and the antagonist (here conceptualized as the doctor). Of course Shelley's masterpiece allows you to view the same story from another angle, and consider Viktor Frankenstein the protagonist (unrequited love included), and his creation the monster or monstrous force which prevents him from reaching his goal, or uniting with his beloved.

Other archetypal characters include members of the clergy, or members of religious orders. Often the "spiritual" characters in gothic literature are presented as having an intuition regarding the dangers the protagonist will face, which the logical, reason-centric protagonist, cannot at first see. Consider the protagonist in Dracula, who is warned away from Dracula's mansion quite early in the story but can deduce no logical reason to avoid an encounter with the count. In this case, though the protagonist eventually comes to know their enemy – discovering weaknesses such as holy water, stakes through the heart, etc. – they are slower to realize their danger than the characters who are presented as "spiritually attuned." This duality is useful to us as writers – the contrast of "the person of faith" and "the person of reason" is a powerful one to introduce into any narrative, and it allows gothic fiction to tread a middle ground between science and fantasy that requires only "reason" not "reality".

The supernatural or the sensational

I have mentioned previously that the supernatural is closely related to the gothic, but I want to expand on that. In gothic literature the supernatural can be replaced with the sensational. It is not necessary that some monster be the threat, but rather a community's tradition, the beating heart beneath the floorboards , or a murderer on the loose might be the source of danger. In every case there must be danger. This is why I use the word sensational. The subject matter of gothic literature does not deal with mundane events, but rather acts as an exploration of supernatural or sensational events, so that by the end of the reading we better understand the source of these phenomena.

If you are afraid of something, the quickest path to overcome that fear is to handle the subject of the fear directly. Gothic literature is derived not from the fear of the unknown, but rather from intimacy with the unknown – direct interaction with dark themes, with death, and with monsters.

What to keep in mind

There are no hard-and-fast rules to adhere to within the gothic genre, but there are particular approaches to subject matter which are typified by exploration of what is scientifically possible. Remember these three tenets: separate your gothic literature from other similar literatures, such as eldritch horror and body horror; deal with dark themes, and address them through the sensational or supernatural; have every element of your plot, and your character motivations, be motivated and constrained by the text's internal logic. If all else fails, turn to the sources of darkness which inspired famous gothic writers: blood, bones, darkness, gravestones, murder, killer creatures, and Jack Skellington.

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14 of My Favorite Short Stories for Teaching Gothic Literature

the best short stories for teaching gothic literature

Gothic short stories have always been a favorite with my students. From the mystery and suspense to the old creepy buildings, to the heightened emotions and the hints of the supernatural… there is just something about the gothic genre that kids gravitate towards.

“The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury

This modern day “science fiction” gothic tale will certainly give your students the shivers. George and Lydia let the virtual reality world do everything for their children, from bathing them to entertaining them. Soon they begin to notice that the virtual reality scene is continuously stuck on the African veldt, and the lions are devouring a carcass at the edge of the screen. Concerned, the parents send their children Peter and Wendy to a psychologist, who suggests turning off the virtual reality entirely. The parents do not heed this advice; this tragically results in their death when their own children feed them to the lions.

This gothic tale is rife with suspense and horror, and students love the altered vibe as they read, and the way the characters communicate so poorly. My students find the virtual reality aspect utterly relatable with today’s technology becoming so advanced. Many great discussions can come into play about our dependence on technology. And although there is no old castle, the African veldt provides the equivalent of secret doors and the supernatural, which lure the reader in a gripping way. 

“Luella Miller” by Mary Wilkins Freeman

Luella Miller, through a series of roommates who end up withering away while Luella herself thrives, is a new world vampire in an old world town. Though a little bit longer than the other stories on this list, the unsettling development of person after person losing their lives after being with Luella is very gripping for students. After marrying Erastus, he soon died. And although Luella was a teacher, one of her students did most of the work. The student soon deteriorated and died too. They are not the only casualties. 

