Writing a Gothic for your hometown

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. 

Paper Beats World is a labor of love. If you found value in this post, please consider buying me a cup of coffee on Ko-fi. 

Smashwords/Amazon

Horror Subgenres Part Six

In case you missed them, here are links to parts one, two, three, four and five. 

And this is it! We’ve come to the last post about horror subgenres. Did I get them all? Probably not. But that’s alright. We covered a lot. And hey, if I missed a subgenre you love or one that you wanted to know more about, please let me know in the comments. No reason I can’t do a part seven if I find enough new subgenres.

Techno horror

At the introduction of every technological advancement, there is fear. There will always be some that believe every new way to communicate with each other is the thing that will bring about the fall of society. As though it would ever be just one thing.

While we might like to think that Techno horror is a new subgenre, it’s really not. Sure, there are lots of good stories about internet urban legends coming true. Plenty of ghosts in the machines, hunters stalking innocent prey in comment sections and message boards.

But before there was the internet, there was television, radio and telephones. And we don’t have to look far to see that each had its own set of horrors.

I still think a phone with no caller ID is pretty damn scary.

The Ring is a great example, with a vengeful spirit trapped on a videotape. But we can go much farther back, to the classic film Videodrone. We’re always scared of what we don’t understand, and we don’t understand technology. Even as we’ve grown so dependent on it. And so the Techno horror subgenre is alive and well, with later installments including movies like Pulse.

Urban Gothic

I’ve not been shy about loving city life. Even as I write this I’m sitting in front of a window that looks out over my tiny little city. I can see windows that lead to people’s homes and offices.

And yeah, so many people living and working right on top of each other will lead to some horror stories.

This subgenre is full of dark alleys and dangerous shadows. It’s a drug store at two in the morning, empty but open. It’s someone you see on the other side of the road, who’s gone after a truck goes past. It’s a fifth-story window being opened from the outside. It’s a scream from your neighbor’s apartment, followed by silence.

This is a subgenre that goes back to London. Real horrors like dirty living conditions and clashing politics lead to stories like Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde. But we keep right on creating out of this gothic subgenre. Half the Purge movies would fall into this category, as well as the classic American Psycho.

Vampire literature

I don’t know how much I need to say about this one. I think we all know about vampires. The evil, the tortured, the sexy and brooding. Vampire lore has been with us for centuries, even before Stoker gave us the eternal Dracula. And it’s a subgenre that keeps updating along with the times. Capes are replaced with trench coats. What was once a monster lurking in the night becomes an influencer with millions of followers and a deal with Hot Topic.

As a teenager, I was in love with the entire vampire subgenre. As an adult, I’m rather over it. 

Weird Menace

This is another subgenre that is wrapped up in a specific timeframe. In this case, the 1930’s and 40’s. It’s a blend of horror and mystery, with a hero pitted against Satanic villains. This was largely a comic book subgenre, featuring graphic gore and sexual portrayals. Many of these comics lasted only one or two issues before there was enough public outcry to shut them down. One that did last a little while was called Strange Detective Stories. I hate that so many of these were shut down. While I don’t know that I’d call many of these old comics art, they might have evolved into some great works if left the hell alone.

What stories have we lost to the deadly boot of censorship? 

Werewolf fiction

Finally, we come to werewolf fiction. Another well-known subgenre, but a bit more nuanced. Because while werewolves specifically aren’t universal, legends of people turning into monsters under a full moon pretty much are.

I wonder why that is. Why does almost every culture across the world have stories of people turning into animal-like creatures? The styles might change, the animals they resemble differ. But these tales abide.

I wonder why.

There are some great examples of werewolf fiction out there. Underworld was fun, of course, as was I Was A Teenage Werewolf. 

So that’s it. Don’t forget to give this post a like if you enjoyed it. And if I didn’t get to your favorite horror subgenre, let me know in the comments. 

Quiet Apocalypse launches next week, on Friday the 13th! You can preorder it now on Amazon and Smashwords. 

