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Is Our Collective Writing Too Much Of A Mirror?

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Hello All!

Okay, some background first. I conduct an E-Mail based mentoring program for At Risk Gay & Lesbian youths and young adults. As part of that program, I share links to good stories & sites along with resources for the kids/youngadults to go look at. Now then, recently I have been getting buried under a ton of e-mail from them asking why the authors do not write descriptions of characters that are more "true" to life in terms of physical and personality traits.

Hmmm, ok, let me fire this back out at all of you. AS writers, are we too stuck in the "beautiful people" frame of mind when we write? Do we NOT avoid descriptions of people other than the perfect male? I thought about this, in the majority of the material out there, everybody looks like Michaelangelo's David or a variant thereof.

The second part of this is that the conflicts are pretty much status quo to the better than average looking Gay male. What about the conflicts of being Gay and overweight or a hair bear or even just plain?

Okay, there's the question, the thread is now open...

Paul :mrgreen:

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Maybe the reason all those handsome, hung guys are in those stories is that it's entertainment, wish fulfillment, a desire to escape from the reality of what it's like.

Let me digress in a couple of directions that I hope will help explain my opinion.

:arrow: 1

Now, let me say that I know almost nothing about the bar/club scene, street life, or very little about being out.

I do know from my own experiences and from what I've read that there is a lot in common about how people are treated, even just for being suspected of being gay, let alone being out or outed. -- One of the things that surprised me most was how common my own feelings seem to be, over and over in non-fiction I've read. They're so common, I don't need to list them.

:arrow: 2

One important issue for gays is the very practical one, most people have a much bigger pool of potential mates to pick from, but gays have only about 10% or less of that number, and half of those are the wrong gender, and nearly all of them are not making it obvious that they want the same thing. (At least, they didn't when and where I went to school, and I went to a large suburban high school.)

:arrow: 3

A night or two ago, a story called Powerless Powers appeared on Nifty. The author grumbles about how he wants a realistic story, then has his character do an interior monologue that is discouraged, depressive, and possibly breakup-related. Unfortunately, it does describe many of the feelings of gay teens. It was not uplifting.

:arrow: My Point, I Think

If any of those side-points have any relevance, I think it is that because of those issues, many authors and many readers want a little escape in their reading, to a world where people like them (or us) are accepted, loved, welcomed, and where they can find someone who really wants friendship, love, and sex.

Another thing about such stories is that they provide mostly-positive models and help give hope that somewhere out there, maybe there's someone for you or me or him or her, and friends who care, and a better life.

I don't think it's any accident that the guys or girls in so many stories are hunky or cute, the boy next door, or the best friend or at least a good friend, or the new guy.

I mean, how many of you didn't think about a friend or two at least once and wonder if you dared ask him if he wanted to do something? Yeah, I thought so. Me too. Maybe you even did something once in a while. If so, I hope it was a good experience.

And if any parent or straight person is reading this, trust me, most of us (a) don't think about that about everyone we see, even our friends, and (b) we're way more interested in having friends than losing them because they didn't want that, so even if we were interested, we might not ever ask. Maybe, straight, confused, or gay, you can see how that can be tough to live with, especially if the person with those feelings doesn't know what to think about him- or herself, or doesn't want to feel that way about his or her friend.

So I think the reason a lot of stories are unrealistic is because they aren't meant to be realistic; they're meant to be surreal, in the sense of "better than real."

-----

Coming at this from another angle, I'd love to see more realistic stories. There are stories out there with a more realistic bent, or with parts of them that are drawn from real life or are very realistic.

But I, too, would love to see more stories that deal with what it's really like to be gay or unsure or closeted. There's plenty room for stories that have some artistic license (hey, I edit one) or a lot of artistic license. They can also have a lot of truth and meaning in them. But there is also plenty of room for more stories about what it's like to really be gay or closeted or uncertain.

So why aren't more of those stories being told? I think the answer is that they would have a lot of negatives in them and they'd be hard to write and hard to read because of that. Many writers, even new writers, I think are sensitive enough to the issues and who they are writing for (including themselves) that they don't necessarily want to write something with a lot of negatives, because someone out there reading their story might not be able to take that, and because, well, it hits pretty close to home and below the belt. (The double meanings were fully intended, there.)

... Uh, you've probably guessed by now, my informal writing tends to be long, wordy, and stream-of-consciousness. I do know better for formal writing, honest. ...

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I believe both Paul and Blue are right.

Some (but not all) stories paint a picture of wish-fulfillment, with nothing but great-looking characters, often in very upscale surroundings. Some of it is unrealistic, but I also see where people want to read stories about attractive people.

An Internet acquaintance of mine Mark Roeder, makes it a point to actually write about ordinary characters -- some plain, definitely not good-looking, a few even porky. (I've chided him on the issue of having fat gay teenage characters, saying, "jeez, tell these kids to hit the gym and lay off the carbs," but he's a stubborn guy.)

