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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Know Your Genre: Gothic

Over the past year, I've had to think hard about the meaning of genre and subgenre in commercial fiction. Whether you're traditionally or self-published, understanding how your book fits onto the shelf is a really important component to success. And sometimes, the best way to really understand genre is to listen to someone who knows it inside out. So I've asked author Barbara J. Hancock to share her thoughts with us about the gothic romance genre and what it means to her. Take it away, Barbara! --S.P.

By Barbara J. Hancock

I love to play in the shadows…

Though I’ve written in several genres, there are threads throughout all the books I’ve created that tie them together. I love atmosphere and angst. And larger-than-life characters who are tortured and maybe even scarred by their past experiences. But more than that, I especially love a heroine who somehow saves the day. She may not always carry a sword or wear a uniform, but my heroines are warriors at heart no matter how vulnerable, no matter how tempest tossed.

And this is why I was immediately drawn to the call for modern gothics by the Harlequin Digital First line.

When we think of gothics, our minds conjure the iconic young girl dwarfed by the gloomy manor and intimidated by the mysterious man who may or may not be friend or foe. I read Jane Eyre when I was thirteen and I fell in love with it. I read it at twenty-two and… loved it less. Rochester was kind of pervy, wasn’t he? I read it again in my late thirties and loved it enough to have made it a yearly read. Yes. Rochester is far from perfect, but it makes me crave him even more.

Because the gothic heroine is vulnerable and even intimidated, but, in the end, she’s made of stern stuff. She faces her fears. She solves mysteries. She takes on the most complex and complicated heroes and, often on the very precipice of tragedy and failure, she saves him and herself.

Gothic romances are about the healing power of love and they’re also about characters who find and embrace their strengths when they come up against dire situations. They’re about finding beauty hidden in darkness and doubt. They’re about grabbing happily ever after even when surrounded by danger and haunted shadows. In the most determined heroine and the darkest alpha hero there are hidden places of vulnerability that are drawn to each other. The modern gothic hones in on moments that illuminate those vulnerabilities and, in the end, in spite of the ambiguity of the hero, modern gothic romances become stories that bring hero & heroine together as a team to overcome each story’s black moment.

There are some things to keep in mind when you seek to create a modern gothic romance:

Motivation: Your heroine has to have a very good reason for braving whatever it is she has to face. Think about how angry you get when you’re watching a horror movie and a character goes outside or upstairs or down to the basement. Too Stupid To Live, right? But give her a sibling or beloved pet to save and suddenly we’re torn. She’s not TSTL. She’s a devoted sister. She’s protecting the innocent. Jane Eyre was an orphan with no way of supporting herself. She had to become a governess. Even when she faced danger and the forbidden attraction to her enigmatic employer, she couldn’t easily walk away. Make sure your modern gothic heroine has reasons she can’t simply walk…or run…away.

Chills: Gothic Romance has elements of romance and mystery, but it also has elements of horror and suspense. My imagination takes me old school…Edgar Allen Poe, Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson. Creepy, but in a gorgeous way, steeped in lush sentiment and a hint of the macabre.

Setting and Atmosphere: These should be given the importance of a character in your story. Your readers should be transported from their safe, mundane apartment to another world. While technically, these are contemporary or historical stories, they should have an element of fantasy and escapism. I’m not saying you can’t create a gothic romance with an apartment building setting. I’m just saying that maybe the apartment building should be a crumbling art deco masterpiece with few inhabits and a shadowy stranger with secrets who lives in the penthouse suite.

And that brings us to the hero…

A gothic hero is my favorite type of romance hero. He is challenge, mystery, danger, threat, allure, intrigue, and a pure sensual torture to the heroine. And that’s just in the first meeting. He will be the most complicated, dynamic and compelling person she’s ever met and whether or not that’s going to damn her or save her should definitely be buzzing in the reader’s mind from page one. An author has to walk a fine line between giving him motivation and keeping his secrets, maintaining his mystery and making it believable that the smart heroine would fall in love with him in the midst of whatever high stakes situation she faces.

Barbara J. Hancock's brand new full-length book is available as part of the Shivers Box Set by Harlequin-e. There is also a free online read on www.Harlequin.com to give readers a chance to try the line. It's called Lost in Me.

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