Writing Faeriecore and Goblincore Aesthetics
Have you noticed the YA and NA book markets are obsessed with fae (and goblins) lately? Maybe we can thank the success of authors like Sarah J. Maas and Holly Black or the timeless appeal of Labyrinth, but faeriecore and goblincore are all the rage, and this guide will show you how to incorporate those aesthetics into your writing.
AT THE CORE
In simplest terms, faerie and goblincore are nature aesthetics that can influence clothing, decor, and yes even books. Faeriecore (sometimes spelled "fairycore" or "faecore") focuses on the soft, whimsical parts of nature, such as plants and flowers, cute fantasy creatures, wings, fruits, basically anything you'd expect to see in a faerie movie or Midsummer Night's Dream production.
Goblincore is slightly different in that it focuses on the murky, feral side of nature. Where faeriecore is an offshoot of cottagecore that incorporates romanticism and whimsy, goblincore uses a more earth-toned palette with emphasis on naturalism and decay. Moss, mud, fungi, toads, insects, and rot are all key components of goblincore.
But how does one transfer these lifestyles into writing, you ask?
Some works and visuals are already embedded in our collective understanding of "fae," and while you certainly don't need to copy every faerie book out there, a great starting point is to pull inspiration from things readers are familiar with.
Rackham's illustrations are so prominent in fairytale and folklore books that his art style is usually what one means when they say "storybook illustrations." From depictions of Midsummer Night's Dream to Goblin Market to Grimm's Fairytales, Rackham's darkly ethereal paintings are perfect references for fae and goblincore alike.
Possibly the most influential artist on our concept of "faerie" is Brian Froud, whose iconic works have been collected in books and oracle decks, and whose artistic style made its mark on the cult classics Labyrinth and Dark Crystal.
If you're interested in incorporating these aesthetics into your work, or if you simply enjoy the art style, I highly recommend picking up one of Froud's books.
Film & Literature
Speaking of Labyrinth and Dark Crystal, it's worth delving into the settings, character designs, and plots that make both of these films so enchanting and the cornerstone of many a retelling. Capturing that otherworldly, topsy-turvey feeling is usually the main ingredient of any fae/goblincore work.
There's a reason so many book nerds are obsessed with Wonderland, and it's not all about the tea parties (although that sounds cozy as hell and perfect for a bookworm). From the maze filled with roses, to the twisty Tulgey Wood teeming with dangerous creatures and talking plants, to foods that can alter your appearance, to the inhabitants that speak in riddles . . . it's no wonder (hah) readers and authors have associated Wonderland with the fae realm.
Though countless authors have dipped their ink into faerie tales (another great reference if you want to explore the market), Holly Black has built an entire brand around this theme. The majority of her works center on faerie and goblincore aesthetics, as does her website, playlists, and merchandise. She's even dedicated a section of her site to folklore research for writers, and her newsletter often recommends sites to purchase fae-inspired accessories from.
Even if you don't read Black's books, it's worth taking a page out of her marketing strategy and analyzing the major components that give her works that darkly fae ambience.
Regardless of whether you're an RPG gamer, you can still peruse playthroughs and concept art for the stunning visuals with their varying interpretations of fae (and their close cousin the elves).
SETTING THE TONE
Now that you have an idea of the imagery and your Pinterest boards are full of mushrooms (you're welcome), it's time to flesh out those stunning visuals on-page and thread some oh-so-gobliny themes.
No matter how you choose to do it, the "otherness" is what most draws readers to fantastical settings like fae realms. So while dark forests and magic are a step in the right direction, readers want to know how your world is different.
Do fae and goblins operate by different laws than humans? Do they have laws? How does the magic system work? How might being in this realm affect humans? What sort of creatures are there?
You don't have to build things up to Tolkien level, but a few interesting tidbits like a fruit that makes humans dance uncontrollably adds to the atmosphere.
PLAYING WITH TROPES
Tropes are a handy tool in any storyteller's arsenal. Just because something has been done before doesn't mean it's been done your way. So long as the overall plot and characters are unique to your writing style, working in popular fae tropes can help give your fae/goblincore book that quintessential "faerie" vibe.
Fae stories love to play around with the stolen person trope. It's consistent with folklore, and it's a great inciting incident for characters who otherwise wouldn't venture that far out of their comfort zone. From changeling swaps to stolen brides, folk tales are fraught with mischievous faeries snatching unwitting humans.
Another fun element is the character who doesn't realize they have a bit of fae magic or who's caught between two worlds, not quite belonging to either. That cusp between reality and fantasy is enticing, and it's exciting watching a character struggle to find their place in it.
Whether it's between fae from opposing courts, a human and an immortal, or characters who for one reason or other simply don't "belong" together, this trope is always welcome in our much-loved fae romances.
Even if I turned ninety, lost my mind and forgot everything else, the memory of the Winter prince would be a shining beacon that would never fade.
― Julie Kagawa, The Iron Daughter
Ah, the good ol' trapped in a fae bargain trope. It's said in some folklore that fae cannot lie and so like to twist words and ensnare mortals in unfair bargains or challenges that sound too good to be true—like sinister genies (djinn) acting as the personification of "be careful what you wish for."
The great thing about this trope is that it provides endless possibilities for tragic, horrific, romantic, or even hilarious entanglements. You can't go wrong adding your own twist to it.
While I could potentially write an entire field guide on this subject, I'll leave you with the basics and the above links for your exploring delight. If you'd like to see more content like this or want me to tackle a specific topic, drop your suggestion below or leave a comment on one of our Twitter or bookstagram posts.
Until next time, witches!