Friday, October 28, 2011

How Writing is Gothic

I teach tenth grade American Literature and one of my favorite units each year is gothic literature, which I always plan right around Halloween (surprise, surprise!). My students read old and contemporary stories, watch a gothic movie and then try to write a piece of their own. The last day of the unit (usually Halloween) is when I put on a dvd of a fire, pull down the projection screen I have in my room and pass around s’more Pop-Tarts. They share stories around the “camp fire” and it’s full of all kinds of Halloween fun.

This year when I introduced the unit to my students, I noticed that the traits of gothic literature seemed really familiar to me. We listened to Wes Craven talk about why people like scary movies and I found myself nodding along with his words.

But I wasn’t agreeing with him because I understood his view on horror movies, I was nodding because I could relate his view and the traits of gothic literature to writing a novel.

Yep, writing a novel is just like gothic literature.

No, seriously.

You want to know how?

Wes Craven says that people love scary movies because they explore what might happen when we face our fears. Scary movies show the result of opening the wrong door or going down into the basement to investigate a strange sound. The movies look at the “what ifs” and follow them all the way through to get an answer to that question.

Isn’t that what writing is? We create our own “what ifs” and follow them through. We explore all the options whether good or bad and follow our characters wherever they take us.

That makes sense, right? Well, what about the other traits of gothic literature?

Here are a few that I think relate to writing.

If editing was a crime, I’d be doing jail time for the rest of my life. I’ve murdered hundreds of sentences, paragraphs and sometimes even characters when I’m working on revisions. You could even call me a serial killer of words.

Decay: I have plenty of old stories that sit on my computer and start to decay as I ignore them. They are in various stages of decay; some I may open regularly and just not do anything with, some of them have just been long abandoned.

Psychological Torture: Who doesn’t labor over a scene or try to figure out how to make an idea work? I am constantly trying to work through my stories and they are always messing with my head. And let’s not forget the psychological torture of my favorite writing argument, “Should I change out of my pajamas and grocery shop, or should I keep writing and live off of a bag of chocolate chips and canned soup?

Darkness/Night: This might not be true for all of you, but I’m a total night owl. I write late into the dark when the word is quiet and midnight has long passed. That’s the best time for new ideas to haunt you.

An Ancient Prophecy: I once got a fortune cookie that said, “You will be successful in what you love.” You can’t ignore a fortune cookie, right? Especially when it comes from one of those good places in the mall that pass out the free samples on a toothpick!

Women in Distress: This often happens during revising. The best way to “save” the woman is distress is to give her large amounts of coffee, gummy candy and microwave popcorn.

Woman Threatened by a Powerful, Influential or Tyrannical Man: Well, my husband tries to be threatening when I’m in a writing trance and I may hole up in the office, stay in my pajamas all day and don’t take a shower for more than 24 hours (okay, I guess that gives him the right to be threatening, I wouldn’t want to live with a scrub like me then either).

High, even Overwrought Emotion: Uhm….if you’ve ever been around me when I’m revising, querying or on submission, you’d say I was the poster child for high, overwrought emotion!

There you have it…the link between gothic literature and writing. Hope you have a great Halloween full of gothic and frightful things!

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Rachele Alpine is surrounded by words! She's a high school English teacher by day (10th grader American Literature), MFA fiction student by night and tries to find whatever free time she can in between to write, write, write.

She's represented by John Rudolph from Dystel and Goderich and her young adult comtemporary novel CANARY will be published in the summer of 2013 by Medallion Press.

She blogs at, or you can find her on Facebook and Goodreads.


  1. Great post! Now I feel brave. I want to be in your class!

  2. Hilarious, Rachele -- and so true! By the way, I'm a former English teacher, and Gothic fiction was always my favorite, too. Nothing like a little Shirley Jackson, Poe, or Daphne Du Maurier come Halloween.
    Now I must go back to playing "woman in distress" a.k.a hiding in my revision cave.