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Jumping The Shark in Gay Fiction

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My pal Nick Archer just forwarded to me his latest version of this piece, which I think is both humorous and informative. Any of you who are writers out there will undoubtedly find it useful. Be warned that Nick pulls no punches, but bear in mind this is just one man's opinion (though I personally agree with 99% of what he says -- despite the fact that I've personally violated two or three of his rules myself!).

Jumping The Shark in Gay Fiction

By Nick Archer

There?s a fun website devoted to television called Jump the Shark. They describe their mission as ?It?s a moment... a defining moment when you know that your favorite television show has reached it?s peak. That instant that you know from now on?..it?s all downhill. We call that moment Jumping the Shark.?

I?ve spent many hours laughing along with the amusing comments on the message boards. And then I thought to adapt the concept to gay fiction.

Jumping the Shark in Gay Fiction is a story element that is so overused it?s predictable. You can see what?s coming a country mile away. Or it?s a common mistake that amateur writers use. JTS in gay fiction is that moment or plot element that stretches our believability to the limit. Or it?s the story element that is so over-used that it?s a clich?. After that, it?s all downhill?.assuming there was a climax in the first place.

Don?t take the list personally; all of us have used at least one of these in our stories.

? The ?Personal Ad? Self-Description: ?Me? I?m 6?1?, 175 lbs., blond hair, blue eyes, 8? uncut cock, and I have a 6-pack from doing 3000 sit-ups a day?.? Also known as: But First, Let Me Introduce Myself?

? The Collision: Our hero collides with a potential love interest in a crowded high school hallway or college quad.

? Dead Parents: It?s soooo convenient not to have parents ? therefore avoiding coming out to them. Not to mention that you can skip school, use the car whenever you want, forget homework and no curfew! Writing about an orphan has made JK Rowling incredibly rich, but she is a professional. Don?t do it.

? Location, Location, Location: Stories are always located in sunny California or Florida with sex scenes on the beach. Ever get sand up your ass? It may come as a shock to some authors that gay people also live in areas where the snow flies. If you actually live in Tampa or San Diego, that?s fine. But if you live in Kenosha, Kalamazoo or Kankakee quit writing about where you wish you lived. Write what you know.

? Oversized Body Parts: Penises seem to gain at least two inches in every story on the Net. Do we really need to know the length, thickness and circumcision status of everyone?s dick?

? Richie Rich: This clich? often accompanies Dead Parents. The Parents die, leaving our Hero with gazillions. Or they have a perfect job from which they can take endless time off and still earn millions a year. Or they win the lottery. If the main characters are teenagers, they never seem to have jobs. And how many college students today have the luxury of not working?

? Let?s Sit Around and Talk About Our Feelings: C?mon guys! This isn?t a sensitivity seminar or a conscience-raising session! These are horny, red-blooded guys! They?re only going to do enough talking to get into the other guy?s pants. After they?ve lit a cigarette and are staring at the ceiling, they might get around to talking about their emotions. An extension: People seldom sit around and talk about anything, unless it?s with a paid mental health professional. Usually they wait until they?re in the drive-thru at McDonald?s or washing the dog or raking the yard to reveal to their partner of 11 years that they?ve been boinking the poolboy.

? The Names-We-Wish-We-Had. Our parents gave us boring names ? like David and John ? so we?ll give our characters the names we wish our parents had named us. Justin. Tyler. Trevor. Cody. Brad and Chad. Brice or Bryce. Roland. Tobias (Tobi for short.) Precious names -- names that are cute for a 3-year-old little boy but awkward for anyone older -- like Casey or Corey. Biblical names like Isaiah, Noah or Jonah. Names that are derived from professions (and are very popular among the Southern landed gentry) like Hunter, Trapper, Carter or Tanner. Common names with cutesy spellings like Taylar, Brien, Khile. Stop it!

? I?m Not Gay But My Boyfriend Is: ?I?m straight, but I couldn't help but notice the other guy?s six-pack under his tight Tommy Hilfiger shirt, bubble butt and 8.7 inch cock showing through his Fubu jeans.? Yeah, you?re straight, all right, until the third paragraph when you fall to your knees faster than a Catholic at Sunday Mass.

? Sports Hero Falls For Geek/Nerd/Outcast: Maybe it?s one of our common fantasies ? we?ve all jacked off with the image of the Sports Hero in our minds. Use the Sports Hero once, to get it out of your system, and then lay this clich? to rest for good.

? Moving is Traumatic: Moving may well be traumatic because it represents a loss of control over our lives (especially for teenagers). But let?s give this overused plot element a rest! Enough already!

? Dialogue #1: Say What? Dialogue that sounds like it was translated from Mongolian to English by a computer: ?Do you really deem me diligent because I persisted in my attempts to insert my penis into your rectum? Your compliments are more than necessary, I?m sure. Your words are not untruthful, but they do border on hyperbole.? 12-year-old main characters that have the verbal ability of college graduates. Do not make your story into an opportunity to showcase your vocabulary skills.

? Dialogue #2: Valley Boys: ?Like c?mon, duuuuude, I just moved to California. That board is totally rad! Bitchin? Like, I?m so sure.? In other words, dialogue that makes it obvious that the writer is a middle-aged man trying to write like he was a teenager again.

