Thursday, March 21, 2013

Gothic Horror: The Fine Line Between the Formulaic and the Clichéd by Leigh M. Lane

Please Welcome to Cutis Anserina Leigh M. Lane

When the typical reader defines Gothic horror, often the person will mention Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, and dark castles enshrouded in fog and thunderstorms.  Perhaps ravens and stylistic prose might fall into the mix.  Some might even add in vampires, werewolves, or similar night-stalking beasts.  When it comes right down to it, however, the term “Gothic” is rather vague to many people.  Often, readers and writers alike will classify a work as being Gothic without really knowing what elements contribute to that classification.  Moreover, some authors will use the term loosely when categorizing their works, filling them with timeworn clichés as opposed to actual Gothic essentials.

Obviously, Poe and Shelley are excellent examples of the Gothic genre, although many of their Gothic-classified works do not meet all of the criteria.  Following are some examples of their works that genuinely are Gothic horrors:
  • Frankenstein
  • “The Mortal Immortal”
  • “The Fall of the House of Usher”
  • “The Masque of the Red Death”

What these works have in common are uses—or relatable variations—of the essentials literary scholars agree must be included in the genre.  Among these are a castle (although any large estate will do), a supernatural element, and an escape from some type of defined evil (which typically occurs through some type of maze, but can take place in any physically or emotionally binding location).
Many people will define Gothic as nearly any story with dark themes, which is an incorrect interpretation of the genre.  Bearing this in mind, consider a few other words that have been defined inappropriately as Gothic:
  • “The Cask of Amontillado”
  • “The Raven”
  • “The Tell-Tale Heart”

In the case of “The Cask of Amontillado,” one might compare the catacombs to a maze, although none of the characters escape any type of evil through it.  The story is also absent of a castle, literally or metaphorically, and also contains no supernatural elements.  Similarly, “The Raven” takes place in an unspecified location.  Although set during a dark and stormy night, that is the only element readers can determine actually exists in the story.  “The Tell-Tale Heart” is probably one of Poe’s most grossly ill-identified “Gothic” work.  The story contains no castle, no supernatural element, no maze, and no dark or stormy backdrop.  While it is one of Poe’s greatest works, it is not, under the conventional definition, Gothic.
Unfortunately, many authors will attempt to write Gothic horrors by including a dark element, a stormy night, insanity, or a nice murder of ravens, and what they end up with is a clichéd attempt that falls short of meeting any of the actual criteria.  By studying the genre and reading a vast array of actual Gothic works, writers can avoid such pitfalls.
In my Gothic horror, Finding Poe, I use a combination of traditional elements to make the work true to its genre.  Written with careful attention to Poe’s language, to story is a mindful tribute not only to Edgar Allan Poe, but to the genre he helped to popularize.

About Finding Poe:
In the wake of her husband's haunted death, Karina must sift through the cryptic clues left behind in order to solve the mystery behind his suicide--all of which point back to the elusive man and author, Edgar Allan Poe.
Karina soon finds that reality, dream, and nightmare have become fused into one as she journeys from a haunted lighthouse in New England to Baltimore, where the only man who might know the answers to her many questions resides.
But will she find her answers before insanity rips her grip on reality for good?  Might a man she's never met hold the only key to a truth more shocking than even she could have imagined?

About the author:
Leigh M. Lane has been writing for over twenty years. She has ten published novels and twelve published short stories divided among different genre-specific pseudonyms. She is married to editor Thomas B. Lane, Jr. and currently resides in the beautiful mountains of western Montana. Her traditional Gothic horror novel, Finding Poe, was a finalist in the 2013 EPIC Awards in horror, and has also hit Amazon's paid bestseller list.
Her other Leigh M. Lane novels include The Hidden Valley, inspired by Barker, Bradbury, and King, World-Mart, a tribute to Orwell, Serling, and Vonnegut, and the allegorical tale, Myths of Gods.
For more information about Leigh M. Lane and her writing, visit her website at

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