The entire story is filled with unease, and students love to wonder about what is really going on. Make sure to point out the inexplicable events in the story and how they relate to the gothic theme of gloom and horror. Luella is a vampire and seems to be sucking the life out of those around her. This is also a great story to use to delve into the vocabulary of the gothic.

creative writing gothic story

“Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

In this unsettling tale, an unnamed narrator is locked in a bedroom on the second floor of a mansion her husband John rented. John is a doctor and claims his wife has a nervous disorder, but readers can infer she has depression, possibly postpartum depression. The yellow wallpaper mutates in front of her eyes, and she is certain she sees a woman crawling behind the intricate design, so she decides to strip all of the wallpaper down in order to free this woman. When her husband finds her, she is scuttling around the room in a crazed manner and he promptly faints. She continues to crawl around the room and move around her husband’s unmoving body. 

This psychological thriller is the epitome of a woman being overtaken by a tyrannical abusive male, and students will appreciate this vivid example. Make sure to point out the elements of the supernatural with the questionable maneuvers of the wallpaper itself, as well as the gloomy mood and setting of the story. This tale also lends itself to a great conversation on the importance of mental health. 

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving

The private glen where the story is written is known to be haunted, which adds to the mysterious atmosphere of this story. Many people who live there are overcome by supernatural happenings, and strange things are known to occur. The story surrounds Ichabod Crane, who comes to the town to help out and is courting a woman named Katrina. Losing her hand to Abraham Van Brunt, he is riding home through a dark swamp region, a place ripe with superstitions, when he meets the Headless Horseman, who throws his head like a rocket at Ichabod while Ichabod is trying to escape. Ichabod is never seen again.

Students love to wonder if Van Brunt is the Horseman who drives Ichabod away, and the whole story is high on the creep-o-meter in my class. Teaching this story is a good chance to show how history and superstitions relate, and to talk about the elements of a gothic landscape. 

“The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs

When a cursed talisman (a monkey’s paw) falls into the hands of the White family, Mr. White is tempted to make any three wishes come true. Curiosity and greed get the best of him. He tries to remain somewhat modest and wishes for 200 pounds. That night there is a knock at the door with news that the Whites’ son, Herbert, died at work and there is a 200 pound goodwill payment. The second wish is used to wish Herbert back to life, but when he appears at the door as an undead creature, Mr. White quickly wishes him away, and the family is left broken-hearted.

My students love connecting to the three wishes motif and sharing what they would choose if they had a chance at three wishes. The elements of the macabre when the “creature son” appears at the door adds to the mystery. This is a great time to teach students about theme, foreshadowing, irony, and symbolism. It is ironic that three wishes are meant to bring you happiness not despair. Students will also recognize the number three is repeated throughout the story and realize its symbolism with misfortune.

“The Mark of the Beast” by Rudyard Kipling

The main character Fleete—in a drunken stupor on New Year’s Eve—puts out his cigar on a temple of Hanuman the monkey god, setting a chain of events into motion. A leperous priest bites him in retaliation and casts a spell which causes Fleete to begin acting crazy. After forcing the priest to reverse the spell, Fleete finally returns to normal. 

This gothic tale is gripping for students who can also learn some history of the time about lepers and rabies. My students delve into other stories of curses and spells as we discuss this story. The ancient prophecy and high emotion is also definitely part of the appeal for the students in my class. Doesn’t every kid enjoy a good werewolf story?

“The Outsider” by H.P. Lovecraft

In this psychological thriller, the narrator is ensconced in a castle surrounded by trees and cannot remember the last time he has encountered a human. The narrator struggles to free himself by climbing to the top of the castle. As he arrives, the crumbling stairs lead him somehow to a basement where there are many people terrified of a beast. He joins them in their fear, running from the castle, as the reader understands he has seen the beast in the mirror, which is himself. 

The crumbling castle is a huge symbol in this piece and mirrors the crumbling narrator himself. My students love the heightened emotion as the man struggles to free himself from the beast, when all along the beast was himself. Point out the gloomy vocabulary and descriptions of the castle, as your students can enjoy debating whether he will ever recover from being an outsider. 

