Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Structure of the GOTHIC Tale

Art by Ayame Kojima
Structure of


NOT your average Horror story.
What is the difference between a Gothic tale and a Horror story? Intent. Seriously.
Both Horror stories and Gothic tales delve into the realm of emotional trauma such as revenge, abuse, and hate--including, if not especially, sexual trauma. However, the darkness in a Gothic tale is not expressed or defined by graphically detailed, and gruesome, violence as it is in a Horror. Though violence is often featured in the Gothic, it is NOT the main focus of the story. The drama of Despair is the vehicle of the Gothic where a Horror story is driven by the action of Violence.

In a nutshell...
Horror = Action story
Gothic = Drama Story

While both Gothics and Horror are tales of the spiritual and/or psychological reality of the human psyche, Horror stories deal with the monsters that can lurk within our friends and neighbors. Gothics, however, deal with the monsters within ourselves; the hidden, self-destructive side that we don't want to admit exists within ourselves.

This means that the unlike the Horror plotline which is simply a gory adventure story that follows the common Heroic Cycle plotline, the Gothic plot is far more complicated -- emotionally complicated.
The Gothic Plot
Act 1. Rise
1. Character is Valued/not Valued
  - Leading to Underestimated Talent
  --- Triggering Pride/Shame
  ----- Which causes an Emotional Issue to form.

2. Incidental/Accidental Accomplishment
- a - Draws the wrong kind of attention
--- The Monster
- b - Also creates Envy in someone close
--- Friend / Family member / lover / coworker

3. Encounter with the Monster (symbol of Emotional Issue)
--- Contamination / Gift

Act 2. CRASH
1. The Sincere Mistake
--- Pride represents an irresistible Challenge.
- a - To the Envious
- b - to the Monster

2. CRASH > Monstrosity unveiled
--- Anger leads to a Ruinous Victory
----- They win the battle, but their monstrous nature is Exposed.
--- a --- to their loved ones
--- b --- to their enemies
--- c --- to themselves

3. Departure from Society
--- Regret triggers Escape / Removal from Society

Act 3. Fall ( Stages of Grief & Transformation)
1. Dangerous territory
--- Denial = belief that they are an Outcast / Abandoned.
----- Belief that they Deserve to be an Outcast / Abandoned.

2. Meeting with the True Monster
--- Anger = Love-Hate Relationship
- a - with the Monster
- b - with the Envious
- c – with their own monstrous nature

3. Threats & Promises
--- Negotiation = Temptation & Persuasion
- a - from the Monster
- b - from the Envious

4. Surrender & Sacrifice
--- Despair = Submission & Adaptation
- a - to the Monster
- b - to the Envious
- c - to their own monstrous nature.

5. Escape / Rescue
--- Acceptance = Deliberate release of the Beast Within
- a - They rescue themselves, but at the cost of their humanity.
----- Giving birth to a new core Value. (Pride / Shame)

Act 4. Return to Society - as a Monster
1. Unfinished Business with Envious
--- Hiding in plain sight

2. Confrontation with the Monster
--- Deliberate Transformation
- a -  to Protect
- b - for Revenge

3. Conclusion
--- Willing sacrifice to take down Monster
----- Which ends in a New Life / Heroic Death
    ‘Fall of the House of Usher’ by Edgar Allen Poe, is a Classic Gothic tale. However, at first glance the story doesn’t appear to fit this pattern at all, until you realize that the point of view character, the narrator, ISN’T who this story is about. In fact, he barely affects the plot at all. The story is about Roderick Usher, the last heir to an old decrepit family mansion. The narrator is merely a witness to Usher’s struggle against madness (Acts 3 and 4).

    Oddly, ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ by Alexander Dumas, is also a Gothic! It follows the plot pattern perfectly and it covers the most common and devouring psychological monster of all -- revenge.

    The Gothic is about Transformation

    In the average Horror story, the main character usually gains some form of outside help and / or finds a weapon to defeat their monster. In a Gothic, the main character must transform themselves into a weapon. They must become a monster to defeat their monster, then learn to live with the aftermath of their transformation.

    This is why ‘Phantom of the Opera’ is simply a Horror story. None of the characters transform. Christine Daea, the main protagonist does not change herself to deal with her monster. She gains outside help, a protector who basically does all her fighting for her.

    On the other hand, the movie ‘The Matrix’ is very much a modern Gothic. Neo must transform himself into someone and something completely alien to his original geeky character in order to survive the Agents hunting him.

    Another Gothic movie, though it appears to be a Western, is Ravenous’. In this story, the cowardly Cavalry officer protagonist must accept full transformation into a wendigo, a Native American cannibal in order to have the physical strength to defeat the wendigo Colonel stalking him.

