I don’t remember how I found Sloan Parker but I vividly remember the minute I finished her book, MORE, and immediately clicked back to the beginning and started the book over again. She was my first introduction into M/M romance and erotica and I couldn’t have chosen a better place to start – her writing has set the bar. Sloan, as well as the other talented cream of the M/M crop, take the classic tropes of romance fiction and give them a fresh twist that takes my breath away and teaches me something incredible about the craft every single time.
In addition, as a woman in the M/M genre, Sloan constantly tackles the question of whether she can really write about the gay male experience. Whether you are writing about characters of a different gender, culture, race or species – her post has something for us all.
Write What You Know: A Woman Writing M/M Romance
“You’re a woman. How can you write about gay men?” It’s a question I get asked often.
The short answer: I’m not a gay man, but writing about people of both genders who are living different lives from mine comes with the job of author.
There has been much debate, both in and out of the m/m romance community, on whether the gender of the author matters. For some, it may. For others, it’s the story and the characters that are important, not the author behind the scenes. In either case, I don’t believe it’s anyone’s place to judge how another person selects books to read. Every reader has the right to choose based on whatever criteria are important and personal for them.
That said, I will admit it’s frustrating to know my work may be dismissed simply because of my gender and not the work itself.
The commonly stated advice of “write what you know” doesn’t always make for good fiction. If we only write what we have personal experience on, or about characters exactly like us, writers would be out of stories in no time. I’m certain my life experiences would bore the heck out of everyone except my mother. And even then, there are many things my mom wouldn’t want to know.
Writers are creative people. We couldn’t write within the strictest sense of “write what you know,” even if we wanted to.
To illustrate, here are a sampling of characters from the stories of several female friends who do not write m/m: a killer who uses a unique and mysterious method for offing his victims (which I can’t reveal since the book isn’t out yet), a secret team of werewolf shifters, an ex-spy on the run, a royal wedding complete with a prince and a reluctant princess, a single dad raising his teenage daughter alone, and a dead man who has a second chance at life.
None of those writers have direct experience with the sorts of lives their characters are living. But like all of us, they do know what it’s like to feel powerful, human emotions such as anger, happiness, despair, and love.
Emotions, especially in romantic fiction, are what drive the characters through the story. They help the reader invest in what is happening to these people.
It’s the part of “writing what you know” that works for me with any of my characters, male or female, gay or straight.
I’m not an expert on gay men, but I have learned a few other things that help when writing m/m erotic romance.
1) Focus on the character, not a label.
I strive to create men who do not adhere to one description of who gay men are, how they act, how they speak, what they like to do, drink, read, or watch on TV. I couldn’t sum up all gay men into one list of characteristics any more than I could all heterosexual men. I try to make my characters unique and real. To breathe life into them. Each man has specific experiences, families, friends, faults, strengths, hopes, and dreams that make him unique.
2) Draw from my own experiences and creativity, then research the rest.
With every erotic romance I write, I pull from a combination of life experiences, research, and creativity to get into the mindset of the characters, to correctly depict specific occupations, settings, and actions. A question I get asked a lot is how I know what I’m doing with the sex scenes. My own experiences and imagination help a lot. Research fills in the gaps. One thing I recommend to anyone who asks for tips on getting started writing the erotic elements in the m/m genre is to read personal sexual accounts or erotica written by men. And if you can, talk to men (both gay and straight) about their sex lives. Listen to the lingo, the descriptions, and what about the sex they focus on.
3) Don’t concentrate only on the actions of sex.
In erotic romance it’s essential to focus on the feelings of the characters, their need, lust, passion, and love. Even before the characters get to the falling-in-love stage, the sex can still be about what the point-of-view character is emotionally going through. Maybe he feels powerful in that moment, driven, on fire, alive. My male characters may not be good at talking about what they feel, or even identifying it. They may hide from their feelings. They may want to embrace them. In any case, they express those feelings in ways the readers can “see” because romantic fiction is very much about following the characters along on their emotional journeys.
4) Use what I love.
Loving men and the male body is something I have in common with my gay characters. When I’m writing from their perspectives, I focus on what moves me about men. Then I transfer that desire until it works for the character’s own preferences for the man he’s with. Digging deep into the character’s POV makes the scene more powerful than merely writing a series of actions (no matter how sexy those actions are).
5) Don’t worry about “getting it right.” Focus on making it powerful.
I’m beyond elated when I hear my stories have come across as authentic to some gay and bisexual men. I’m also certain there are gay men who would (or have) read my work and find that’s not true for them. As with any fiction, I’m never going to please all readers. Instead, I focus on being true to the characters as the men they are and making them real for the reader, making their story powerful.
What do you think about an author’s gender in terms of the main characters of any story? Do you want authors to have life experiences that coincide with the plot or characters they are writing about?
Amy Wilkins, Assistant Manager for Digital Content and Social Media for Harlequin gives you her 5 Top Tips for Writing a Compelling Book Blurb
One random commenter will win their preferred ebook format for Take Me Home, my upcoming m/m erotic romance. The winner will be sent the ebook on the book’s release day, December 13, 2011
Sloan Parker has been writing and playing with fictional characters for years, but she finally found her true passion when she began telling stories about two men (or more) falling in love. Now she spends her writing life creating m/m erotic romances and romantic suspense. She loves to explore the lives of people who are growing as individuals while falling in love. Her novel MORE is the 2011 EPIC eBook Award Winner for Mystery, Suspense, and/or Adventure Erotic Romance and Winner of the 2010 Rainbow Award for Best Gay Contemporary Romance.
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for August 29 – September 2, 2011
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for November 21-25, 2011
- Should You Make Your Romance Novel Erotic? by Jennifer Probst
- Writing for Boys
- Ask An Editor with Theresa Stevens – Understanding Heroes