Writer’s Critique: The Possible Benifits of Gothic Novels

I was re-reading Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. For those who don’t know the British Regency satire, Austen’s first written and last published work, is about a young woman obsessed with Gothic novels and how that leads her to rather embarrassing misadventures. This was a nod to the popular novels of her day, novels that Austen herself read. I’m not sure if Austen ever tried to write within this genre and decided it just wasn’t for her or if she knew she just wanted to give some recognition to what was considered the “buy at the airport trash novel” of the age.

The point is that you can’t read just your own genre when preparing to write.  I know this sounds like tired knowledge, the “if you want to be a writer you must read, read, read” advice which is always the first given in any class, workshop, or panel. The reason why you always hear it is because it’s good and true advice. So I’m just adding to it. You need to read more that simply the genre you want to write.

“But I only like romance which I why write romance,” I hear you say. That’s good, but you aren’t experiencing as much that could help you grow as a writer. 

For example, within Northanger Abbey Austen purposely mimics the adjective laden style of Anne Radcliffe, a popular Gothic author. She does this for the parts where the heroine is allowing her imagination to run away with her, added suspense that makes the reader wonder if something shocking might in fact be about to happen. Then, as truths are revealed she goes make to her normal style. 

I’m not saying use precious time reading things you hate, but broaden your scope just a little. Maybe start with a non-fiction book on a topic that interests you. Just don’t start with Anne Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho. That book is long or at least it felt long.