English 307 * Shaping the Story

Spring 2014* Kenan

Plot-Event Story:


(Ghost story, horror story, story of the unexplained)

  • Narrative shape: the Supernatural/Gothic/Horror story is a plot-event story based primarily upon the idea of intrusion:
  • Status Quo is established: The normal household, the normal town, the normal workplace. The protagonist belongs to the status quo and is invested in its continuance.
  • A defined intrusion occurs, either by entity or by circumstance. (The classic format for these stories is “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” – the ancient children’s story works from either the point-of-viewof the intruder or the intruded.)
  • The protagonist must confront intrusion.
  • The protagonist succeeds or fails.
  • Gothic, some fundamentals:
  • Subtexts and/or iconography of Christianity
  • Repressed sexuality
  • Dark, sinister landscape/locus (house or place)
  • Potential for melodrama (melodrama being, in this case: sensational, excited, highly-emotional, and/or polarized – good vs. evil)
  • Once called the roman noir(dark/black story)
  • Narrative elements:
  • Importance of Landscape (Place)
  • Provocative/mysterious entity (person or thing or circumstance)
  • Establishment of status quo
  • Clear and threatening intrusion by entity
  • Status quo upset
  • Resolution: entity wins/protagonist wins/no clear winner

Other points of interest:

  • Two significant out-growths of the Supernatural/Gothic story have been the genres of Southern Gothic and American Gothic. Though the supernatural is not explicitly present, and the fact these style are actually genres and not forms, nonetheless the influences of the Gothic story’s preoccupations are often present:
  • Southern Gothic – late nineteenth century/early twentieth century family dramas particularly (1) located in the South, (2) haunted by the loss of the Civil War, (3) preoccupied with family problems/secrets/unnamed sexual tensions. See: William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams.
  • American Gothic – primarily Midwestern and Western. Family dramas centering on dysfunction almost exclusively taking place in an agricultural setting or Midwestern small town. These stories tend to confront: notions of masculinity, sexuality, Protestantism, materialism/capitalism, among other American value systems. See: Sam Shepard, Sinclair Lewis, John Steinbeck, Willa Cather and other writers of the Midwest and the West.
  • The Monk: A Romance, by Matthew Gregory Lewis (1796). It is said he wrote the novel in a few weeks before he was twenty. The most influential gothic novel of all time.
  • The Castle of Otranto, Horace Walpole. (1764). Thought to be the first gothic novel.
  • Ghost stories, traditionally, turn upon guilt or rectifying some unfinished business (.i.e., The Grudge, The Ring, Beloved, Turn of the Screw, etc.)
  • In many supernatural stories the impetus for change of status quo is initiated by the protagonist’s desire to change circumstances via some external talisman or convenience. Most often these stories are morality tales pointing toward vanity or selfishness or the futility of non-internal solutions. (See: “The Monkey’s Paw,” W.W. Jacobs, 1902)