Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Writing Boys Who Do Boys

By Jane Kindred, @JaneKindred

Part of the How They Do It Series

Writing about people is what every writer does, and sometimes that requires connecting with characters who have very different life experiences. Jane Kindred visits the lecture hall today to share some tips on how to write characters who aren't you, and find the human connections we all share.

Jane is the author of epic fantasy series The House of Arkhangel’sk, Demons of Elysium, and Looking Glass Gods. She spent her formative years ruining her eyes reading romance novels in the Tucson sun and watching Star Trek marathons in the dark. She now writes to the sound of San Francisco foghorns while two cats slowly but surely edge her off the side of the bed.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes

Take it away Jane...

I’m often asked how I write such realistic romantic scenes between two men, since I’m not a man myself. To me, the heart of this question is “how do you write realistically about someone you’re not?” Which, of course, is a writer’s job.

It may seem counterintuitive to some and obvious to others, but the first thing I do when writing a M/M romance is to not write “M/M romance.” Instead, I just write a romance. The two lovers in question just both happen to be male. Sure, there are differences between the way two men interact with each other and the way a man and a woman interact. But that’s going to be true of any character interactions, and a writer should be able to understand and write about those interactions from multiple points of view. But when it comes to writing romance, ultimately, love is love.

To put it another way, if I’m writing M/F romance, I have to put myself inside the head of the male character—someone who is “other”—anyway. If I can’t write someone who isn’t like me, I don’t really have any business writing in the first place. In M/M romance, both the main characters are people who aren’t like me. But the secret is that the women characters I write aren’t really like me either. And, conversely, all the characters I write are like me, because they’re human. (Well, some of them aren’t that, either, but that’s for another post.)

Often, though, this question is really about the physical logistics of same-sex smexy times. If you don’t have that particular part—how can you write about using it? My answer is the same as above. I have to write about parts I don’t have no matter who I’m writing about. That’s my job. It does help, of course, that I’ve seen said part, and have a working knowledge of it.

Which brings me to research.

A writer’s job is always going to involve research of one kind or another. But writing outside one’s personal experience means more than just researching historical facts and location details. There’s the general research every writer does: people watching, and just being a part of the world. If your world is limited, and you don’t encounter anyone who isn’t very much like you, expand it. Respectfully asking questions of people you do know who aren’t exactly like you is another good way to research your subject. (And this applies equally to writing about people of ethnicities, religions, and cultures that are different from one’s own.)

Then there’s the more…academic research. For research, I’ve watched videos of men stripping at gay clubs, men spanking each other, and yes, I’ve watched gay porn. For research. I had to. Okay, maybe I had already watched some. Don’t judge. This kind of research won’t necessarily show you the reality of same-sex interactions—any more than watching straight porn will teach you about heterosexual courtship rituals. But stimulating one’s, uh…brain…doesn’t hurt. I’ve also read plenty of M/M romance and erotica by other writers, because it’s a genre I enjoy regardless of whether I’m writing or reading it.

Ultimately, though, I go back to my earlier statement, that love is love, no matter who it’s between, and people are people the world over. Romeo and Juliet could easily have been a story about Romeo and Tybalt. (And don’t think I haven’t thought about writing it. In fact, I’m thinking about it pretty hard right now. So nobody take that idea, okay? It’s mine. I mean it.) The conflict and motivation may differ in some ways from one person’s story to another’s, but the basic romantic conflict, the ultimate human conflict of “Does he love me, or not? Can I trust this person with my heart?”—everyone feels the same things.

As a final note, a lot of people assume that a woman writing M/M romance and erotica is an “outsider,” that most M/M is written by straight women writing to a trend. But it’s never a good idea to make blanket assumptions about a person’s sexuality or about why they’re writing what they write. In case anyone doubts my “cred,” I happen to be a bisexual woman whose partner for many years was a bisexual man. It certainly helps to be a part of the community I write about (not that a bisexual woman involved with a male partner is always welcomed with open arms by that community), but I would never tell someone who isn’t that they have no business writing love stories between two men. What matters is how the story is written. If you’re doing your research as a person who’s part of a world bigger than yourself, and if you’re doing it well, then more power to you. (And, yay, more books for my Nook!)

About The Water Thief

It takes a con to expose a con. But this one could strip their secrets bare.

Framed for his twin sister’s murder, Sebastian Swift has been kept drugged in a mental institution since age thirteen, aware of only one horrible fact—every night in his dreams, he drowns.

After a freak storm frees him, Sebastian learns the truth. His guardian, Emrys, has been siphoning off his inherited magical power over the waters of Cantre’r Gwaelod—one gruesome vial at a time. And the man’s bastard son, Macsen, has been raised in his place. Determined to find his twin’s killer, Sebastian assumes her identity.

Macsen Finch isn’t about to give up his guise as the young earl—and not just because of the fortune. His cousin’s return from the dead threatens Macsen’s own efforts to undermine his father’s evil plan. Yet he can’t deny his inexplicable attraction to the impostor.

Acting on their mutual desire puts them both at the mercy of a madman’s wrath. To stop Emrys from stealing his power, Sebastian will have to learn how to use it—and whom he can trust.

Warning: May contain copious exchange of fluids, men in corsets, and dirty dancing. Apply liberally before bedtime.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes


  1. "...love is love, no matter who it's between..." Nailed it, Jane. It's all in the research. Thanks!

  2. Love this! You go! Frankly, as I writer, I get similar questions a lot. How can you write about twins when you're not a twin? Uh, I know some. In fact, I married one. How can you write about farmers/grandmothers/Sheriffs etc. when you aren't one. My answer, it's all in the research, online and off. I can read up on just about anything - fact or fiction - and I certainly can observe people, talk to people and so forth.

    Write what we know, right? To me that means, observe, learn and write about the human experience.

  3. Great post. Thank you very much. My first WIP began with the POV character as a young girl. I really felt I couldn't write from the perspective of any of the other central characters, all teenage boys. At one stage I needed to be in someone else's head to observe the action. The character I chose just took off, he become the most fun to write with a voice and perspective clearly all his own. Does he sound essentially like a teenage boy? I hope so. Will I seek in put from readers, yes. My point; with him I learned that one of the most crucial things is that each character sounds like to 'themselves'. Your post has given me further confidence.