Wednesday, March 24, 2010

13 Typical Ingredients in a Gothic Romance

A favorite Gothic Romance in my opinion

In one of my first writing classes, the instructor asked class members what genre they chose for their writing?
I raised my hand and replied, "Gothic Romance."
She threw me her most disapproving look and said, “If you want to sell your work, you’ll want to forget about the Gothic Romance. Its market has passed. Readers aren’t interested in that today.”
Perhaps I don’t take instruction well. Or perhaps I simple write what I like to read. I’ve spent many fine hours enjoying Daphne du Maurier, Emily Bronte, Barbara Michaels, Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney and Amanda Quick.

I went on to finish that Gothic Romance book because it felt right to me and I really like Gothic Romances. In fact, I’ve written several more. I don’t know if any will sell, but I have to tell you they were pleasures to write. So much so, I’m starting on another.
At this point, you might be wondering just what a Gothic Romance is.
"Infoplease" defines a Gothic Romance as “a type of novel that flourished in the late 18th and early 19th century in England. Gothic Romances were mysteries, often involving the supernatural and heavily tinged with horror, and they usually were set against dark backgrounds of medieval ruins and haunted castles.”
I believe Gothic Romances actually flourish today under the broader umbrella of Paranormal Romance. All right then, how can you tell if you’re reading a Gothic Romance?

It's not difficult. Gothic Romances have some common elements. Here are 13:
1. The story unfolds in an eerie atmosphere, full of peril.
2. The setting is forbidding or haunted. Typical sites: A manor in the moors, an isolated ruin or a haunted castle.
3. Often, the writer’s voice is melancholy and in a minor key.
4. The writer and you as a reader expect bad things to happen to the heroine.
5. The story is shrouded in mystery, a past secret that the readers and the heroine must figure out.
6. The heroine enters the story as a victim, someone in the wrong place at the wrong time.
7. Even though the heroine is a victim, she has the potential to unearth the past secrets.
8. The heroine is resourceful and -- even if she doubts it -- she possesses an inner strength equal to the threatening situation she’s thrown into.
9. The hero, usually the master of the menacing dwelling, appears to be sinister, at least at the story’s start.
10. The hero almost always knows about the unfortunate past.
11. As the heroine uncovers the mystery, she enters into a relationship with the hero.
12. If there are two love interests in the story, one will turn out to be the villain.
13. Often the heroine is a virgin. Usually the main characters are so busy solving the mystery and surviving they have little time for intimacy.

Well, that’s my list. Can you think of any other Gothic Romance elements I might have missed? I’m taking suggestions. Also if you’ve read a good Gothic recently, please share. Thanks.

“How to Write A Romance and Get It Published,” by Kathryn Falk


  1. Great post, Brenda! I love Gothic romances, but they can be difficult to find, even in the "paranormal" genre.


  2. I think you pretty well covered it.

  3. I like Gothic romances too. In fact, I've just subbed a historical with gothic tones. I think I read all of Victoria Holts books during my teens.

  4. Oh, thank you so very much!

    I love Gothic Romance. No surprise there! I just finished Phyllis Whitney's Thunder Heights and really enjoyed it. I also enjoy twists on the Gothic/parody and just read Sylvester by Georgette Heyer. The heroine writes Gothics and lands herself into trouble because of it.

  5. Emily Bronte, WOOT! I'm glad you wrote what you like despite that instructor's disapproving look. I LOVE your post!

  6. Heather,
    I'm glad to know you're a fan too. Thanks for commenting.

  7. Alice Audrey,
    Ah, thanks. I try.

    Shelley Munro,
    Yep, I'm with you. I think I read everything Victoria Holt wrote.

  8. Ella,
    You're welcome. I haven't read Sylvester by Georgette Heyer, but I'm adding it to my to-read list. Thanks.

    Thanks. I'm glad I followed my interest too.

  9. Ah, Gothic Romance! My favorite. I grew up on Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt. Later discovered Babara Michaels and the others. I am glad to know the genre sort of still exists.

    I can't add a thing to your list. It sounds spot on!

  10. It's been quite some time since I've read a gothic romance. As with many, Victoria Holt was my introduction to the genre.
    I think I need to pick up a new book. As if I need another!
    Happy T13!

  11. I don't think I've ever read one, unless you include Jane Austin's type of book. Wasn't there a mad woman locked in the attic in one of those? I liked Wuthering Heights too.

  12. CountryDew,
    Yeah, I know those authors too. Thanks.

  13. Adelle,
    I think you're like me. Too many good books. Too little time. Thanks for stopping.

  14. Journey Woman,
    Thanks. I appreciate your visit.

    I bet you're thinking of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.

  15. Your instructor is not updated at all ! I love these kind of romances and a lot of my friends too ! they are ageless !

  16. Gattina,
    I hope Gothic Romances are ageless too. Thanks.

  17. I learned something new. Great list!

  18. You've captured the genre so well!

  19. I used to love Phyllis Whitney. *nostalgic sigh* I seem to have gone over rather more to paranormal land of late, so I see what you mean about the spheres overlapping. Quite the Venn Diagram.

  20. I'm writing one, too! I love Gothic Romances and always will. It's completely true that Gothics have morphed into Paranormals. That kind of thing cracks me up. A rose by any other name.

  21. Melissa,
    Thank you. I try to provide usual and or interesting posts.

  22. Celticlibrarian,
    Yeah,you're right. There is a crossover. I like Paranormal in general, but I have a special fondness for the Gothic.

  23. Americanising Desi,
    Cool. I'm glad there are other fans out there.

  24. Julia Smith,
    Hey, let me know when you finish your Gothic wip. Maybe we can exchange. Grin. I'd love to read a new Gothic.

  25. They're really not my cup of tea, I think the only ones I've read were Jane Eyre and Northanger Abbey, which is actually a Jane Austen satire so I don't think it really counts. But I think it's great there are so many different types of books out there that we can all find things we love to read.