By Joe Quirk
Regular readers of this column know I write, create and produce an audio theater program called Barnaby Druthers which is found on community radio stations throughout the country. In a recent article I described how learning about the sport of cricket was akin to learning a new language and the final result of that education was an episode called “Barnaby Druthers and the Summer Game”. Starting from a point of being willing to learn new things opens up a world of potential stories and scripts.
It is with that concept in mind that I offer one new path to travel upon: learning to write within a new genre. I find the concept of “genres” interesting because some gothic stories can be mysteries, some mysteries are really romances, some young adult novels are worthy of the category of “literature” and some dystopian science fiction novels might one day be called historical fiction if we’re not careful. But as the “classic Druthers” stories take place in Victorian London, it’s only natural that I consider “gothic” as a genre to explore in my scripts.
At the onset let me make clear that I dislike the horror genre, not because I can’t appreciate the artistry that goes into that specific work but simply because my own emotional reaction to it is usually a very negative one. But gothic novels and short stories from 19th century standards don’t elicit the same feelings of “fear” in the modern reader, and the stories still hold a certain power. The best of the 19th century gothic stories like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein can hold the interest of even the most jaded modern horror consumer and coincidentally those are the stories that appeal to me as well. So I’ll be writing a Barnaby Druthers script with a 19th-century gothic story mindsight while still appealing to a modern audience.
Upon considering the challenge of writing in the gothic genre, I wanted to discover which elements made up the genre and whether there was a modern example that exemplified the use of those elements in a unique way. According to one of the top youtube videos on “elements of gothic story” created by “Lit Crit” in April 2020 (link below), elements of the genre included “a castle, confinement of a person, doubles of some kind, extreme emotion, the supernatural, a woman in distress” and a few more. I considered the entire list and wondered whether this list could apply to any stories being created in the modern-day.
That’s when it struck me that the list applied to the WandaVision television series on DisneyPlus. This program is the subject of much discussion by the fans of the superhero genre and fans of sitcoms, as the series through episode 7 showcases a flawless history of television sitcoms. At the time this article posts, the final episodes have yet to be aired and this article will not spoil anything at all about the show but I submit that the list applies and the screenwriters were aware of the elements when they began to craft their tale. For those who have watched WandaVision and for those who are simply aware of the show’s existence, understand that this Marvel branded show had every expectation of being fully ensconced within the “superhero” genre. The characters are based on the Marvel comic books. But how extraordinary is it that the writers took the character of “Scarlet Witch”, Wanda Maximov’s “super hero name” that she has yet to be called within the show” and subvert expectations by having a modern gothic literature style story that features elements of American sitcoms This is superb utilization of the elements of a genre in a new and interesting way and until I began to write this article, I had not pieced all of that together.
I think the challenge for any writer is to create something new from the familiar and if a writer is interested in working within the space of a known genre, to use those elements of that genre in unique ways that can surprise as well as entertain their audience. With all of that in mind, the Barnaby Druthers gothic story I will choose to write will not in any way be inspired by WandaVision other than to be inspired by the uniqueness of the script-writing on the show. Knowing that there is more than one way to interpret an element of a genre is an additional motivator when scripts are written, I consider that marvel-ous.