? Dialogue #3: ?Gee, Mister that?s Swell.? Be extremely careful about slang and idioms. They?re going to date your story faster than a tweaking hustler in need of a fix. Include a few slang phrases to set the time frame of your story but be aware that the only English slang word to stand the test of time and is understood by all generations, cultures and classes is ?cool.? And nobody ? absolutely nobody ? says ?Gee? anymore.

? Superheroes: These are main characters without any flaws. They are perfect in every way. They?re beautiful, rich, intelligent, well hung, and fashionable and have a wonderful sense of humor. They would never get zits or an STD, or file bankruptcy, or lose their temper or ? God forbid ? fart. Leave the Superheroes for the comic books.

? Smilies: Never, never, never, never use smilies. Your job as an author is to paint a word-picture of your characters, plot and settings. Any interaction between yourself (the writer) and the reader should be done through words, not through icons. An addendum: never use phrases or acronyms you might use in a chat room; such as hehehehe or BTW.

? The Alarm Clock: Please, please don?t start your story with a ringing alarm clock. We all hate to get up in the morning, and everyone hates the sound of the damn thing. Why remind us? A postscript to this is the doorbell. The only time you should write about the ringing doorbell is when the Avon Lady arrives. A post-postscript: Nix the ringing school bell. Besides, few schools use actual bells anymore. Most use an annoying tone or beep over the intercom system.

? Switching Narrators: If you feel the need to describe the thought processes and/or feelings of more than one character, I?ve got two words for you: third person! In third person you can describe the thoughts and feelings of ALL your characters if you are so inclined. What a concept!

? The ?Phyllis? Syndrome: The Mary Tyler Moore Show had two major spinoffs; Rhoda and Phyllis. Rhoda was successful because Rhoda Morgenstern was a likeable character and she was funny. She was everyone?s favorite next-door neighbor. Phyllis was not successful because the Phyllis character was basically unlikable - selfish, pretentious and boorish. The point is - be very, very careful if you make your main character unlikable. It's a sure way to alienate readers. If you insist on having a selfish, rude, ignorant, insufferable, stupid individual as your main character, at least give him some redeeming characteristic.

? Is It Live or Memorex? All good fiction has elements of truth to it. And good autobiographies have elements of fiction to them. But make up your freaking mind! Are you writing fiction or an autobiography? If you?re writing fiction you have permission, no, you MUST stray from the facts. Not only to protect your ass from lawsuits but in order to make it fiction. If you absolutely can?t do it, if it?s too difficult for you to allow yourself to fictionalize your memories, then for God?s sake, label your story an autobiography and get on with it!

? Onions Always Make Me Cry: The major characters shed more tears than if they were slicing an onion. Most men, gay or straight, really don?t cry that often. Our brains are wired differently and hormones play a big part, too. It takes a lot to make a man cry. It shouldn?t happen on every page or even in every chapter. Save the crying scene for the climax of the story. Either that or get a Veg-O-Matic! It slices, it dices, it chops! Onions sliced so fast, you won't have time to cry! (Old Curmudgeon?s Note: I always get at least one email saying something to the effect: ?I cry all the time. It makes me feel better.? Well, good for you! You?re the minority. Notice I said most men. Now hand me that box of tissues.)

? That?s Some Bedside Manner: Delete the maudlin hospital scene. You know the one ? where the lover is crying (see above) over his comatose boyfriend. I?m serious. Do it right now! Highlight the scene and hit the delete button! I won?t be happy until you do.

? Who?re You Callin? Stupid and Lazy? You assume your reader is stupid and lazy if you: 1) Summarize the previous chapter at the beginning of the next chapter (The reader can re-read it for themselves) 2) Label your stories ?Series? (They can see it?s a series) or 3) Write The End at the end of your story (Unless you?re writing a screenplay or a story for young children, it should be obvious from your story that you?re done.)

? Details, Details, Details: Details are great. They give life to your story and involve your reader. But you can take it too far. Do we really need to know the playlist on your iPod? Does that conversation about whether to have lamb chops or pork ribs for dinner really need to be included? Does the reader really need to know the directions from your house to your favorite sex toy emporium? I?ll answer that question with a question: Does it further the action or help define a character? If not, delete it. It is possible to have too many details.

? Card-Carrying Member of PFLAG: Ever notice how parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, uncles and aunts all accept the gayness of the main characters without any reservations? Does this happen in real life? It does with some, I?m sure. Let?s take a poll ? raise your hand if your relatives accepted you immediately when you came out. Hmmm. A minority. Thought so.

? ?Alex, I?ll Take Facts for $500?: This not a game show where you have a 50% chance of getting the right answer. BUZZZZ! Wrong answer! Do your research! If you are unfamiliar with a topic or your memory has been clouded by too many controlled substances, hop on the Internet and Google it! True, you are writing fiction but getting the facts straight can prevent you from making major errors and will just simply make your story better and more believable. Besides Google, try Mapquest or Wikipedia. If the information is not available on the Internet a short, polite email to a local library, chamber of commerce, tourism or travel bureau, professional association or historical society may do the trick. Tell them you?re a writer (because you ARE) doing research for a story. That?s what they?re there for. You?ll be pleasantly surprised at how helpful these people will be. Do not guess!