    The Monster Within...

    The other key difference between Horror stories and Gothic tales are the monsters. Unlike Horror monsters which are simply opponents to be defeated, each and every Gothic monster is in fact a metaphor for a spiritual or psychological issue. In most cases, the Setting is too.

    Forbidding Locations & their Hidden Meanings
    1) Old Mansions = Inheritance issues
    2) Abandoned Houses = Forgotten Family issues
    3) Antique Shops  = Curiosity (nosiness) issues
    4) Modern Corporations = Job / Business issues
    5) Old Factories = Unemployment issues
    6) Modern Suburbia = Adult Peer pressure issues
    7) Quaint Little Towns = Hidden Community issues
    8) Schools & Colleges = Childhood / Peer-pressure issues
      Monsters of the Psyche
      1) Ghosts = Guilt
      2) Vampires = Addiction
      3) Witches = Wishes gone bad
      4) Sorcerers /Scientists = Insanity
      5) Werewolves = Rage
      6) Urban Faery = Rebellion
      7) Man-made monsters = Personal Mistakes
      8) Zombies = Peer Pressure
      9) Ogres / Trolls / Giants = Bullies

      The Gothic Hero

      The main character, the one telling the tale always starts out as a fairly nice, normal, and decent person. Why is that?

      Because Gothics are about how the individual deals with being transformed into their own worst nightmare. In other words, how they deal their own monstrous issues. It's all about the battle within. The climax of the Gothic isn't the battle with the monster that needs to be slain, it's how the main character chooses to deal with their own monstrosity.

      The Ending of a Gothic Tale

      There are only two options when facing a dark issue of the psyche. Interestingly enough, both options can lead to either Destruction or Redemption.

      1) Acceptance
      - a - Empowerment
      - b - Addiction to power = Insanity
      - c - Coexistence  / Balance of dual nature

      2) Rejection
      - a - Search for release / escape / *cure = Insanity
      - b - Search for control = Empowerment
      - c - Denial / Ignoring it = Insanity

      *Note:  There is NO CURE for a Psychological Issue in real life. You either Adapt to it, or Succumb to it. Medicating it only Represses (covers up) the issue. It does not Fix it. Sooner or later the medication WILL stop working and that issue WILL resurface. Ask any psychologist.

      In Conclusion…
      Gothic tales are metaphors, proverbs, and fables of goodness versus evil that describe the spiritual and psychological challenges of the human soul. They are modern-day, un-sanitized, fairy tales filled with the horrific punishments that the original fairy tales held:

      • Punishment for the wicked...
      • Empowerment for those trapped in darkness...
      • Redemption for those who have learned to adapt to the living, breathing shadows, within themselves...

      They also conclude exactly like any other fairy tale. The Brave save the day, the Foolish die, and the Guilty are Punished, usually horribly.

      "But real life isn't so neatly tied.
      Bad people Do get away with doing bad things."

      True. Real life ISN'T so neatly tied. Bad people do indeed get away with doing bad things. That does not change the fact that Evil IS Bad and the Wicked SHOULD be punished, even if it only happens in a story.


      Morgan Hawke


      1. Fascinating about the Count of Monte Cristo.

        What I like most about the gothic tale is that the protagonist is forever changed. Horror leaves them psychologically scarred and maybe a bit paranoid but a gothic leaves them with a life altering soul change.

        Beautiful article, Morgan.

      2. This is fabulous.

        As always.

        Makes me want to write, because it makes sense.


      3. I adore Gothic stories but don't like horror... now I have an excuse as to why ^^

        The guidelines you've shown are extremely useful; knowing all the rules is the only way to break them; and I'd love to be able to create a character that grows in a new way, or doesn't grow at all, but remains convincing and new... After all, there's no greater power -for good or evil- than the human mind.

      4. Hey Dawn,
        -- It's the transformation process, the soul's transformation in the Gothic that fascinates me too!

        I'm glad you liked the article.

      5. Hey Imm!
        -- I'm glad you enjoyed the article -- now get out there and WRITE! *grin*

      6. Hey Alice!

        "The guidelines you've shown are extremely useful; knowing all the rules is the only way to break them..."

        That is Exactly my point dear!

        "After all, there's no greater power -for good or evil- than the human mind."


      7. Update woman! Am I gonna have to come drag you out of your cave? Miss you!

      8. Hi Morgan. I used this breakdown of gothic structure while teaching The Scarlet Letter to my 11th grade class. Your advice is useful across professions! :)