“A Vine on a House” by Ambrose Bierce

For a very short gothic tale, turn to the story of Matilda Harding, a one-legged protagonist who goes to visit her mother and never returns. Her husband and sister are left behind in the house, but eventually they too disappear. A larger-than-life vine grows on the house that is strangely reminiscent of Matilda. When townspeople later try to pull up the vine, they realize it looks just like Matilda. No one wants to go to the house after that. 

This story has the gothic element of gloom and suspense and a feeling of unease for the reader. This also reflects the women in distress motif, though in a mysterious way that makes the reader wonder what is going on. The giant vine is otherworldly and adds to the sense of mystery. Students love to debate what could have happened to Matilda, and what the giant vine represents, especially with the way gothic stories often portray women. 

“The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe

Students love this tale of the very creepy, depressed Roderick who calls his boyhood friend to his dilapidated house because he needs some help. Once the unnamed friend/narrator arrives, Roderick’s sister Madeline falls into a death-like trance and the two men entomb her in the walls, supposedly alive. The men spend their time listening to somber music and looking at Roderick’s art. Eventually the entire house falls into the lake, and the Usher family is no more.

This classic tale has it all: the family is falling apart, as is the house. Although not quite a castle, the house is dark, mysterious, and decrepit. There are definitely supernatural events and the overall other-wordly feeling that pervades the story. Another gothic element is the intense emotion of Roderick and the “woman in distress” angle, and my students love to point out the foreshadowing clues that show Madeline’s distress as they read. 

“The Body Snatcher” by Robert Louis Stevenson

In this macabre tale, Doctor Wolfe Macfarlane and his friend Fettes become reacquainted after a long time apart. They had previously worked together cataloguing bodies for dissection, and supposedly covered up a murder to avoid being implicated themselves. When Fettes is certain Macfarlane has murdered their friend Gray, he again keeps his mouth shut while they destroy the evidence. The story ends with the body of Gray put back together and sitting in the front seat of the car. 

Students love to hate this ambiguous ending as they decide how a chopped up body could end up whole again in the front seat. This supernatural event is at the heart of the story, as are the elements of mystery and suspense peppered throughout. The gloom and darkness keeps the mood gothic, as well, and this is another story that is excellent for teaching gothic vocabulary.

“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

Last but not least is “The Tell-Tale Heart”—arguably one of the most popular gothic short stories ever taught in school. An unnamed narrator, who claims he is not insane, makes a plan to kill an old man under the belief that this man has an “evil eye.” After stalking the old man and watching him sleep, he finally commits the crime that rids him of evil and makes the world a better place. Right?

The police stop by after someone reported a scream, but the narrator is unphased. Although he dismembered the body and hid the limbs under the floorboards, the narrator arrogantly invites the officers in to search his home and even sit above the very spot the body is concealed. The narrator succumbs to his guilt and confesses the crime after believing he can still hear the old man’s heart beating from under the planks.

This story is a staple for a reason. Mood, suspense, symbolism, theme, and figurative language all are perfect literary elements to teach students while reading this classic gothic story. Students are excited by the concept of an unreliable narrator and the bizarre motivation behind the crime. I love to have my students debate whether or not the narrator should be charged with first degree murder for his premeditated crime or if the narrator should be found not guilty by reason of insanity, since he clearly is a person that requires serious psychological help. Attachments area

“The Hand” by Guy de Maupassant

In this embedded narrative, M. Bermutier, a judge, tells credulous listeners about the mysterious murder of Sir John Rowell. Rowell was an odd man who kept to himself in the mountains. He liked to go hunting…  man -hunting. In even more peculiar fashion, he kept a severed hand chained up in his home, as if it could break away at any moment. A year after Bermutier’s encounter with Sir Rowell, the hunter is found dead, strangled… and the hand… missing!

In this unnerving tale, let your students decide… is it mere coincidence or is there supernatural elements at play?

“The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe

From his prison cell the night before he is set to be executed, the narrator shares how his whole life fell apart. Once a gentle, loving man and husband, the narrator is overcome by alcoholism. He began divulging into atrocious and perverse acts. His love for animals dissipated. After brutally killing his dear cat Pluto, the narrator’s house sets fire… but mysteriously, an apparition of a cat is left behind. The horror does not end there.

