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.
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.
- 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.
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?