Today’s post is a rerun from exactly seven years ago: August 31, 2011. When you think of sexy, well-written, and riveting M/M romance and gay fiction – Josh Lanyon is one of the first who comes to mind. His witty, evocative prose and tightly woven mystery plots have created fans of anyone who picks up his novels. (I picked up the first Adrien English book and lost a weekend reading all five in the series). Josh joins us today to discuss key questions to ask when creating believable male characters in your M/M fiction.
The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit
Probably the number one question I’m asked by women hoping to write m/m or gay romance is how to make their main characters believably masculine. Usually the primary concern revolves around the sex scenes, but the sex scenes — the insert tab A into slot C are actually the easy bit and any biology book should be able to tell you what you need to know if you’ve never actually enjoyed sexual relations with a man (or you kept your eyes and ears shut the whole time).
No, while I do totally understand why so many writers prefer to pay closest attention to the most obscure details of sexual relations in the interests of “getting it right,” it’s actually more when it comes to male psychology that most of these books fall flat. Alas, I can’t give you a magical tip for capturing The Male Psychology anymore than one size fits all when it comes to female psychology.
What I can do, though, is offer you five super easy tips for adding believing dimension to your male characters by answering the following questions.
1 – What is your main character’s political affiliation?
I’m not saying turn your character into a vehicle for pushing your own ideological agenda, but it’s fascinating to me how few characters in m/m fiction have any political thought beyond that of gay rights. Most of us identify with a political party and a set of political beliefs. Would it surprise you to know that there are gay Republicans out there? Gay does not automatically equal Liberal. There are gay socialists. Gay independents. Gay people who have never voted and don’t think beyond the next party. And I don’t mean political party.
Your character’s political beliefs probably won’t come up in the course of the story, but thinking them out ahead of time will give you fresh insight into exactly who this man is.
2 – What’s on your main character’s bookshelf?
This is another one that intrigues me — how few characters in m/m romances have ordinary reading habits. They either don’t read at all or they’re fabulously well read and spouting Shakespeare at the drop of a hat. None of them seem to own Kindles or Nooks. Few of them take anything other than a generic newspaper. And yet there’s no better way to get insight into someone than taking a peek at their bookshelf. Likewise, if your character is someone who doesn’t read beyond thumbing through Car and Driver occasionally or looking up a recipe, that tells the reader something too.
Ask yourself: is your main character the kind of guy who kept his treasured childhood favorites? Or was the last thing he read a high school textbook? Does he glance over the National Enquirer headlines while standing in the grocery checkout? Does he subscribe to Mother Jones or the National Review? Does he read Lee Child on long plane flights or Agatha Christie? Does he strictly read non-fiction? Any or all of these mentioned in passing will tell your reader something interesting about the character and make him more real. The character, I mean. Hopefully the reader is real.
3 – Does your character believe in God?
Most of us have some opinion on whether God exists. Again, it doesn’t have to play a role in your story, but answering this question about your character will give you a different perspective on who he is. Almost always it’s going to reveal aspects of his personality that you hadn’t yet considered.
4 – What music does your character listen to?
There’s a standing joke in the mystery genre that all hardboiled PIs listen to jazz. Usually classic jazz, at that. In m/m fiction, an inordinate number of characters listen to classical music or classic rock and roll. Nobody wants their character to confess to a love of musicals or Liza Minnelli or Snow Patrol or Emmy Lou Harris or girl bands or boy bands (unless the characters are in a boy band). But the fact is, almost all of us listen to music.
Think about how interesting you find someone’s taste in music when you’re first falling in love with them. We expect to gain insight into the person through their taste in music — and we’re not far off. Well, think about it. You want your readers to fall in love with your main characters, so it’s only natural that those readers would find your characters’ taste in music of interest.
5 – What does your character wear?
Clothes maketh the man and I’m not talking about boxers or briefs. M/M fiction is clothed mostly in jeans, tee shirts, kilts, and Italian suits. And, yes, it’s about that generic. There’s nothing wrong with any of these choices, it’s just that digging a little deeper will tell us more about the character. What slogan or graphic is on the T-shirt? Or does your guy have an aversion to free advertising? What colors does he like? There’s a difference between a guy who chooses designer jeans and a guy who prefers button fly Levi’s. Is your character self-conscious about his weight? Does he wear pajamas to bed? Does he pay to have his suits tailored? Would he rather be garroted than wear a tie? Does he use shoe trees? Does he travel with garment bags?
There’s a very good chance that having painstakingly answered these questions, you won’t use a single piece of this information in your m/m romance. But having this insight into your characters will make them both easier to write and more grounded and real to your readers.
Do you struggle with trying to create believable masculine characters? Have you considered writing M/M fiction but are afraid to take the plunge? Josh will be here today to answer your questions.
Drew Lawson is on the clock. He’s got twenty-four hours to authenticate the mummy of Princess Merneith and get back in time for his boyfriend’s garden party. What the wound-too-tight professor didn’t calculate in was a centuries-old curse, a reality TV show crew, and handsome, brash Fraser Fortune.
Drew just might not ever make it home in time for that garden party. What’s worse, he just might not care.
Book #4 in the Dangerous Ground series
Contemporary, Action-Adventure, Law Enforcement
The boys are back in town — and Paris is burning!
For Speical Agents of the Department of Diplomatic Security, Taylor MacAllister and Will Brandt, the strain of a long distance relationship is beginning to tell after eleven months of separation. A romantic holiday could be just the thing to bridge the ever-growing distance, but when Taylor spots a terrorist from the 70’s, long believed dead but very much alive, it’s c’est la vie.
Now instead of sipping wine and seeing the sights, the boys are chasing a wily and deadly foe through the graveyards and catacombs of Paris.
Of course, it could always be worse — and soon it is.
A distinct voice in gay fiction, multi-award-winning and bestselling author JOSH LANYON has been writing gay mystery, adventure and romance for over a decade. In addition to numerous short stories, novellas, and novels, Josh is the author of the critically acclaimed Adrien English series, including The Hell You Say
, winner of the 2006 USABookNews awards for GLBT Fiction. He is also the author of Man Oh Man: Writing M/M Fiction for Kinks and Ca$h
. Josh is an Eppie Award winner and a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist. You can find Josh at www.joshlanyon.com
and on Twitter