(Ooo! Look at that! I Jumped the Shark! :bunny: )

Those are my major pet peeves, but I?m sure they?re more out there. Any more? Email me at archerland@gmail.com .

c) 2003, 2007 Nick Archer

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Now, as a counterpoint, let me point out (with some embarrassment) about the number of times I've violated Nick's above rules.

My novel Groovy Kind of Love was set in Florida, but that's because it's where I grew up, and it was partly autobiographical. Jagged Angel was set in California, partly because that's where I live now. I think the old adage "write what you know" also applies to "write where you know." On the other hand, I stirred in many real-life details -- street names, buildings, landmarks -- that all justified the locations.

As to oversized body parts: one of the reasons I wrote Groovy was to break this stereotype, and show a kid who was somewhat overendowed, but was occasionally ashamed by it. I think some of Nick's rules can work as starting points, especially if you spin them around 180 degrees, completely avoiding the clich?.

Guilty as charged on the "athlete falls in love with the nerd," in Groovy. But this was based on events that actually happened to me in real life, so I think it's justified. I also at least put the nerd on the swim team (which was true in my case), so I can wince and let it go. I say, if you have to put two completely different characters together, particularly with teenage characters who have very little in common physically, find a way to make it work that isn't too unbelievable.

I had a very wealthy lead character in Angel, but that was done partly to dramatize what would happen if a kid like this were faced with losing everything he had (even driving his parents into bankruptcy), through an act of fate. And though the kid had money and a hot sports car, he occasionally got into fights with a friend about it, and had to deal with people who resented his wealth. I thought the issue of the family's income and status was covered in a realistic way, and the upscale neighborhood described is only about a mile away from where I live.

The character names I've chosen have always had a special personal meaning to me. I didn't just pluck cool-sounding names out of the air; I knew these people personally (in some cases, intimately), and thought it'd be nice to remember them as characters. One suggestion I would make: when you come up with character names, make them as different as possible from each other. I think I read a story not long ago with characters named Taylor, Trevor, and Tyler, and it drove me nuts trying to figure out who was who. Next time, try "Taylor," "Jack," and "Johnny." Or go with one character who has a one-syllable name, and another with a two-syllable name. Make 'em different and memorable!

On the "moving is traumatic" issue: that was a minor element of the opening of Angel, but I used it as a reason to explain why the lead character was able to completely change himself after suffering a trauma back in his old town. I used it to introduce the situation, explaining how a nerdy shrimpy kid could transform into a muscular jock in three years, and I didn't dwell on it, so to me, it was justified. (I also dealt with the reality of steroid use, which is a very real issue for today's high school athletes.)

So you can see, I think it's possible to bend some of Nick's rules a teensy bit, provided you do everything you can to avoid the stereotype, and surprise the reader. Keep the story moving, make the characters believable, and do it in an entertaining way.

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Thanks for posting that. I enjoyed it. I'm happy to say I've avoided most of the major pitfalls, though I used an odd name in ADIP for Maxfield, but that was on purpose and central to part of the story.

Maybe I'll write a new short story about a super-star athelete who lives in California, with a 16 inch penis and is very popular and nobody cared that he was gay, even when he bumped into that straight guy on the way to class, who then fell in love with him and decided he was bi-curious the whole time.

(Insert vomit sound here)

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I have a problem with stories that use major things like moving or a death part way through a story as a way of keeping the story flowing. That doesn't mean they don't occur in real-life, or they can't be written about in a way that is realistic and reasonable (for example, I never had a problem with the moves in Leaves and Lunatics because they fitted the story), but too often they appear just as something to for the author to write about.

I heard a statistic recently -- there is a road death for every four million car trips. People do die in car accidents, and if that was the opening or premise for a story, that would be fine. However, unless a character does things to maximise the odds of his crashing (eg. illegal drag racing, tendency to drink (or drug) and drive), a fatal car crash in a story that spans only a few weeks seems so cliched and unlikely.

Having said that, I have a fatal car crash in Heart of The Tree but in my defense it occurred a few decades before the story started.

Probably the only objection I have to Nick's article is that he's trying to stop us from using cliches and stereotypes, but in the process he's too black-and-white. Some people DO cry a lot. Some teenagers DO like to talk about their emotions. Most don't -- I'll accept that -- but implying that NONE should is going too far (in my humble opinion). As with all things, these are good guidelines, not rules.

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Further on this...

If you HAVE to kill off a character as a plot device, then try to find something more original than a car accident.

Try having them die of a rare disease that only affects yak herders in Upper Mongolia. At least that way you have an interesting story as the surviving characters try to work out how the victim got infected in the first place.... :bunny:

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Interesting! I find the above list of don'ts most helpful in assessing stories. They immediately tell me that I probably don't need to read the story. :bunny:

The list itself is very amusing. I thank Nick for writing it and ThePecman for posting it.

However I think also we need to consider these points.

A person who has read some of the descriptive "porn" on say Nifty or other sites, might decide they want to write one of those stories too. They get very excited whilst doing this and don't even consider logic, or rational events, time-lines or interactions except for that one moment that will lead to the climax...of the story.

