Writing Goth Characters (The Non-Cliché Way)
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
Goths. Ah, that black-clad, head-bangin’, monotone, anarchist, morbid batch of weirdos.
At least, according to the media. And let’s face it: everyone’s brainwashed by the media to some extent. How can we not be? They’re everywhere!
But let’s get something straight: goths are nothing like what we see plastered all over the big screens (well, the authentic ones aren’t—I can’t speak for the kids running around in heavy eye liner telling everyone to die . . . they got problems). So if you’re thinking about including one in your story or—heck—making them your protagonist, it'll help to learn about goth culture (and what doesn’t qualify as goth) before you take the plunge.
*Spreads arms* That is where I, your handy-dandy gothic writer, come in. In a Batman cape. Because no one can dispute the word of Batman.
1) Hello, darkness, my old friend.
We get it, random TV/book character. You’re scary. People who wear black are scary. In order to live up to the gothic persona, you must glare at everyone you pass and hide behind your long dark hair and/or hood. You obsess over death way more than is psychologically healthy and everyone within earshot must know this.
Wrong. If you want your goth character to live up to their real-life counterparts, disregard everything you think you know. Rather than view being goth as a cry for help, a mental disorder, or an unjustifiable hatred for mankind, look at it this way:
It’s a style. A fashion style, a lifestyle, whichever. Just a style. These people choose to wear skulls and bats why? Not to scare people (okay, maybe a little—who doesn’t get a kick out of being intimidating now and then?), but simply to express themselves and their tastes.
So they like black—it’s a color like any other, and a damn nice one at that (it goes with everything and it’s so slimming!). They find beauty and self-expression in body art, in piercings, just as others do their bedazzled phone cases and monogrammed jackets. They like concert T-shirts that showcase their favorite bands, or they love Victorian clothing because it’s vintage and gorgeous and who doesn’t wanna look like a goddess of the night or a majestic evil overlord?
So stop stressing how gloomy and edgy your goth is and let them take pride in their individualistic style. Save the morbid monologue for your villain.
2) Hail Satan?
Clearly, all goths are Satan worshipers, am I right? Why else would they dress that way?
I’ve pondered this inane logic for many a year, and my conclusion is this: people must think Satan is one snappy dresser to inspire so many to wear ripped jeans and corsets. Conversely, all women in glittery pastels must subscribe to the Barbie cult and the military worships the almighty pantheon known as G. I. Joe.
Alright, I’ve had my sarcasm fix . . . for now.
No, being goth does not automatically make you a Satan worshiper, an anarchist, or a member of some freaky necromancer guild (unless, of course, you’re into Dungeons and Dragons). Underneath those unconventional clothes is a real person with, more than likely, little to no evil intent. (And at the risk of sounding blasphemous, I’d also like to note that many goths—being the free-thinking, non-conformist bunch they are—aren't exactly religious and may not even believe in Satan, much less worship the guy).
You’re an imaginative, original writer who wants to create a unique and relatable character, right?
Right. You wouldn’t have read this far otherwise.
Then it stands to reason you do not want your goth character to be a carbon copy of every Wednesday Addams look-alike out there. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Wednesday, because she’s a badass—but she is over-the-top for humor purposes).
How do you remedy this problem? You add diversity.
What I mean is you need to put time into developing your character as a character. Do not let their gothic style define them. Let their personality define their style.
What are some of their traits? Are they klutzy, goofy, serious, philosophical? Goths, like anyone, can be all these things. Give them goals and motivations, likes and dislikes, quirks and habits.
Try this as a fun exercise: create five separate goth characters, all with completely different personalities and styles. If you can’t do that, then you still have detoxing to do on your mindset towards the goth crowd. Back to the drawing board for you!
4) Define “goth.”
“Alright, I’m open-minded on this whole goth thing, so you can quit telling me how not-scary they are. I just want to know how to portray them accurately.”
I getcha, I getcha. I’m not going to end this post without offering the promised insight.
The only catch is . . . the goth culture is so diverse, and it intermingles with so many subcultures, that there is no one-size-fits-all trend. My advice is to focus on developing your character, and then hone which part of the culture they fit into.
Got a chic Victorian Drac-oo-lah? Cool! They’ve probably read and watched every classic horror out there, know a crapload of random facts on Old English society, and may or may not write darkly romantic poetry in graveyards. Up to you.
Is your character more of a rough-n’-tumble headbanger? That works too! Time to search some good ol’ heavy metal bands for your character to like and sport merch for. Also, if you’ve never been to a metal concert, now’s the perfect time to go—yay, field trip!
How about experimenting with steampunk or cyberpunk? Maybe your character has a robotic hand or eye patch and decided to make the most of it. (Now there’s a good example of letting your character define their style!).
Feel free to mix and match clothing styles, music genres, and favorite movies/ books/ TV shows for a well-rounded character. As always, a little research goes a long way, and so does talking to the people you’re trying to connect with; I promise they won’t bite! (Except maybe the vampire goths . . . watch out for those).
Alright, my fledgling batarangs (it’s late, and yes I just typed those words—I’m keeping them): I have imparted my gothly wisdom so you may create your characters with dignity and originality. No more shall we bow to society’s whims and pretenses! Mwahahaha!
Don’t look at me like that. I said not all goths are scary anarchists.
What are some of your favorite gothic tropes? Least favorite? Let us know in the comments!