Three Ways to tell Gothic Fiction from Horror


Freddy may terrify, but he’ll never creep up on you like the Count.

What’s the difference between Count Dracula and Freddy Krueger? How about the Frankenstein monster and Jason Voorhees? Ever wondered why Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a timeless classic, while Return of the Living Dead just… isn’t?

The differences are more than fangs vs. finger-knives or neck-bolts vs. hockey masks. A Victorian doctor who transforms into a maniac has more to offer literature than a reanimated corpse, no matter how many brains it might eat. The differences between these classic novels and our beloved slasher flicks is a matter of genre.

It’s a matter of Gothic vs. Horror.


The Goth subculture may be the key to recognizing Gothic fiction.

For the centuries it’s been around, though, arguments have raged about what Gothic Fiction really is. It doesn’t help that we’ve labelled a whole subculture ‘Goth,’ which, like most subcultures, is filled with denizens who don’t understand their own origins. It’s helpful, though, to watch and listen to someone who identifies as ‘Goth.’ They’re almost always educated. They almost always come from a middle class that they resent. They almost always try to visually identify with a different class. They can be heard to tell us that our culture is eating itself alive, or that we’re the architects of our own destruction. And maybe that subtle hatred of our own origins is the key to understanding Gothic Literature.


It arose at a time that more of the English masses were being educated. Superstition was on the decline, but on the rise was awareness of England’s colonial atrocities against poorer classes and cultures. With education came time to reflect, and the Romantics used this time to long for a simpler life surrounded by Austen’s moors and Wordsworth’s daffodils… but some authors took this a step further. Some authors made victims and monsters out of the wealthy class. They held a dark mirror to all they held dear, and they asked one simple question:

“What if we deserve to be punished?”

Here, then, are three of the key features of Gothic Fiction to this day:

Gothic Checklist Number 1: The wealthy class are the monsters

Who could be more highly respected than a brilliant scientist or a Victorian doctor? Yet when one of them lets his true nature show and starts killing prostitutes or letting his monster loose on English villages, it’s a way for an author to reveal the horrors we all commit without thinking.

By contrast, Stephen King’s characters Dennis Guilder or Carrie White tend to be downtrodden and bullied before they rise up to command possessed Plymouths or drop pig’s blood on prom queens. That makes his books terrifying and hard to put down… but hardly Gothic.

Gothic Checklist Number 2: The wealthy class are the victims


Who knows what your Mom’s creepy boyfriend might be hiding?

It’s one thing for the rich folk to be hurting the poor underprivileged, but turning the tables on cashed-up victims is an essential element to Gothic fiction. Jonathan and Mina Harker were respectable and ethical nearly beyond reproach, but by making them victims of history’s hottest Count may have been Bram Stoker’s way of showing us that their wealth alone was enough reason to punish them.

Even the 1985 vamp film Fright Night got this right, with Jerry Dandridge a highly respected neighbor that teenager Charley Brewster was left to reveal as a neck-sucker. Twilight, though? Well, that’s a whole different argument.


Gothic Checklist Number 3: The buildings and furniture are scary


Screaming horror protags will never see a castle like this.

What’s a true monster story without a dark castle filled with organ music? Why didn’t Dracula ever buy a split-level near Monterey? The answer is simple association: settings that scare are a chance to connect us with wealthy things that make us uneasy. After all, not everyone can afford a stone mansion complete with gargoyles. Nobody frugal would ever allow cobwebs to cover their original French furniture.

On the other hand, the painfully middle-class teens in I Know What you Did Last Summer wouldn’t know a Louis-Philippe lounge from an A-Mart couch, so they’re safe from the creeping Gothic threats. They only have to deal with the horror.

What else distinguishes the shivers of Gothic fiction from the shock of horror? Add your own ideas in the comments!