To emphasise this I can tell you I am thoroughly bored to death with modern films about which the best thing you can say is that you know exactly which daytime soap operas that the author/director watches whilst they are unemployed. (unemployable?) I am also certain that there is an audience for these type of films and stories. Some of them, (the films and stories, not the audience) have even won awards. They are a kind of fantasy that appeals to some minds. Fantastic they are not.

The pitfalls of using cliches that they fall into, are really due to an exuberance of enthusiasm to tell the story of their little world without thinking things through or seeing any relevance to the objective of their story. These authors get side tracked by their own likes and interests in life, the character getting lost in the way, perhaps even getting in the way of a bad story. Hence we get full descriptions of how to make a culinary delight that precedes a lesson in impossible human anatomical activities. Just think about the modern film again with a soundtrack that you can tell came from a director who said, "Oh I love that song, I just have to put it into my film," (whether it is appropriate or not.)

In some ways these flaws can be charming, in others we can blame the education system for failing to teach objectivity let alone literary and dramatic construction. Thus there is a general confusion of the objective discipline and the intuitive processes, needed to create.

Using any of these "defining moments" in a story can be a pathway to mediocrity unless they are motivated by or for the plot. Plot? There is a plot? :bunny:

Moreover they must be incorporated dramatically into the story. Where this happens even the most banal of situations at least has a justification for their existence.

True such existence can be miserable but then so can life.

Many great authors use all or any of these defining moments at times because they write in such a way that makes us believe they are the only things that could happen at that point in the story, even when they surprise us.

Necessity may be the mother of invention but what I am rambling on here, trying to say is that we should make sure the invention is needed, especially if someone else invented it.

Write what you know might be also stated as write what you understand.

Sometimes we don't understand until we have written it.

Personally I do not find the authors here at AwesomeDude and a few other sites at all guilty of the above misdemeanors.

Just a few thoughts on the matter. :bunny:

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I don't like clich?s or formulas either. I can't stand the "driver's license" opening, where a character's every detail is describes as if reading his license or dossier, as pointed out above. If he looks in a mirror and admires himself, also bad.

However, the article speaks in absolutes. I've seen good stories that included one or more of those points. I've even edited for more than one author who had a point or two in a story.

Counterpoint 1:

Any life situation is material for a story. It might be a minor event or it might be a major change in life. Interpersonal conflicts and life events really do happen and are a source of fictional drama. Readers read about them in order to see how others deal with them and to deal with them themselves. Writers write about them for the same reasons, or to deal with what the writer has seen in life. **it happens. We write about it...and about the good stuff too.

To be fair, I think the intent of the article is to get writers to write realistic, relevant fiction, instead of taking the easy way out. But it might be better to say that, without making the point so polarized.

Counterpoint 2:

Too much talking? Too much crying?

No, I don't want the characters having constant histrionics requiring buckets for body fluids.

But I do want to know what they think, say, and do, or I'm not gonna care about them, and I won't believe they care about each other, either. That wouldn't be friendly or loving, and it sure ain't sexy.

It's much more interesting to me if I know why they care about each other. It's sexier too. Give me love and romance. At least give me that they like each other.

Gay Writing "Don't" --

Don't write a scene that reads like a blueprint or assembly instructions for how to put two guys together. No "Tab A goes in Slot B" and No "Part C is x by y by z in size" and no "Part D keeps going for hh:mm:ss time."

That's exaggerating (a lot) but honestly, I have seen "stories" that made it seem like little more than that.

Hey, if they're gonna do it, make me care that they did. -- Or write something else. Make it interesting, fun, sexy, loving. Please!

Counterpoint 3:

If you've looked at one of the baby name sites for the top 100 or so boy's names, you'll find a great many of those really are the names of real guys out there, from newborns to old geezers. You'll find that real people have common or uncommon or even trendy or weird names.

-- For some reason, among the most popular names for 2006 that couples listed as favorites, whether they used them or not, were Aidan, Kaiden, Jayden, and so on, all ending in that "-ay-den" part. (Aidan as "eye-den" still counts.) Those rank among the most popular names that were actually chosen, too. Go figure.

-- My name's in that top 100 too, hovering between 20 and 30 for most popular, usually. But my first name isn't; it's not common or popular. -- A "popular" name is anything from plain to trendy.

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I've just gotta' post my own two cents, because I know I've broken a few of these, and maybe im going to try to offer some excuses which won't really cover my ass, but i'll try anyway. I'll also try not to use any more annoying, run-on sentences. Well, ok, maybe a few.

I'm ashamed to say I did the personal Ad thing in The Angel. Im not going to ask to be excused. I was never happy with it. But I was 16, and originally it was going to be an 8 chapter sex story for Nifty. If I remember, sex ended up not happening until chapter 21, and even then, I kind of wanted to take it out (part of me still wants to).

Never done Collision, never done the Dead Parents thing either. Actually, that last part's not true. I started writing a story, which I intend to continue at some point, where the main character's parents are dead. I promise though, I was going to try to do it in a non-clich? way, where they didn't leave him zonks of money or independence.

I tried to base The Angel around places I knew or had at least been to AND I HAD SNOW TOO! The Kept, which is just starting now, IS set in California--LA to be precise-- but there wont be beach scenes.