If you look at any mainstream fiction, it's rare that you'll see the characters described in these stories as ugly or plain. The same is true of movies: TV shows and movies portray society as looking much better than it really is in real life. I'd say it's the nature of entertainment.

While my own most recent novel, Jagged Angel, had three main characters who were all very good-looking, I made a point to mention that the lead character had a terrible inferiority complex, which led him to work out incessantly and take steroids, all in an effort to radically change his appearance. My first novel, Groovy Kind of Love, had a lead character who (by his own omission) was a 4-eyed geek, and that's reinforced several times in the story. True, the plot descended into a near-cliche "geek falls in live with the hunk best friend," but I like to think I avoided the stereotype whenever possible. (And I cheerfully admit, the geek happened to be the best-hung guy in school, but I had my own reasons for choosing to tell that story.)

I don't know if any of this answers your points, but maybe it's a start. I know Keith Morrisette's characters run the gamut from good-looking to plain, so I think he's avoided the "beauty scene" plot as well.

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Yes, it's true that there are a dirth of plain characters in the genre of gay teen romance. The other writers here have all made good points, and i won't recap. What i would like to add is that when we see a character in one of these stories, we're seeing him through someone else's eyes. It's been my observation that love happens (not always, but most of the time) between oneself and someone that one considers to be beautiful. With the exception of those stories where the writer oh so graciously provides pictures of the characters (sorry if i'm stepping on toes, but it's a pet peeve--i like the pictures in my mind a lot more than some picture of a czech pornstar as my model of what a character looks like), we're seeing the love interest through the eyes of someone who loves that person. And they're going to be beautiful in description, don't you think? I think i'd be hard put to read a story where someone said "He's ugly as hell, his feet stink, his toupee doesn't fit and he has a hunchback, but by God, i love him." Interesting literarary challenge though...hmmm.

cheers!

aj

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What i would like to add is that when we see a character in one of these stories, we're seeing him through someone else's eyes.

That's not always true. The lead character in stories written in a 1st person point-of-view is going to be described very differently than they would be in 3rd person; it becomes a subjective experience, rather than an objective experience.

Point of view affects a lot of how the characters are described. It's a tough thing to get over, and I've succumbed to one of the most awful cliches you see in a lot of amateur fiction: scenes where one (or more) of the characters stands in front of a mirror and points out his flaws (or his own beauty). It's a lame cliche, but in both cases for me, I couldn't think of a better way to do it.

But at the same time, nothing is worse than reading those stories where the writer has the character talk to the reader and say, "Hi, I'm this old, I'm this tall, my eyes are this color, my hair looks like this, and people tell me I look like so-and-so." I'm like, shut up! Don't ever talk directly to the audience. Let other characters describe how the hero looks, and let us find out over time what this guy's appearance is.

I don't think it's as important as most people think it is for us to be able to precisely visualize the characters. I say, just give them the basic clues over time -- mention he's the shortest kid in class, or the tallest; mention that he hates his dark hair and is thinking of dying it blond; mention that he wears glasses -- briefly touch on these things over several chapters, as we slowly discover what the characters look like. No need to rattle off a laundry list of all their visual characteristics.

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Gentlemen,

This is my first post here, and having said that, I thoroughly expect to be ripped to shreds.

Is it possible that some writers choose to make their characters "perfect" so they can concentrate on a specific message where physical appearance has little relevance?

They just called my flight. I will continue later.

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Hi, Dewey, glad you posted. Pay no attention to the sharp objects. :)

If writers want to concentrate on a specific issue, in which physical appearance or perhaps wealth or popularity have little relevance, well, that leads me to wonder why they'd need to make the characters "perfect" in those other aspects. Couldn't they just as easily be average, like everyone else? Wouldn't that make them easier to relate to and more realistic?

Personally, I think it's the wish-fulfillment aspect, that newbie writers think readers want some happy, problem-free world to escape the real one. I also think that's just a facet of being a newbie writer. Most haven't figured out the basics of storytelling yet. Just IMHO.

I like a few flaws or quirks in the characters in fiction, mainstream or gay genres. If everything and everyone in the story are too perfect, I bail, it just doesn't do anything for me. Also, if it's just a wham-bam-thank-you-Sam story, no character or plot, I'm also going to bail. It needs those or, again, it doesn't do anything for me. I read more for the relationships than the hot sex, too. If there's sex, it needs to be well written, or it's just paint by numbers, and that's for sure not going to do anything for me.

I think I only partially answered the question you maybe had in mind.

-----

Oh, and reading back over the thread, I'd say that the teens Paul said were asking about it, should read some of the stories on Dude's site, on DeweyWriter's site and forum, or on a few other sites. Look in the links for other sites. There *are* some very good stories out there.

Yes, Nifty is there and available, but too much there tends to be too poorly done. There are good stories there, moreso in the high school section, but you have to hunt for them.

Oh, and no, Dude and Dewey didn't pay me to say that. The check bounced. Dang rubber checks and invisible ink.... ;)

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