A friend of mine asked for help with a plot for a Halloween role playing game she was running and I obliged with a 6000 word short story of a plot based on my recent readings in the Gothic literature of the 1700s. I threw in every Gothic trope I could think of. A partially ruined castle. Ghosts. Secret passages. Dungeons. The living dead. Family secrets. Hidden identities and mysterious prisoners. Plus my usual swashbuckling fights and a couple of nasty villains.
As I was working through the plot though I found that I was basically using a structure I'd learned from mystery writer Ross MacDonald, the creator of Lew Archer and the author of many novels including The Drowning Pool, The Way Some People Die, Find a Victim, and my personal favorite, The Sleeping Beauty. As his fellow mystery writer Lawrence Block once pointed out, MacDonald really only had one plot. Sometime in the past, someone did something really bad, and years later it catches up to him and/or his children and destroys them. And really, that is the basic plot of many of the famous Gothic Novels. I'd heard MacDonald's work referred to as "American Gothic" in the past, but I never really got it until I plotted my own bit of Gothic fiction.