Sunday, 10 April 2011

What makes a 'realistic' Goth character?

A while ago, Stefanie asked: "I was just wondering do you have any advice on creating a well-rounded Goth character for a book. Both good and bad."

I found this quite a difficult post to write, as of course no two Goths are the same and everyone will have their own opinion on what makes a Goth character well-rounded and believeable.... I have brainstormed what I tend to think of as a few 'key' Goth characteristics. These characteristics are common amongst Goths, although of course not every Goth has every one of these characteristics.

  • Humour. The 'typical' Goth sense of humour tends to run to a dry, sarcastic wit, hence the amount of snarking when a group of Goths get together. This is partly simple amusement and partly a defense mechanism - even if the perfectly witty comeback to "Fucking emo!" only pops into your head half-an-hour after the incident, it still makes you feel better. Black humour is a huge part of the Goth subculture. An ability to keep one's tongue in cheek and be able to laugh at oneself? Even more so. Your Goth character should certainly not be humourless.
  • Tolerance. Something I found annoying in Gena Showalter's novel Oh My Goth was the fact that the three Goth characters made sweeping generalisations about every non-Goth in their vicinity and then got together to complain about them. Unless being tormented, it's rare for Goths to go out of their way to rail against non-Goths. Goths are also more likely to be more tolerant towards those with other alternative lifestyles, sexual orientation, religion etc.
  • Prissiness. Fear of breaking a nail or messing up one's 'do is not just for cheerleaders. I for one step cautiously for fear of spilling tea on my skirts, rubbing off an eyebrow when embracing someone, breaking a stiletto heel, denting my top hat, tearing a lace glove... etc, etc, etc... The level of prissiness will of course depend largely on your character's preferred style of clothing. If they are a deathrocker or punk Goth, then they're unlikely to be phased by paint on their jeans or a hole in their tights.
  • Studiousness. I don't mean that all Goths are geeks; but most enjoy quiet creative pursuits such as reading, writing, or art. After all, this is a subculture of people who read classic literature FOR FUN.
  • Dramaticism. Many Goths indulge in melodrama; whether they enjoy drama and romance in everyday life or simply like to indulge in a spot of gossip at the spooky club. A scene that takes such enjoyment in wildly romantic poetry and literature can hardly help it, really. This doesn't mean that we are all running about with hands stapled to foreheads, though... as an example, Eve from the Morganville Vampires series is melodramatic without being OTT.
Some Goths (though not all) may tend towards vanity, elitism, and bitchiness - these are probably the main 'bad' characteristics that I can think of. Good characteristics often include honesty, integrity, and a healthy dose of common sense (ironically enough, for such a whimsical subculture). Goth characters usually fall into one of two categories - the jaded and dry-humoured or the cheerful and perky. If not over-exaggerated, these can be fairly accurate portrayals of the Goth sense of humour and overall lack of doom and gloom.

Goth, also, does not automatically make a person 'quiet and shy' or 'unusually confident'. Many Goth characters I have read about are highly antisocial or very self-confident, but I think that this depends on the person, not whether or not they are Goth.
Source: Photobucket
Also, I have a tendency to read books which have a token Goth character, just to see how well-written (or not) said token Goth might be (a little sad, I know...). There are a few common flaws which I often discover, which I don't think are necessarily representative of Goths in general (although, of course, you may disagree).
  • Bad behaviour. In the Gifted series by Marilyn Kaye, Goth girl Jenna and her gang of fellow darklings are mouthy, obnoxious little shoplifters. I'm certainly not about to stick my hands up and say that all Goths are saints - people are people, whether they're wearing baseball caps or New Rocks, and whilst some of them are lovely, some are little shits. But the idea of a gang of thieving Goths frankly put me off reading the rest of the series. Way to give the subculture a bad name, thanks.
  • Suicidal tendencies. I was put off reading Barry Lyga's 'Goth Girl' books when I discovered in a review that the character attempts suicide. We may not all be as perky as Abby from NCIS, but we're not all balanced on the edge of the abyss, either. Self-harm, however, is not always a no-go area; Thicker Than Water by Carla Jablonski is a thoroughly excellent novel about a Goth girl struggling with bereavement and self-harm.
  • Brand name obsession. Often, authors take the time to describe what their Goth character is wearing, which I think is great. When it reads like a Hot Topic stock list, not so much. I love Ellen Schreiber's Vampire Kisses, but Raven could do with learning a little DIY.
  • Sleeping around. In Mari Mancusi's Blood Coven books, non-Goth Sunny is virginal and innocent, whereas her Goth twin Rayne has been around the block a few times and often wants to 'jump' people. Which wouldn't weird me out so much if she wasn't a minor. In Cate Tiernan's Wicca series, bitchy Goth girl Raven (I don't mind the bitchiness - not every single Goth is nice!) dresses sexily, steals boyfriends and, yep, sleeps around. Black clothing does not automatically equal promiscuity!
  • Violence. Slutty dangerous psycho Goth girl Skye in Playing In Traffic by Gail Giles is probably the least realistic representation of a Goth I've come across. I think this comes from a lack of knowledge about Goth, if I'm honest; her one claim to Gothiness lies in having piercings and black clothes.
For more crappy Goth characterisation, it's worth checking out the Goth page on 'TV Tropes', which mentions such appalling stereotypes as the Lone Psycho (e.g. Nancy in The Craft, Ginger in Ginger Snaps, Rachel in The Rage - all great movies despite the stereotyping, FYI), Eerie Pale Skinned Brunettes, and Vampire Wannabes.