The end of the world began with a winter storm.
Sadie’s quiet life is interrupted when a tree crushes the roof of her attic apartment. She’s forced to move to a smaller apartment in the building. Then, her aunt guilts her into clearing an ouija board of a particularly irritating spirit.
But it wasn’t just the roof that was broken by the tree. There was something trapped within the building, waiting. Waiting to wake and bring about the end of the world.
Not with screams, but with silence.

Paper Beats World is a labor of love. If you loved this post, please consider buying me a cup of coffee on Ko-fi. 

Horror subgenres, Part Five

Just in case you missed them, here are links to parts one, two, three and four.

This horror subgenre post might be my favorite because we’re going to talk about one kind of subgenre that I love. The Gothics.

Southern Gothic

Southern gothic is all about the dark corners of the southern American states. Which gets me every time. Aside from New Orleans, I don’t see much to enjoy below the Mason/Dixon line. If you’re from that part of America and you don’t like that, stop voting for politicians who are trying to take away reproductive rights.

That felt like a snarky point, but it does have something to do with the subgenre. You see, Southern Gothic tends to deal heavily with the complex political spectrum of the south. There is racism and hatred. Burning crosses and battered women. It’s hard for someone like me, who only spent a year there as a child then got the hell out, to grasp the weight of it.

The Southern Gothic subgenre has a lot of discussions of racism. A lot of focus is on the oppressive heat and the strangling kudzu. It’s the nightmares of men defeated in a war, and a people stolen from their homeland and sold as slaves.

Some great examples of Southern Gothic are Lovecraft Country, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and this one episode of Monsterland

Southern Ontario Gothic

There’s a funny story about this subgenre. Author Timothy Findley was being interviewed about his book, The Last of The Crazy People. The interviewer said it had a very Southern Gothic feel. Findley responded, “Sure, it’s Southern Gothic. Southern Ontario Gothic.”

This sort of work is essentially horror with the aesthetic of Canada. This is what I love about gothic genres in general. It is something that can’t always be understood by outsiders, but it is deeply felt by those who have roots in a certain community. Because we are all outsiders to some, and we all have roots somewhere else. Gothic stories are all about those dark corners we know about in our communities.

Because everywhere has dark corners.

Splatter Film

This subgenre has a far different vibe than the others we’ve talked about today. A splatter film glorifies all the gore and blood your dark little heart could want. There are few holds barred in this sort of film. Guts and blood are so prevalent, this feels more like torture porn sometimes.

Other times it can be funny as hell, like in Evil Dead or Dawn of the Dead. 

Splatter films come in all sorts of flavors. A fun one from a few decades ago is splatterpunk from the ’80s. Back when everything was punk.

Suburban Gothic

This is the gothic subgenre I’m most familiar with. As someone who just moved out of the suburbs, which I hate, I know all about this one. 

The suburbs represent conformity. They’re a place many people dream of living, but only because they’ve never done it before. Everyone’s grass is always cut. Their trash is brought to the curb. Everyone’s car is clean. 

Too clean.

My favorite example of this subgenre is The House Next Door, which explores madness in many forms. Another example is Nightmare on Elm Street, where a mob of suburban parents went to extremes to protect their children. Then there’s Poltergeist, which explores the desire to afford to live in this sort of neighborhood, and what lengths someone might go to to achieve that.

Zombies

Ah, zombies. Another genre close to my heart, being from Pittsburgh and all. 

Zombies are pretty popular in pop culture. The fun thing is, that they can also fit into almost any of the other subgenres. You’ve got some zombie stories that are flat-out adventure tales, splatter films, gothic movies of every flavor.

What I love about the zombie subgenre is that it isn’t about the zombies. I mean, it’s a little about the zombies. But it’s more about how the living respond to this apocalypse. What do we do when there’s bad death threatening on all sides? When supplies are low. When we might be separated from people we love, unsure that they’re alright but with every reason to think they’re not. What do we do when the power goes out, the water goes out, the wifi goes out?