Richie Rich, I did with The Angel. I don't think it really worked, because I don't really know that lifestyle. On the other hand... the story kind of called for it. my private jury is still out on this one, but yours might not be. Nick asks how many college students you know don't have jobs. Well, actually, a lot of them. It can be pretty tough to get a job on campus if you're not a scholarship student, and if your campus isnt in a town or city, it can be nigh impossible to get a job off-campus either. It just means people work during the summer and save up, or learn not to be extravagant and budget their lives accordingly. I don't know if you can call what I do a job. I work eight hours a week in a student-cafe for minimum wage. I'm not going to pay off my student loans with it, but it means I dont have to ask my parents for allowence or spending money or whatever. But there WILL always be those kids from hideously rich families that go into NYC every weekend and shop at D&G and party with Paris Hilton. And yes, most people think they're spoilt brats.

Feelings... i think I did. Not really sure. It certianly wasn't all the time, and pretty much just happened at the points where shit was going down.

This Names bit kind of ticked me off actually. I have a biblical name. Josiah is hardly a common one, so I put up my two fingers to him on this one. Also, I know a Justin, a Tyler, a Brad, a Roland, a Tobias (and a Tobey), a Casey, several Noah's (including my nephew), an Eli, a Jonah, a Hunter, and a Taylor. Don't even get me started on girl's names, with people like Elysia (say it like El-ee-sha), Winter--wait, I said don't get me started, so I won't.

Straight--- Well, there was Scott, but that was more meant to be prompted by Jason producing freakishly large amounts of hormones and making people around him go sex crazy, because Azreal was fucking with him (The Angel). And well, you know what they say... once you go gay, you're there to stay. Ok, not really, but it was only fair on Drew if he got a hottie too.

Scott/Drew might aslo have counted as sports-nerd love thing, but it started out more from their mutual attraction to Jason and from convenience before it developed.

Moving IS traumatic. But I've done it at least seven times, so I'm pretty much used to it and don't really think of it as a traumatic experience. Nix that. Ok, we're going to have a pretty personal moment here. I'll probably never forgive my mom for making us move to the UK in 2000. I left behind a lot of very close friends, some of whom I've since lost touch with. On the other hand though, I'm not sure I can ever thank her enough for it. I dont know where I would have gone once I finished the middle school I was at (the Ithaca High School isn't really a great place for a gay kid like me. My sister tried it for 6 months and then went to a boarding school), and living in England has exposed me to a lot of things that I would never have otherwise experienced. I'm actually really thankful for the six years I got in the UK. Where was this going? Oh yeah, Moving. Right. Ummm it can be a good thing if suck it up and actually explore the new place you live in.

Dialogue #1 & #2. Seriously? Seriously? I think if I did either of those, I would cut my own hands off to keep me from ever putting pen to paper and violating the English language so.

Dialogue #3: I totally say 'Gee.' Granted, most of the time it's in irony or sarcasm. But I say it.

Superheroes: What if the story is ABOUT a superhero or superhero-type individual? Ok, so no-one's perfect, and I think Jason was a pretty 2-D character as they go. But it was early days and I'm trying to move past it now.

I'm with him on smilies. WHY IN GOD'S NAME WOULD YOU USE THEM? If you're writing to convey emotion, the least functional tool is smilies. If you want to write to the reader, or let them in on a secret from the author, work it in somehow so it's subtle and doesn't make you feel like your chatting to a twelve-year-old on MSN. it's not cute or funny to use them. It's patronising.

Never have, never will do the alarm clock. I hate them with a vengence, and so they will never feature in my stories, unless someone is burning them or beating them with hammers. And it's true that most schools use sirens or beeps now. Reeaaally not sure which is worse, because they can be pretty grating.

Switching Narrators: I have only seen this done well once, and that was in a book where the two main characters traded off perspective every chapter, but without covering the same time-frame. It worked. Just.

Hospital Bedside scene: There was a fair amount of this in the last few chapters of The Angel, but no crying over bedsides, it was more a drawn out, nine-months, Jason-is-in-a-coma-but-might-actually-be-just-insane-and-no-one-really-knows-which kind of thing.

Details: there is a fine fine line between too much and not enough. But don't give detail where it doesnt need to be. If I'm getting detailed, it's usually about surroundings becuase I have a picture in my head that I need to translate to paper, and just wouldnt make sense if there weren't details. Even so, the best thing to do is let people fill in bits for themselves. Give them an over-all picutre, or a rough outline with just enough description so that they know what you're trying to convey.

PFLAG: This is an issue that's really hard to cover unless you've had a particular experinece. I wouldn't know how to write a homophobic parent well. I just wouldn't. My dad walked in on me and my then boyfriend cuddling in bed. The only thing he said was to my mom which was "I think Josiah and Law are having a relationship." We've never really talked about it, I think he just accepted it and we both got on with our lives. My mom seems to have accepted it on the grounds that, she realises it's not a phase, but secretly, she might still wish it was. Possibly because she thinks life would be easier for me if I wasn't gay. She wanted to psychoanalyse me more than anything and try to understand being gay. Which can be kind of overbearing sometimes. When my mom told my sister her reaction was apparently "Joey's gay? Cool. Thank god at least SOMEONE in this family is." And we've since had several conversations about being gay in college and her gay friends and what being gay means in the UK and US. It's nice. My family was accepting, so that's really all I'd know how to write. Granted, I haven't told my pretty-old-fashioned, Christian aunt, who doesn't like that I'm Agnostic, but well... I don't think she'd really make a big deal out of it, even if she didnt agree with it.

