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Since Walpole, many writers have written books set in a world with meager villages back-dropped by terrifying but alluring castles, and a heroine fleeing from dangers. Two Gothic novels have pervaded popular culture, Mary Shelly's Frankenstein and Bram Stroker's Dracula. Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus. With its themes of mad science and technology run amok the book is considered by some scholars to be the first true science fiction novel. Shelly devised her novel through imagination alone, but Stroker was inspired by historical events. Dracula from the historical account of Vlad the Impaler, also known as Vlad III Dracula of Wallachia. Vlad earned the name 'Dracula' after being initiated into the Order of the Dragon in 1431. In Romanian, the word 'dracul' can mean 'the dragon' or, more often today, 'the devil.' It should mean 'vampire.'
1. The Cover
The first step is the cover design. All Gothic covers are essentially the same, even when they are downloadable e-books. In the background: a massive castle, suitably brooding and gloomy (especially when glimpsed in the moonlight). In the foreground a heroine stands, or runs, properly terrified and exquisitely helpless. She glances over her shoulder at the castle, her hair trailing behind her in the wind. She is the embodiment of beauty, and only the Gothic novels' author can properly describe her.
2. The Title
The title of any Gothic novel is straightforward. Choose any combination of two to five words (not counting "the" or "of"): Mistress, Bride, Inheritance, Heritage, Curse, Curious, or Secret. Authors can add an additional word to give their story personalization that no guideline can propose. Perhaps the title includes the name of the heroine, or the name of the foreboding castle. Picking and choosing from the list makes it easy to create titles, such as "The Secret of Castle Leicestershire" or "Mistress Tiffany's Heritage."
3. The Heroine
Your cover is now designed and you have constructed the perfect Gothic title. You should now be ready to flesh out (if you will pardon the expression) your heroine with words. The following paragraph illustrates a damsel that may best suit your fancy. It is important to remember that all Gothics are related by their heroines and from their points of view. Therefore, be sure to choose a woman with whom you feel a certain rapport. It would be difficult indeed to travel through 80,000 words of terror and jeopardy with someone you didn't like.
'I am the heiress of a great estate to which I have been called from the Continent where I have been studying. Growing up, I have traveled extensively with my guardian and am desolated by his recent death. I was placed in his care as a small child by my mother as she lay dying of a wasting disease. My guardian has always refused to tell me about my father. Physically I have little to recommend me except for my clear blue eyes, my regular features, a certain firmness of the chin, an erect carriage, a slim waist, and, of course, the mass of unruly curls that identify so many Gothic heroines. My particular unruly curls are auburn.'
4. The Hero
Now, the hero. Before choosing a hero, remember, he must never at the outset appear the obvious, or even an acceptable, choice. And it is de rigueur (required by etiquette or current fashion) that he not be introduced in a formal manner to our heroine. The unusual 'meet' is as essential in a Gothic as the 'cute meet' used to be in a Doris Day movie. It should be selected with care.
5. The Setting
A proper setting can make or break a Gothic Novel. The world tends to not extend beyond the domain of the castle and foreign nations unheard of wage war. The following three paragraphs present settings to choose from.
'Nineteenth-century Cornwall is so crowded with other young ladies of my persuasion who are all in similar circumstances that it is difficult to find a proper castle not already fully occupied. [Editor's note: 19th-century Cornwall is a safe choice, but so trite that many authors have been crowded off the coast entirely. Any country with a gloomy climate will do.] Candles and fires provide a properly eerie light in which to move from threat to horror. There is also a plethora of proud horseflesh, such as the master's handsome, headstrong stallion.'
'This small town in 20th-century New England would seem more at home in the last century than it does in the present. The green is surrounded by large gloomy homes built during the Victorian period of earlier and the townspeople are dour and taciturn to a degree that would make Ebenezer Scrooge seem jolly. Horror and suspense mount easily as 20th-century amenities, such as phones and electricity, are shut off by vicious snowstorms. Rescue, of course, is delayed by snow-clogged roads.'
'In medieval middle-Europe, we've the usual number of dreary wars and localized feuding. The dark and drafty castles and monasteries are ripe with intrigue and petty jealousies. Color is added periodically to the somber scene by tournaments among the local knights, and an occasional peasant uprising or the invasion of a host of marauding neighbors brings out the full panoply of torches, armor, and proud horseflesh. Little of historical significance is happening and even less is being recorded. (Editor's note: If you've no mind for historical accuracies, by choosing an early enough century you've no need for period detail. The 7th century, for instance, allows almost free rein to your imagination.'
6. The Plot
With your heroine and hero chosen and located in a properly eerie time and place, nothing remains for you to do but spin a little tale of intrigue and suspense about them.
'No sooner had I arrived at the great house than I became aware of an unearthly and threatening presence that none of the family or staff could be coaxed into speaking of. My suspicions proved well-founded on the morning of the ball that was to announce the master's betrothal to the Lady Lydia. How ironic that I should be the one to save the Lady Lydia, whom I had so long envied and bitterly resented. But my conscience would not allow me to deny what I had discovered cowering in the passageway over her chamber. And how heady was my victory when the master discovered, in that moment of confrontation, that I was the woman with whom he wished to share his life and fortune.'
'There was no denying the hostility of the staff, especially of Mrs. Grimm, the housekeeper. Nor could I continue to ignore my rapidly deteriorating physical and mental health. Aunt Nasty's insistence that it was merely the winds off the moors did little to dissuade me from my suspicions that there was something in my cocoa. For a short but terrifying period, it seemed as though I too would carry Tybalt's fearful secret to my grave. But heaven was on my side, protecting me from a plunge to certain death from the cliffs, guiding me through the fearsome storm to Sir Hillary's hearth and a happy home that was to be mine forever.'
'Who could suspect that the straightforward letter of introduction in my reticule would be the open sesame to a household of deception, deformities, dire prophecies, and sudden death? With the key to the curse that' had haunted all those generations at Castle Kiln tucked safely in my pocket, there was none who would dare challenge me. The peasants' festival that evening came as a stroke of good fortune since it provided me with both the protection I needed and the audience I desired for my revelation. How my heart pounded at the moment of unmasking, when the tall man who had pursued me all evening turned out to be none other than the rightful master of Castle Kiln himself.'
7. The Epilogue
Final note on a subject too delicate to profane the lips of our heroine, sex. Keep in mind as you handle the romance-carnal ignorance is the rule and foreplay must be limited to stolen glances exchanged across a crowded room . .. . And now, gentle reader, you are on your own.