That’s the real terror of a zombie story. But it’s the real inspiration, too. Because the people who just look out for themselves, they’re the bad guys. They’re the ones who don’t make it. It’s the people who are looking out for their fellow man, who are risking their own lives to save others, that are the heroes. 

That’s one of the best things about horror in any genre. When faced with unimaginable odds, with the worst kinds of pain and horror, some heroes stand up and save others. Usually with nothing but the will to help and a double-barrel shotgun. Or a chainsaw arm. Whatever they have.

We’ve just got one more of these horror subgenre posts to go. Leave a like if you’ve enjoyed this, and I’ll see you next time. 

Quiet Apocalypse is available now for preorder! Check it out on Amazon or Smashwords. 

The end of the world began with a winter storm.
Sadie’s quiet life is interrupted when a tree crushes the roof of her attic apartment. She’s forced to move to a smaller apartment in the building. Then, her aunt guilts her into clearing an ouija board of a particularly irritating spirit.
But it wasn’t just the roof that was broken by the tree. There was something trapped within the building, waiting. Waiting to wake and bring about the end of the world.
Not with screams, but with silence.

Paper Beats World is a labor of love. If you found value in this post, please consider buying me a cup of coffee on Ko-fi. 

Horror Subgenres, Part Three

Just in case you missed them, here are links to part one and part two.

Horror of demonic

Some of these subgenres are pretty self-explanatory. Like this one. This subgenre is based on the theory that the world is a dark, dangerous, and scary place. And that it is that way because of demonic beings who want to destroy our very souls. 

Most possession stories would fall squarely into this category, like The Exorcist or The Exorcism of Emily Rose. And of course, Rosemary’s Baby. 

Horror of personality

When I first read about this subgenre, I thought it sounded a lot like a cult of personality. And I wasn’t that surprised to find out I was right.

Horror of personality revolves around one person. They usually don’t have any sort of supernatural abilities or magic. Unless being a psycho is a superpower now.

This is the subgenre in which our serial killers fit. Our crazy cult leaders. So one real fun example of this subgenre is American Horror Story Cult. You can read all about what I thought of that series on Haunted MTL.

Japanese Horror

Japanese storytelling differs from American in many ways. Their horror tends to be more psychological than ours. You’ll find a lot of ghost stories. And, of course, some of the scariest damn urban legends I have ever heard. The amount of screaming, long-haired vengeful spirits these people have is amazing. 

Of course, the most well-known film to come from Japan is Kwaidan. You might know it better from the name of its American adaptation, The Ring.

Jiangshi fiction

I didn’t know this was a thing until I started doing research for this series. And I’m so glad I found out about it! 

This subgenre revolves around reanimated corpses, controlled by Taoist priests. 

That’s right, this is about zombies. Specifically, Chinese zombies. And that is so cool.

I haven’t yet gotten a chance to watch any of these films, but I want to. Some great examples of this subgenre are Spraying water and Demonic Corpses. 

Lovecraftian Horror

See, I told you we’d get to this. 

Lovecraftian horror is about the least cheerful thing you can imagine. It’s based on cosmic dread. A dark, terrifying, Elder God horror that we mere mortals cannot hope to escape from. 

The distinguishing feature of Lovecraftian horror is that there is no escaping the horrific end for the main character. It’s not a situation where you can outsmart the bad death. You didn’t do anything to incite the bad death. It simply came for you, like a force of nature, and took you. And no matter how clever you might be, how good of a person you might be, you’re not getting away.

Surprisingly, Lovecraft Country isn’t actually a Lovecraftian story. If you don’t remember, this book was so good it made it onto my top ten list for 2021.

Some good examples of Lovecraftian horror are 2019’s The Lighthouse. And the absolutely horrific movie, The Mist. 

Macabre 

Macabre is not a form of storytelling, at least not in literal words on the page sort of way. It’s art about death.

It is no surprise that macabre art has been with mankind as long as we’ve been on this earth. Death has always been a mystery, coming with emotions that are too great to contain. And so, it comes out in art. 