Finally Facts: I try to check every fact with research. If I'm not sure about it, I don't use it, or I make the reference so vague that it's not a fact, cannot be linked to a fact, or really doesn't matter. A warning though to those useing Wikipedia: yes, it is an amazing source of information, but take it with a grain of salt. It's put together by the internet community, and moderated by the internet community. There's a lot that Wikipedia cliams that really is just bull. It's a good source for rough information, but if you're going to do the proper research, nothing beats solid books--except for comparing a wide range of solid books.

And that pretty much sums up what I thought was going to be a quickie but turned out to be obscenely long. Oops.

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Maybe I'll write a new short story about a super-star athelete who lives in California, with a 16 inch penis and is very popular and nobody cared that he was gay, even when he bumped into that straight guy on the way to class, who then fell in love with him and decided he was bi-curious the whole time.

Hey, now THAT I'll read!


I still say you can break many of the rules provided the story is entertaining, the characters are believable, and you keep the reader surprised and make them want to keep reading. (OK, except for the really lame ones like the alarm clock, the "let me introduce myself" intro, and the change in point of view. Those three things will generally make me lurch away from the story immediately.)

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I still say you can break many of the rules provided the story is entertaining, the characters are believable, and you keep the reader surprised and make them want to keep reading.

Exactly. Good writing is often about knowing how and when to break the rules. For that matter, it's very hard to agree on what any of the rules are, and there aren't many rules to begin with. All I know is, I know good writing when I read it.

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I was about to make the very points that were finally made. I agree. A good writer can even take a worn out clich? and make it interesting. It's the quality of the writing that's important.

It's easy for a list like this one to make us defensive, or conversely, proud that we don't do those things. I don't think we should do either. It's interesting to read, but also easy to find fault with every point made.

If we start writing with axioms like that in mind, I think we'll become hamstrung. I personally don't describe my characters dicks, and in fact often neglect to describe their appearances either. There's a reason for this. I want as many readers as possible to identify with the main character. If he is described as 6' 2" tall with shiny blond hair and eyes the color of a Colorado sky with a V-shaped torso, narrow waist and strong legs who can bench press 450 pounds but doesn't because his study load at Harvard and volunteer work in the burned children ward doesn't leave him the time, who'll identify with him? Not me, either.

As I say, there's a reason I don't do this, and that's the point. I have a reason. I think about what I write, and have reasons for what's on the page. You guys do too. I can tell from reading your stuff. And if we do things with forethought, and make it work, then the rules in that list aren't really important. It's possible to violate every one of them and still write a good story. Granted, it might be harder, granted, some of these suggestions are soundly based and can help destroy or at least trivialize a weakly written piece, but they are not hard and fast rules that must be followed to the letter or the story will be crap.

Individual writing quality will out.


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Thread Hijacking Alert!!!


I have a sidebar question, since you know and are friends with Nick Archer. Is he on hiatus? Burned out? Just plain fed up with writing? I've been checking back at Archerland regularly for quite a while and it seems that nothing has changed on the site in over a year.

Nick's an excellent writer, and I look forward to seeing more of his work, as well as several of the writers on his site.

I'd be interested in anything you can share...


We now return you to your original thread.

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My pal Nick Archer just forwarded to me his latest version of this piece, which I think is both humorous and informative. Any of you who are writers out there will undoubtedly find it useful. Be warned that Nick pulls no punches, but bear in mind this is just one man's opinion (though I personally agree with 99% of what he says -- despite the fact that I've personally violated two or three of his rules myself!).

Jumping The Shark in Gay Fiction

By Nick Archer


? The Names-We-Wish-We-Had. Our parents gave us boring names ? like David and John ? so we?ll give our characters the names we wish our parents had named us. Justin. Tyler. Trevor. Cody. Brad and Chad. Brice or Bryce. Roland. Tobias (Tobi for short.) Precious names -- names that are cute for a 3-year-old little boy but awkward for anyone older -- like Casey or Corey. Biblical names like Isaiah, Noah or Jonah. Names that are derived from professions (and are very popular among the Southern landed gentry) like Hunter, Trapper, Carter or Tanner. Common names with cutesy spellings like Tayler, Brien, Khile. Stop it!


c) 2003, 2007 Nick Archer

I have to disagree with Nick Archer on the first part of the names thing. At my HS there are more kids with names like Justin, Tyler, Trevor, Cody, Codey (:icon_cat:), Casey, Corey, Colin (:icon_geek:), Noah, Jonah, Carter, etc. than David or John or Jim or Bob. So don't blame authors for using those kinds of names! It's what parents are using to name their kids.

BTW, I agree with his "Common names with cutesy spellings" complaint. But there's a kid at school who's named Bryen, so IMO we're dealing with out-of-control parents here! There's even a kid named Bo, and that's his real first name, not a nickname. His name's in the sports section all the time because he's a football and basketball star.