Some newly published fiction: In addition to my novel prequel on Wattpad or Inkittshort story “Fleeting Delights” has been published by Sheepshead Review. You can also find what is perhaps my most controversial story to date, “All About Asses,” online from Every Day FictionDon’t judge too harshly until you consider the ending that all humans share…

Novel Prequel: Olivia Tames Terror

LiviCoverWhen gods invade a public school, they don’t count on a teenage dancer waiting for them on detention. In this free YA adventure, Olivia Tames Terror, Livi learns her friends’ strengths and weaknesses when they take on the minor Greek gods, Phobos and Deimos. It takes a team to repel an invasion by the gods of Panic and Dread, but it takes a disobedient cynic like Livi to lead them. And she’ll need to lead them again in her forthcoming novel, when Olivia Tames Olympus, also by K. Alan Leitch. Wattpad members| Free on Inkitt

All characters and settings registered by the author for U.S. Copyright. The novel that follows, Olivia Tames Olympus is available for publication.

Reboot, Remake or Revival?


Spock explains to Fake Spock why the universe sucks, now.

Recently, my sister told me that J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films are reboots, not revivals. You know the ones: where Christopher Pine replaces William Shatner, the planet Vulcan blows up and Spock logically responds by making out with Uhura? Right. Those films. My sister, who was a Trek fan even before I was, says that she can enjoy them as completely separate stories from the originals. That would make them a reboot: a story with the same origins and premise, but without being tied to existing continuity.

But those films aren’t reboots. They’re the worst kind of continuation; the kind that erases the original continuity. Continue reading

What the heck is ‘Voice’?


He was a great author, but Bram Stoker didn’t have the voice we want to read now.

Every writer who’s submitted anything has had so sit through a stern lecture about Voice. “The Voice isn’t quite right.” “Publishers are super-attuned to voice.” Or, my personal favorite: “Your narrative has no voice.”

No voice? None? With thousands of words filling hundreds of pages it would have to at least sound like me. When I speak, people hear my voice, so surely it’s the same when I write.

Agents may have been sparing my feelings when they gave me these actual points of feedback. They couldn’t have meant the narrative was silent, so maybe they just didn’t like the writing. I think there’s more, though. I think part of it might be that they want something in #ownvoices. Continue reading

Stop Dreading the Dream: 4 reasons to keep writing


If you want to experience every emotion in the space of a minute, just sign up to Twitter. It’s a place where writers can be abused, men can be accused, and a President can spread lies faster than any time in history. The #WritingCommunity on Twitter, though, is also a place for writers to find a support network… and one of the most supportive friends I’ve found is author Michele Sagan, who’s just been agented for her thriller, The Lies He Tells.

And it only took her twenty years. Continue reading

3 Reasons to Rewrite the Marginalized


Women were known to fight in Medieval battles

It wasn’t long ago that academic medievalist and author, Adam D. Jones, shut down an argument by tweeting that women played much more prominent roles in medieval society than most of us realize. Despite that contribution to history, though, our fiction would have us believe that they spent their time languishing in locked-up towers, waiting for princes or knights to finally get off their horses for the rescue. Only recently have authors begun cladding medieval heroines in armour and chain, and some of those authors are copping more than a bit of flak for it in the often-hostile Twittiverse.

Jones says they’re right, though… and that’s the first reason for authors to rewrite what we think we know about minorities. Continue reading


Here’s some free fiction! I’m posting this as an experiment; something unpolished that I wrote in an hour, and posted raw. As writers, I think that we focus on editing areas that are important to us, but maybe not to our readers. Comments on how this story could improve are welcome, so that I can compare a list of readers’ editing priorities to my own. Yes, learning can be fun!

Visit my profile page for links to twenty published, more polished stories.


“Oh, hey, Dylan,” the stranger said, rising out of Elliot’s favorite chair. “You’re finally home.”

Somehow, my reflex was to explain: to apologize to this intruder for holding up her busy schedule of breaking and entering. “I, uh… had some shopping to do,” I told her stupidly.

She glanced around at the collection of cloth bags near my feet. “Shame,” she said about my motley montage of groceries and toiletries. “I wish you’d called. I could have saved you the trouble.” I could see that this confident stranger was wearing heels, but her steps were oddly silent as they crossed the floor toward me. Kneeling, she started poking through my bags.

Behind me, the open door framed me with the fluorescent glow of my building’s hallway. The buzz from old lights like that drove me crazy; Elliot had always sworn she couldn’t hear them, but I needed to close the door.

I needed to get rid of the stranger, first. Continue reading