You can find examples of Macabre art almost anywhere. But my personal favorite is the collection of bone chandeliers you can find. Not one, but several people in the history of the world thought, “You know what this room needs? Some human bones dangling from the ceiling to hold candles.”

You know what, this is pretty cool. When I die, someone please make me into a chandelier. Read by my light.

That’s it for this installment. I’ll be back soon with part four.

Don’t forget, you can preorder my latest book, Quiet Apocalypse now on Amazon and Smashwords.

The end of the world began with a winter storm.

Sadie’s quiet life is interrupted when a tree crushes the roof of her attic apartment. She’s forced to move to a smaller apartment in the building. Then, her aunt guilts her into clearing an ouija board of a particularly irritating spirit. 

But it wasn’t just the roof that was broken by the tree. There was something trapped within the building, waiting. Waiting to wake and bring about the end of the world. 

Not with screams, but with silence. 

Paper Beats World is a labor of love. If you found something of value in this post, please consider buying me a cup of coffee on Ko-fi.

Horror subgenres, Part Two

Welcome to our series of horror subgenres, part two. We’re taking a look at some of the many flavors that encompass our beloved genre of horror.

If you missed it, here’s part one

Ghost story

Ghost stories are my favorite. I mean, my absolute top-tier favorite. It’s not a hard subgenre to define. Any story that involves a ghost is, duh, a ghost story. 

These come in all sorts of varieties. Haunted house stories, haunted woods. Haunted highways, hospitals, insane asylums. Haunted objects like lockets and music boxes. Even haunted cars. Literally, anything can be haunted. 

Do I even need to give examples of this one? Well, there’s mine, of course, Quiet Apocalypse. House on Haunted Hill, American Horror Story Murder House. Some of the best are urban legends, like the vanishing hitchhiker. 

Then there are the real ghost stories that everyone seems to have. Most people haven’t seen a cryptid or run into a serial killer. But everyone’s got a ghost story.

Giallo

This is an Italian subgenre, named for the color that the covers generally came in. Which is, if you don’t speak Italian, yellow.

A lot of horror from America was translated and put on these yellow covers, including Agatha Christie novels.

These stories tended to be a blend of horror and thriller with a little bit of romance. The cornerstone of this subgenre is that the killer would never be revealed until the last act. 

Some examples of this subgenre are Eye in the Labyrinth and The Girl Who Knew Too Much.

Gothic bluebooks

Okay, this is a little funny and a little sad. And it’s got nothing to do with the comic ‘bluebooks’. Also called shilling shockers or sixpenny shockers, these were full-on plagiarized stories. A sleazy writer would condense a popular novel, telling the whole story in their own less talented words. Then they would sell the result for a fraction of the price. 

As much as I would love to say this is a product of a bygone time, we see the descendants of these works today. Go into any dollar store and you’ll find crates of DVDs that look similar to but aren’t popular films. We used to call them grandma bait because we figured the only people who bought them were grandmothers looking for gifts for their grandkids who didn’t get popular culture.

Grotesquerie 

I thought at first this subgenre was going to be about the goriest of the gory. But that’s not the case. 

This is a term used to describe a blend of sci-fi and horror. It’s dark stuff, that’s got one tentacle in the world of reality while the other seven are waving in the wild. 

Some authors who did well in this subgenre are Ambrose Bierce, Katherine Anne Porter, and H.P Lovecraft.

Dark Fantasy

This is a subgenre that I’ve gone over a lot, so I won’t spend a lot of time on it here. Dark fantasy is anything that takes the fantasy genre and the horror genre and blends them. As I discussed here, this is easily done. Because of course, if there are good and friendly fantasy creatures, then there are horrifying ones as well.

Honestly, how does anyone read old stories about the fai and think they’re our friends?

Witcher is a great example of a recent dark fantasy that was a lot of fun. 

Supernatural fiction

Finally, this is kind of a blanket subgenre that most of the others could easily fit into. It is any horror story that contains a supernatural element. Ghosts, vampires, demons, werewolves. Any cryptid you could imagine.

This subgenre is kind of silly when it can be broken down so much more. But next time we’re going to be digging into some much more complicated stuff. 

