I wrote a short story last month and sent it off to a magazine, only to have the magazine editor whip out his badminton racket and whip the story right back at me. Geez. I guess moments like this is why writers don’t get runner’s highs. Staring at email rejections does not induce endorphins into your bloodstream. At least it wasn’t a letter, so I was saved from getting a paper cut.
February hasn’t been the kindest month around these parts, so for this week’s Thursday Writing Prompt I want to think about the effect weather has on people. I know I’ve posted prompts in earlier posts about using the weather in your writing, but this time I’d like you to do something a little bit different. This time, think about how the weather really does effect people, and I don’t just mean hot and cold, or getting wet in a thunderstorm.
According to Nick Groom, a professor of English and author of Gothic: A Very Short Introduction, the environment and weather were considered “primary determinants of national character” during the 17th and 18th centuries, and this idea was widely used in the Gothic literature of the age.1 Think of any Gothic novel or movie you’ve watched — Frankenstein, Dracula, or even a haunted-house story–and you probably understand this right away. There is always a lightning storm at a haunted house and wind whipping through the tree branches. And if there isn’t … there will be as soon as the protagonist gets settled in.
Groom lists seven types of elements that are often included in the Gothic novel, including weather, strange or ruined architecture, difficult terrain, and a spiritual or psychological element to the story such as dreams or symbols.2 The chances are pretty good that you already know what Gothic is, even if you can’t explicitly describe it, but Groom’s book is a good place to start if you want to read more about the subject.
So, for this week’s Thursday Writing Prompt, write the setting for the opening scene of a Gothic story. Be sure to include a description of the landscape and any buildings. You probably don’t want your setting to be the middle of a grassy field on a warm sunny day, but it could work if you have the other story elements in place and if they’re strong enough to support the feeling of dread that lies at the heart of many a Gothic novel. Enjoy!
1. Nick Groom, The Gothic: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 50.
2. Ibid., 76-79.