The police arrive on scene after the narrator’s wife disappears. They are shocked to discover what they find! You’ll just have to keep reading to find out the rest. You have to love Poe’s creative take on unreliable narrators! Is the narrator insane, or is he telling the truth?

“The Landlady”    Roald Dahl 

In this story, your students will learn to be careful who they trust! An old, helpless woman who runs a cheap bed and breakfast has a dark, sinister secret. When you first read the short story, it may seem like there’s no imminent danger, but that would be naïve, just like the protagonist Billy Weaver. Two words about what’s happening behind closed doors in this tale: human taxidermy. 

This story is so engaging for students because all the gruesomeness is implied and Dahl leaves readers with a suspenseful cliffhanger. Your students will love to go back into the text and realize all the clues that led to Billy’s fate.

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Gothic Story Openings and Gothic Writing Techniques (4 lessons, ready to teach)

Gothic Story Openings and Gothic Writing Techniques (4 lessons, ready to teach)

Subject: English

Age range: 11-14

Resource type: Lesson (complete)

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22 February 2018

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KS3 Introduction to Gothic Creative Writing

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An introduction to gothic fiction going over the conventions A timeline of gothic fiction Introduction to the describing gothic characters through analysis of Dracula and Frankenstein's monster This short scheme of learning could span 6 lessons

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Gothic English Creative Writing Story Extract - How Could I Improve!?

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In “Russian Gothic,” a Veteran’s Paranoia and Delirium Reflect a Nation’s

The 1991 novel turns a private disturbance into bracing social commentary.

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By Boris Fishman

Boris Fishman’s new novel, “The Unwanted,” will be published next year. He teaches creative writing and literature at the University of Austin.

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In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to prop up a socialist government that had seized power in a coup. The 10-year conflict that followed feels like a footnote today, overshadowed by the American occupation. But the Soviet-Afghan war changed history, giving rise to jihadists like Osama bin Laden.

It also changed my history. My family was set to emigrate to the United States from Soviet Belarus as political refugees in 1979, right after I was born. The invasion prompted America to boycott the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics, and the U.S.S.R. retaliated by closing its doors to mass emigration. Nearly a decade passed before I managed to leave, already formidably shaped by my Soviet experiences, a mostly unhappy dichotomy that persists to this day.

Others fared far worse. Much as the Russian war in Ukraine is now sending home soldiers with no preparation for re-entry to a society that has subsisted on the conflict’s invisibility, the traumatized veterans of the Afghan war returned just in time for the dissolution of their country and a decade of political and economic chaos.

As one soldier told the Belarusian Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich for her 1989 oral history “Zinky Boys”:

We’re invited to speak in schools, but what can we tell them? Not what war is really like, that’s for sure. Should I tell them that I’m still scared of the dark and that when something falls down with a bang I jump out of my skin? How the prisoners we took somehow never got as far as regimental HQ? I saw them literally stamped and ground into the earth. … I can’t very well tell the school kids about the collections of dried ears and other trophies of war, can I?

Those “fortunate” enough to survive came home to a small one-time payment and the indifference, if not derision, of a nation kept in an information blackout about the war.

The Soviet-Afghan war comes up only once in RUSSIAN GOTHIC (Rare Bird Books, 122 pp., $25) , a slim novel by the Belarus-born Aleksandr Skorobogatov that first appeared in 1991 and has just been published in translation in the United States. But that single, radioactive reference transforms our experience of the story from a private disturbance to a commentary on a nation. (The novel’s new title in English, fluffed up from the more prosaic Russian title, “Sergeant Bertrand,” seems to invite the enlargement.) The effect is both a gift and a curse: Russia’s troubled history amplifies the novel’s echo, but the country’s literary lineage makes for a tough comparison.

The action takes place in a “small, provincial, mediocre gray town,” where Nikolai, a veteran of the Afghan war who is married to a provincial actress named Vera, begins to succumb to the fevered, delirious certainty that his wife has been unfaithful. (“Vera” means “faith.”)

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