Dirty Laundry by Darien Cox

Most writers are familiar with this quote by Alan Bennett:

The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.

The idea is that if you slip a bit of your own reality into a work of fiction, chances are you’re going to hit a certain portion of readers who’ve had the same thought/experience etc. Obviously it’s not going to hit the mark with everyone. Much like attending a party, many of the guests will find your jokes hilarious while others might give you the dreaded blank stare, or even back slowly away like you’ve just revealed you’re from an alien planet.

So what about gay romance? Obviously gay romance and romance in general is primarily fantasy, and rightly so. Otherwise we’d be reading things like, ‘He had the smallest cock I’d ever seen. I needed tweezers and a magnifying glass to find it.’ So yeah, usually the main character is sexy and beautiful and heroic, with ample attributes and an ass prettier than Angelina Jolie’s face. But that doesn’t mean you can’t inject him with a bit of your own reality to bring him back down to earth.

Of course there’s a difference between this and all-out author intrusion. No one wants to read a three page rant about the author’s political opinions and pet peeves, thinly disguised via a character’s internal dialog. So where dare drop bits of real life into a work that is clearly fantasy, and make it a benefit rather than a distraction?

It’s in the little things. Sure, a lot of gay romance novels have undercurrents of important issues related to the genre: social struggles, rejection by a family member(s), coming out of the closet. These are necessary issues to touch on, but with the diversity of the readership, they aren’t necessarily things everyone has experienced. I find the most enjoyable gay romance novels to be the ones that reveal the base humanity beneath the mere sexuality of a character. It might sound silly, ‘Hey, I read gay erotic romance for the humanity,’ like those guys claiming to read Playboy for the articles. But it is the ultimate connecting thread, the message being not only that love is love, but that people are people.

In hindsight, I was a bit of a chicken shit when I wrote my first MM romance. I kept it safe and sterile, sweet and formulaic. But being safe didn’t make the writing easier, in fact it made it more of a struggle. Ultimately I realized my mistake in trying to keep things so neat and controlled. Life is messy, sex is messy, people are messy. I am messy.

So I decided to be brave and start injecting some of my own messy reality into my characters. The flow became easier, the struggle was minimized, and suddenly I was having fun writing again. Instead of shying away from embarrassing thoughts and experiences, I’d include them. There is of course the risk that some readers will find your character to be a total screwball. But others will likely recognize that screwball, or perhaps even are that screwball. Because once the frills are torn away, none of us are really all that different inside.

Okay, so maybe your character is dealing with heavy stuff that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Social strife, coming to terms with his sexuality in an ostracizing world, finding himself with a debilitation crush on someone who might be straight. But this isn’t all that he is. He’s also a guy who worries about bills and paying rent. He’s afraid of spiders. He scratches his balls while he makes his morning coffee, and covertly watches America’s Next Top Model when no else is around. He wants to be a better person, but still drinks from his roommate’s milk carton, lies to his friends, and pretends to be out of the house when his mother calls. And though he secretly believes true love will come, he’s had regrettable sexual experiences that make him want to wipe his memory and scrub himself down with steel wool.

The key is to keep these seasonings to just a light sprinkling so as not to ruin the fantasy soup. Like anyone else, I want to read about ridiculously good looking people who overcome adversity and do the right thing in the end so they can win over the object of their desire. But I’m also okay with them being human. Because that imperfect, messy, embarrassing humanity we share is what truly connects us all.

So let a few skeletons out of the closet and onto the pages. And while you don’t want to release a Jason and the Argonauts army of the suckers to bog down the story, a few well-placed bones can make the outcome more palatable and fun, for the reader and the writer.

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About Darien Cox

Darien Cox has lived all over New England but currently resides in Rhode Island, the smallest state with the biggest sass. A nature lover and thrill seeker, he enjoys exploring the intensity, insanity, humor, and chaos that accompanies cupid’s arrow, whether it’s love at first sight or just the overwhelming power of lust.

About Victim of Love

victimoflove-kindleYoung lab scientist Olsen Westergard has worked long and hard to create order and stability in his life, and believes he’s finally content. But when he goes on a summer holiday trip with his friends, they try to rouse him from his customary caution, urging him to remedy his extended sexual dry spell. Their fumbled efforts to hook him up validate Olsen’s guess that he likely won’t meet the type of guy he’s looking for on this trip. Or rather, the type of guy he thinks he’s looking for.

But when a solo late night beach walk leads to a heated encounter with a drunken stranger, Olsen unexpectedly finds himself overwhelmed with turbulent desires—made worse when he later discovers the stranger’s surprising identity, and that ready or not, they’re about to get to know each other a whole lot better.

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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I think this is interesting and I do a lot of thinking about reality vs. fantasy and so on in romance writing. I thoughts I have about this are two:

    1) I’m not use I agree with the assumption that all romance readers are looking for the same thing, or in your example the fantasy of a guy who has a big dick. My experience is that it’s easy in the genre to make kind of blanket assumptions about who reads what and why. For myself I question and continue to question that romance readers are looking for a ‘perfect fantasy’ where reality is only slightly sprinkled on top so as not get in the way of the fantasy.

    2) I’m not sure how helpful it is to talk about romance in the context of fantasy at all. This idea that romance is just some sort of fulfillment for people who wish their partner had a bigger dick for example has both been used to lesson the actual depth and impact of romance but is also often used within the romance community to make excuses for harmful tropes and writing.

    I guess I just question the premise that romance is fantasy and that if it is fantasy everyone involved in the genre has come to some sort of consensus about what that fantasy is.

    • That’s an interesting perspective regarding the fantasy element, especially in trying to make it ‘real’. Definitely a careful balance. Thanks for your comment.

  • This post was like reading my own thoughts! I absolutely agree with you. It’s those little human details that can make any character resonate for the reader, regardless of gender and identity. The habits and little pet peeves, the simple moments of observation.

    Great post. :)

  • No ones perfect and seeing the dueling balance of perfection and imperfection, to me makes a story more interesting.

    By the way I read Victim of Love,when I started it I didn’t think I would love it but I don’t know how you did it because by the end of it I was in love with it and the characters. It’s my favorite book of 2015.

  • Maybe it comes down to our definition of fantasy. I think for someone who is single and in a dry spell or for someone in a long-term monogamous relationship where things in the bedroom have gotten (dare I say it?) a bit routine, it is an escape, a fantasy. And we want beautiful people and angst and dazzling sex, and yet the sprinkling of reality so that we can put ourselves in the story. Those little things can make a character relatable.

    • Indeed, there’s an incredible diversity in readers of this genre and what speaks to them individually, and that’s a good thing.

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