See you then.

My newest novel, Quiet Apocalypse, is available now for pre-order on Amazon and Smashwords! 

Paper Beats World is a labor of love. If you enjoyed this post, please consider buying me a cup of coffee on Ko-fi. 

How to start writing dark fantasy

Dark fantasy is certainly having a moment. Shows like Witcher and Wheel of Time, both of which I talked about on Haunted MTL, have gotten more fantasy fans interested in the creepier, more sinister side of the genre. And I love it. Not that I don’t enjoy the lighter side of fantasy. I wrote a whole series that could hardly be considered dark. Honestly, that’s just because I haven’t gotten to it yet. 

Yes, fantasy that is all about magic and adventure and dragon friends is awesome! But there is so much more that we can do with the genre if we’re willing to explore the shadowy side. 

Just in case you’re not sure what I mean by dark fantasy, another great example is the Spiderwick Chronicles. In here we see much of what I’d consider dark fantasy. We see the fai acting with malicious intent. We see dark magic slipping a young woman into a coma. We see characters who are menaced, rather than enchanted, by the fantasy world. There’s a lot more monster-slaying than finding fairy rings, is what I’m saying.

If you want to write some dark fantasy, here are some suggestions.

Details and world-building

A cornerstone of good fantasy is good world-building. And a dark fantasy is no different. But of course, the details of a dark fantasy world are going to be a bit different. We’ll see more danger, of course. More places our characters fear to tread. More people you don’t want to come across. Think of Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children. Yes, at the start the children are in a magical place frozen in time. But soon enough they find themselves mucking through dark allies, filled with monsters and men who want nothing more than to crush their heads against the pavement.

Don’t shy away from the gore

Speaking of pavement head crushing, any good horror story is going to have some moments of gore. That’s just a hallmark of the genre. 

I don’t love stories that rely on it. If there’s not an underlying terror, then all the blood and broken bones in the world aren’t going to do more than turn my stomach. But I do expect to see a little bloodshed. 

The best horror is based on reality

Horror that revolves around otherworldly creatures is great. I love a haunted house story, and I love a sentient demonic house even more. But the best horror story is the one that has a basis in real life.

Carrie was about more than a killer prom queen. It was about a young woman bullied at school and suffering abuse at home. Amityville Horror is about a house set on killing its inhabitants. It’s also about a family with money worries. These are things we can relate to, which makes the horror that much more satisfying. 

This can be a little trickier with dark fantasy, which is by definition not based on reality. But remember that characters are people. And people are generally scared by the same things. As Stephen King put it, we’re scared of the Bad Death. That’s pretty well universal, even if you are an elf. 

Anything that can befriend you can also kill you

I’d like to take this moment to point out something in fantasy that has always bothered me. Fairies are often seen as whimsical little friends, who might play a little prank on us from time to time but have our best interests at heart.

If you know anything about fai lore, you know that’s bullshit. They might be befriended, but they’re more likely to steal you away, take your babies, poison you, or otherwise mess up your day. 

The same can be said for mermaids. 

Any creature has a dark side. Any creature can be seen as either benevolent or malevolent. Think of fantasy creatures as dogs. Most of the time they’re our great little companions who sleep at our feet and keep us company while we type blog posts. But under the right circumstances, they’ll take a hand. 

If the good creatures exist, so do the dangerous ones

Finally, there is this. Fantasy creatures we like tend to get a lot of attention. But if they exist in your fantasy world, so do their darker counterparts. So do the banshees, the evil magic users, the werewolves, wendigos and vampires. Light casts a shadow, and you don’t get one without the other. So when creating your fantasy world, remember to write in the shadows as well. 

Fantasy and horror complement each other in many ways. A touch of one can make the other stronger, and often is unavoidable. How much you decide to let the darkness in is, of course, depended on how gruesome you want your fantasy story to be. 

What is your favorite dark fantasy? Let us know in the comments. 

If you would like to support Paper Beats World, you can do so on Ko-fi. 

A WordPress.com Website.

Up ↑