Otherwise Mr. Archer makes a lot of good points. Some of which I violate, even some that I violate habitually. :bunny:


Colin :cat:

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I agree with Colin about the unusual names being more common these days.

I put that down to parents also having an association in their minds that these names are attractive or at least fashionable.

I think too we have to realise that many of the stories are about fictional fantasy and the names can also be part of the fantasy as well as the story. Cutesy spellings generally are a turn-off except perhaps in Sci-fi or Myth-fantasy stories.

When I was growing up I day dreamed about finding a boyfriend called Richard, Ricky or Ryan, Tony, David or half a dozen others.

I also had a few that were definite deterrents to forming a relationship like Edgar, Jack, Humphrey, Joe, Henry and others. So when I met a real muscle hunk or cute twink who had one of these names I didn't like, I was always quick to overlook this one imperfection in his bf resume.

I 'm certain these names would have been quite attractive to others.

One of the great positives about promiscuous pick-ups was that you didn't have to know there names. :icon_geek:

My own name I did not hate enough to change, but always wished it was something else.

One place I worked at had no less than four Roberts. These were known as Robert, Bob, Rob and Bert (yuck!) to distinguish them from each other. Try putting that in a story and maintain who is whom for yourself as author let alone the poor reader. The only way I can see that working would be for the names to be part of the plot of a French farce.

One thing should be obvious from this, any name can be overridden by the quality of someone's character. Maybe that is true in fiction as well as in real life.

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Yes, a name can be part of the appeal of the story. A few names, I will always consider special, because of good friends with those names. Uh, and yes, I had a crush on a couple of those friends. :icon_cat: The others were best friends or good friends; special people. Some other names aren't so appealing to me. No particular reason why, since there are few people I really didn't like, and they had ordinary names.

"Funny spellings" for names are more common than you'd think, and in the last few years, they have become trendy as a way to "distinguish" the child. Yes, I know, it means the kid will never be able to find his/her name on a nameplate, always will get it misspelled, etc.

My last name gives people trouble. I get misspellings or mispronunciations often. Even friends get stuck on the wrong one. It's a nice surprise when people get it right, which happens about 20% or so of the time. My last name is only one or two letters off from a couple of fairly common family names, but the difference looks or sounds odd to many people.


Personal Comment: pitfall of the name Ben -- "So, how long have you, Ben?" -- "What?" -- "Ben Gay!" (hahaha) -- Every guy who's ever used that one thought it was terribly funny. I went from gullible and falling for it as a kid, to bored by it as a teen, to annoyed by it because it was an old, worn out joke as a teen, to (thankfully) no longer hearing it as an adult. -- Heheh, too bad I wasn't out, I could've told 'em "Since last Tuesday, wanna have a good time?" :D O:-) -- Oh, and once Benji the Dog got in those movies, I got doggy and gay doggy and doggy-style jokes. LOL, those, I actually didn't care one way or the other. Yes, I was a kid and a teen back then. -- Benny? As in, "Benny and the Jets" or Benny Hill, Benny Goodman, etc? Aside from kidding, only one person ever used Benny as a nickname for me.

I like being named Ben (Benjamin) and yes, Benjie is OK too.

I bet you'd never, ever guess my first name... and I intend to keep it that way! :icon_geek:


I've lost count of how many Robert / Bob / Bobby / Bobbie / Rob / Robb / Robbie guys I've known. One was a best friend. One's a good friend. Another's a new friend. Another is a friend's son. Hmm, and I've never known a Robert who was a bad guy, not that it's impossible.

William / Bill / Billy / Billie / Will / Willie / Willy ...and all the foreign forms of William -- yes, they've heard all the "his willie" and "free willie" jokes.

Names that might be difficult or unusual for unexpected reasons:

-ie or -y or -ey -- as the nickname ending for a boy's name; "-ie" is sometimes considered unusual for certain names, did you ever notice that?

Aron - alternate spelling

Brian - he said people often misspelled it as Brain

Chad - it shouldn't be odd

Chaz - his real name, not a nickname

Codey - a common spelling, much more so than I would've thought

Corey - I've known two Coreys, not counting the actors, who I don't know personally;

Gene / Eugene - I went to school with him; not a good idea for anyone to snicker at his name; he was a big football player type;

Ian - said people spelled or said it as Eon, Ion, etc. - or thought he was Irish; he wasn't;

Ivan - as "I-van" or "ee-VAHN" - I went to school with an Ivan.

Jodie / Jody - as a boy's name

Kelly / Kelley - as a boy's name

Kim - as a boy's name; What, haven't you ever read Rudyard Kipling?

Lesley / Leslie - as a boy's name, either -ss- or -zz- for the S in there;

Lyle / Lisle - not just Lyle Lovett, I went to college with a Lyle;

Misha / Mischa - short for Michael, a boy's name

Patrice - one male form of Patrick in French; this one's unisex;

Ralph - In American English, usually short A + L; elsewhere, usually pronounced as "Rayf" or "Rolf";

Robbie - I never knew if it was short for Robert;

Sasha - a boy's name; short for Aleksandr;

Spike - I think it was his actual name; yes, wow;

Stacy / Stacey - as a boy's name

Tracy / Tracey / Tracie - as a boy's name; a neighbor kid when I was a teen;

Wynn - I went to school with him

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Jumping in on the name 'controversy'....

