I am in love with a good, dark gothic story. The kind of story that’s as much about the setting as the serial killer.
You might think of a Southern Gothic, with massive plantations, kudzu and overt racism all crisping in the unending heat. Or maybe a Midwestern Gothic, with cornfields big enough to swallow you whole, scarecrows that move around and have a taste for flesh, and snowstorms that are out for blood. Or Mexican Gothic, which is one of my favorite horror novels in the last few years and encompassed the feel of an eerie small town perfectly.
It’s easy to think that to write a Gothic you’ve got to write them about one of these twisted places. But I have bad news. Unless you live in one of these places, your Gothic is going to lack the soul that a native writer can bring to it.
But fear not! Whether you live in a small town in the south or smack in the middle of LA, you can write a gothic story about where you live. And we’re going to talk about how today, with the help of three questions.
Where are your town’s shadows?
When you’re a kid, the world seems scary in a different way. There are parts of our town we don’t want to go to. Stores that don’t pass our vibe check. Houses we don’t ride our bikes in front of.
No one knows those stories better than someone who lived them. I can tell you about standing in the middle of Ames while my mother looked through discount clothes racks, my heart about to burst out of my chest because I was sure I’d seen a person in a Mickey Mouse foam costume watching me. There wasn’t any promotion that day, he was just there. Watching me. I can tell that story.
So, what are the scary places in your town?
What is your town known for?
My hometown is known for jeeps. We’re the place jeeps were invented. We’re also a steel town, with a steel mill that still exists and employees hundreds of people.
Alright, it might be hard to write a story about a scary jeep. But I can work with a steel mill. That used to be an inherently scary field to be in.
It’s better now, but those wounds run deep.
There are other wounds in my town. Fires that took lives, businesses, homes, and memories. Wars sent men back broken to walk our streets like the living dead.
There are wounds in your town. I can tell you that without ever knowing where you live. Because there are wounds everywhere. Write from those wounds.
What legends already exist in your town?
Every town has legends. Cryptids, famous mass murderers. Unsolved crimes that are truly chilling.
A woman in my town was once strung up between two trees and gutted.
There have been so many fires on Main Street without a whole lot of explanation.
There’s a glass factory that everyone agrees is haunted. I have pieces of glass from it.
Then there’s the Butler Gargoyle.
Surely your town has stories. Things that outsiders might not know, but you’ve heard since you were a teenager.
Draw on these tales for inspiration.
There is no place in this world where you can’t write a Gothic story from. It just takes an understanding of your town and a little (twisted) imagination.