There are some good Goth characters out there, though - and no, they're not all perky. You might like to check out the Goth characters in An Urgent Message of Wowness by Karen McCrombie, The Morganville Vampires by Rachel Caine, Thicker Than Water by Karla Jablonski, Generation Dead by Daniel Waters, Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore, Gloom Cookie by Serena Valentino, Exchange by Paul Magrs and Serenity Rose by Aaron Alexovich. To name but a few.

Really, the best way to write a realistic Goth character is to have a good working knowledge of the scene, community and subculture. Go to a few clubs, meet a few Goths. 'Write what you know', as they say. Touches I appreciate include details that show knowledge about the subculture; Oh My Goth mentions Meltdown and Gothic Beauty Magazine; As Simple As Snow by Gregory Galloway, Generation Dead and Vampire Kisses name-drop bands all over the place.

Of course, I'm sure you have your own ideas on what does and does not constitute a well-rounded Goth character - that's what comments are for! Anything you'd care to add?


Laurence 'The Beard' Williams said...

A brilliant analysis Amy, and one that I found particularly helpful for a project I'm literally about to start on. Basically, its a story story in a post-apocalyptic Britain where zomvie-chavs are rife. It's essentially a piss-take/tribute to different cliques, as you do.

Dr Blood said...

Kim Newman wrote an amusing parody of Goths in "Anno Dracula". He called them "Murgatroyds" and their depiction has stayed with me ever since even though I don't rate Kim Newman very highly in other regards.

SiouxsieL said...

Good call on staying away from the Barry Lyga books. The first one started out promising, but then at the end he had threw in a gratuitous and unnecessary suicide attempt. I couldn't finish the second book. He transformed the character into someone completely unlikeable. :(

Anonymous said...

Brilliant Post Amy.
You definitely know your stuff :)
After I took my first poetry course, I could never go back to writing fiction ever again, but this post makes me smile :)

Kitty Lovett; A Charming Notion said...

Just as a note, Sunny was the goth sister and Rayne was the normal one in the COven books (because hurr hurr that's so witty), Ginger wasn't really "goth", and Nancy from The Craft was cool BEFORE she was crazy.

daisy.fiend said...

I love this post, I don't really have anything to add. But I don't really think it's a very bad thing that writers take time to write about what the Goth person is wearing, but the only thing I don't love is when they drop brand names like "Tripp NYC", "Mad Fish", or the semi popular "Black clothing..." :P

DuskRose_Dreaming said...

Thanks for all the tips and book recommendations! The two protags in my work in progress novel are goths, and most of my characters are subcultural in some way or other. I have my own experience as a goth to draw from in writing them, but a little more researching (by reading this post for example) never hurts.

I love observing the token goth, too. I was delighted by how well written Eve seemed! And ah, Raven Madison. She might have her faults, but I love that series to death (no pun intended).

ultimategothguide said...

@ Kitty Lovett - hate to argue but maybe we are thinking of different Blood Coven books? Check the reviews here - Rayne is the Goth one...

Agree about Ginger not being 'really' Goth, but I'm pretty convinced Nancy was a little wacko from square one... excellent dress sense though ;-)

@ Boots - thank you ^^ I was worried I came off a little rambly (how surprising!) but there's been a great response, so, yay!

Stefanie said...

Excellent post as usual and a big help :D

Admittedly I haven't come across a huge amount of Goth characters but Eve in Morganville is definitely one of my favourites because even though she loves the vampire, she doesn't want to be one :)

Emily Lynn G. said...

Ugh, Miss Amy: nothing makes me cringe more then writer/TV producers/etc. making a 'goth' character and have probably NEVER MET ONE and no idea of the friggen subculture. Ever heard of a little show called Glee? The Goth chick's outfits are so tacky and she is such a push side character.
Anyway, great characteristics, I'm glad you didn't stereotype like I feared. I can say I like all the goth characters I've met in books, at least not the ones that actually attributed themselves to the subculture-all the authors just kind of added them for shock value. One added "goth" to the main character's personality to show what a ruined youth he was. Can you say upsetting?!
I think with any character with a unfamiliar religion,belief,practice,culture,etc. Do your research, PLEASE! like you said, these authors need to meet a few goths and realize that under our black garb we are people, good or bad, not one-dimensional phyco wackos.

MissGracie said...

I loved As Simple As Snow!! I admit it only caught my eye because of fishnety stockings and boots on the cover, but it was a wonderful book. Very odd and unexpected plot.

Anonymous said...

Recently I tried to read the trilogy of “Maya Fox” (I don't know if the book has been translated in English), where the main character, Maya, proclaims herself as a “Goth” and that's okay. She haters preps because of their mean behavior, and that's okay. She hates them because they talk about clothes all the time. But so does her!
One chapter she talks about how Stacey's party is stupid, and, the following chapter, she complains about not having an “appropriate” dress to wear at the said party. She mocks the preps for their mean behavior, as I said.That's weird, because she makes fun of them also for their style of clothing!
Also, it's said that Maya listens to “goth bands”... so, My Chemical Romance are goth?
And... okay, Maya wears Pop Soda and Raven. But we don't need the writer to tell us every single brand she wears. The clothes are cool,sure... but, maybe Maya could learn to sew?
Not all goths are obsessed with brands!

ali köyluoglu said...

I reslly liked this.
It also was a good punch to the gut for me, since one of my own character had more flaws and only two of the good aspect.
The thing is that i am well awared of the gothic subculture, and i know a nice gang of Goths.
My character wasn't meant as a stereotype, more like of an exaggerated version of myself.
She is supposed to have Anti-social personality, but that because it had to do with her relationship with society.

She is rude, snarky and a tad bit sadistic. Curses alot, but does show a bit compassion to her closest.
She wasn't meant to insult Goth, just being a homage to something i love.

Thanks for the list.

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