Reality and fiction don't have to equate. In reality, you can see the two people with the same or similar name and it's easy to tell the apart. Readers of fiction, however, only have the words on the page and so are more easily confused. While it is quite possible that there are four Roberts together in real-life, having four characters in a story called Robert (unless it is a deliberate case of trying make people confused) is not conducive to ease of reading.

I recently had a comment about my Heart of The Tree story, to the effect that as the reader was dyslexic, having two male characters with names of the same length that started with the same letter (Mark and Matt) caused them some initial confusion. That's an extreme case, but it highlights the importance of how making names unique can help readability.

On the topic of 'unusual' names, I try to keep them to a minimum. I think I've had one or two in each of my novels, but most characters have more traditional names. I believe it aids readability, which I rate slightly higher than realism....

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Readers of fiction, however, only have the words on the page and so are more easily confused. While it is quite possible that there are four Roberts together in real-life, having four characters in a story called Robert (unless it is a deliberate case of trying make people confused) is not conducive to ease of reading

I did a small scene with two Elizabeth's in AWMS just to prove this very point. If you make it hard on your readers you won't have any readers. I want to pay attention to the story not to which Robert, Ralph, Rupert, and Ronald is which.

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Is he on hiatus? Burned out? Just plain fed up with writing? I've been checking back at Archerland regularly for quite a while and it seems that nothing has changed on the site in over a year.

I think Nick suffered from the same kind of thing that affects everybody from time to time. Hell, I was so down for the last couple of years, I wrote very little after Jagged Angel. But I was also sidetracked by several unexpected career moves and issues. It was all I could do to just get through the day, let alone write (or, god forbid, run a website).

Nick is answering email, so you can contact him through his website. He told me he is writing again, and hopefully he can get back to doing what he does best.

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Well, I guess I really stepped in it this time!

Let me preface by saying that JTS was meant to be fun. A lot of the points were grossly exaggerated. I was trying for irony but it seems that some are taking some of the points quite seriously.

Lighten up a bit! As I said in the preface, we've all used these elements from time to time. I agree that if they're done well, you can get away with most of them. (Although, NOT the alarm clock under any circumstances!)

I think what it boils down to is the old romance vs. reality conundrum. By its very nature, romance requires the reader or writer to suspend disbelief. I think all romantic stories fall somewhere along a spectrum. It's like a slider bar with romance at one end and realism at the other. Each of us, as readers and writers, set that slider bar to different positions. And, I daresay, we change the position of that slider bar throughout our lives. Maybe it's a result of age and experience. As you build up life experiences, and therefore lose a bit of youthful idealism, you have less tolerance for things that just can't happen. I don't know. It's just a theory. I'm just thinking out loud.

Give me realism. I prefer settings that are true-to-life and plots that make me think "Hey, this could really happen." But that's me and as John said in his introduction, it's just my opinion. Example: One of the previous posters mentioned talking. While I agree that dialog is essential to establish romance and affection between characters, a writer can take it too far. When the characters talk and talk and talk and talk and constantly declare their love for each other to the exclusion of any semblance of a plot, that Jumps the Shark for me. I'll stop reading it.

Another example: settings, facts and plot points that are just plain wrong. I grew up around Chicago, lived in the city and the suburbs so I know it well. I can't tolerate stories set in Chicago that don't get their facts correct. Most everything is available on the Internet and it would take seconds to Google information. So it really infuriates me when a writer won't even take minimal efforts to get their facts correct.

But that's just me. I have my slider bar set to the "Realism" end.

On a completely different vein of thought, I would like to thank all the posters who have complimented my writing. (My apologies for not quite getting the 'Quote" function of this board down pat.) It is true that I have found the time and motivation to write again, but not on the Paternal Instincts series. I will eventually pick it up again and I do have plans for it. Right now, however, it's on indefinite hiatus.

Nick Archer


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Welcome, Nick!

I understood that you were exaggarating the issues you wanted to point out, but there are a lot of new authors who take these things literally. I know from experience when I've stated a personal opinion to a new author, and turn around to find that they've taken it as the gospel truth! I now try to hedge things as much as I can....

I'll also admit that I was one of those authors when I read a prior version your essay early on in my writing career. I've learnt enough since then that I can make conscious decisions to violate the guidelines at times (note to self: include alarm clock in my next story :icon1: ), but I think the key thing your essay provides is bringing those guidelines together in one place for new authors to consider.

Excellent news about your writing, too! I'll admit that the Paternal Instincts series is one of my favourites, but I accept it's on hiatus until further notice. I'll just keep my fingers crossed that once you're solidly back in writing you'll eventually get back to it. :lipssealed:



PS: I try to write on the realism side on the scale, too, for pretty much the same reasons.

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Hi Nick. Please don't take my reply comments too harshly. Even if I disagree on some points somewhat, I think you did a bang-up job on the article as a whole. I can certainly agree that new writers too often make those recurring mistakes. -- New writers need to read your article and learn why you've given the advice you have, so they avoid things that bug readers (or themselves as writers).

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