Structure of the GOTHIC Tale - Chapter 1

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Structure of the GOTHIC Tale

by OokamiKasumi

Libraries: Writing Tutorials

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What is the difference between a Gothic tale and a Horror story? Intent. Seriously.

Structure of the GOTHIC Tale
Structure of the GOTHIC Tale

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 can be 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 addition, unlike Horror stories which deal with the monsters that can lurk within our friends and neighbors, Gothics deal with the monsters within our selves. They are tales of the spiritual and/or psychological reality of the human psyche. They deal exclusively with the hidden self-destructive side of ourselves that we don't want to admit exists inside us.

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 (> = “leads to…”)
1. Character is Valued/not Valued > (Pride/Shame.)
~~ Underestimated Talent (Issue)
2. Incidental Accomplishment
~~ The wrong kind of attention
3. Enter the Monster (symbol of Pride/Shame)
~~ Contamination / Gift

Act 2. CRASH
1. The Sincere Mistake
~~ Pride > Value threatened/challenged
2. CRASH > Monstrosity unveiled
~~ Wrath > Ruinous Victory
3. Departure from Society
~~ Regret > Escape / Removal

Act 3. Fall ( Stages of Grief & Transformation)
1. Dangerous territory
~~ Denial > Outcast / Abandoned
2. Meeting with the true Monster
~~ Anger > Love/Hate Relationship
3. Threats & Promises
~~ Negotiation > Temptation & Persuasion
4. Surrender & Sacrifice
~~ Despair > Submission & Adaptation
5. Escape / Rescue -- Release of the Beast Within
~~ Acceptance > New core Value

Act 4. Return
1. Unfinished Business
~~ Hiding in plain sight
2. Confrontation with the Monster
~~ Deliberate Transformation > Protect / Revenge.
3. Conclusion > Willing sacrifice
~~ 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 final decent into 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 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.

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 monster in order to have the physical strength to defeat the wendigo stalking him.

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.

Common Gothic Settings & their Meanings
1) Old Mansions / Abandoned Houses = Forgotten family issues/inheritance issues
2) Antique Shops = Curiosity (nosiness) issues
3) Modern Corporations / Old Factories = Hidden business issues
4) Modern Suburbia = Peer pressure issues

Common Monsters of the Psyche
1) Ghosts = Guilt
2) Vampires = Destructive Addictions
3) Witches = Wishes that Shouldn't come true
4) Sorcerers /Scientists = Insanity issues
5) Werewolves = Rage issues
6) Urban Faery = Rebellion
7) Man-made monsters = Personal Mistakes

The Gothic Hero
The main character, the one telling the tale is 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 when they accept their own monstrosity -- and find a way to deal with it.

The ENDING of a Gothic Tale
There are only two options when facing a dark issue of the psyche. Interestingly enough, either option can lead to 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 > Insanity

In Conclusion…
Gothic tales are metaphors, proverbs, and fables of goodness verses 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 get away with doing bad things."

True. Real life ISN'T so neatly tied. Bad people DO get away with 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.

DISCLAIMER: As with all advice, take what you can use and throw out the rest. As a multi-published author, I have been taught some fairly rigid rules on what is publishable and what is not. If my rather straight-laced (and occasionally snotty,) advice does not suit your creative style, by all means, IGNORE IT.

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