Thursday, May 30, 2013

M/M romance: by women, for women

When I first heard about M/M romance (in the form of slash fanfic, IIRC it was X-files...) it didn't make much sense to me. Why would women both write and read gay romance/erotica?

Then I started reading it, of course, and got sucked in. Haven't tried writing it until now. But having read a fair chunk of slash fanfic, yaoi (both Japanse and American), and a little m/m original fiction, I had a list of things that made me uneasy about attempting to write it.

Heteros in disguise
This was the biggest elephant in the m/m room, for me. Particularly in Japanese yaoi, one of the men is a man and the other is a girl with a dick. This was glaringly obvious to me because I find most manga/anime female characters annoying. American-written yaoi tends to be better, and when I read one where the guys actually switched off on screwing each other, I cheered. A major reason for my love of Lynn Flewelling's Nightrunner series is because both the guys... are guys.

So when I started working on the boys for Hawks & Rams, I was very aware that I was already dangerously close to recreating something I really dislike. I wanted to challenge myself by working with a sensitive and emotional male character -- and I didn't want him to turn into a "girl with a dick." Meanwhile, the other love interest was a fairly traditional male who would be able to fly under most gaydar.

And then there's the politics of who's topping, who's bottoming... and at some point you have to take a step back.

It's two people falling in love
What does a hetero woman know about homosexual men? Well, what do I know about medieval peasant girls or high-tech thieves who grew up in zero gee? I know this much: they're people.

I'm a woman; what an erection feels like, I'll never know. But human emotions are universal, I believe. Whether it's fantasy or science fiction, whatever the technology level, whatever the culture, human emotions are experienced in the same ways. For different reasons, in different mixtures, but the same emotions. And desires.

Maybe you saw the gay sex scene I posted over at Shadow of the Unicorn. (It's a teaser of sorts for Hawks & Rams because it won't be in the final story. Caution! Graphic content!) I tried to write a true description of what it's like to be so desperately horny that you're taking risks with someone you barely know, in a place where you could get caught. I know what that feels like, even if I don't know what an erection feels like. The fact that this was two men in a fantasy setting... was just a matter of props and set-dressing, really. The emotional experience is the same.

All the "politics" inherent in any romantic relationship, hetero or homo, are something a writer should bear in mind. But having finished Disciple, as a romance, I think I can say that the zingy flavor of a romance is in the writer's personal blend of the expected and the unexpected.

Because you can go for "completely unexpected" -- the younger, more feminine, less-endowed boy topping the older, well-hung tough guy (sure, why not?) -- and you can be faithful to the existing stereotypes. Both are valid flavors of romance, and have their fans.

Mixing it up, though... that's fun. It keeps people guessing, and reading to see what will happen.

Housekeeping announcements
I'm going to go weekly with my blog posts here, with the occasional extra post. BUT, I'm going to add a monthly hangout over at Google+ to my schedule. It will be on Indie Life day (the second Wednesday of the month) from 10 - 11:30pm EST and you can drop by the hangout to chat about self-publishing, writing, research, knitting, cats, just brainstorm for a while, ask me to crit a page on the fly, whatever catches your fancy. Webcam optional! I will have mine on, but you can just chat in the sidebar if you prefer.

These will be On Air hangouts, posted on YouTube for future reference. If anybody shows up, that is -- if it's just me noodling around, I won't post that.

More info to come on Indie Life day.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Three elements of voice in POVs

I'm writing a romance, so that requires two characters -- well, at least two -- and the story is such that both characters need to be involved in the telling. I've been writing their POVs separately, and I'll shuffle them together later on.

Partly that's because plenty of significant events only happen to one of them. Partly because the contrast between them will let me frame their shared scenes in the most effective voice. The third "partly" is because Heathric and Adal are both "young" characters and their voices are still settling in. They need to differentiate themselves. Heathric's very sensitive to the people around him. Adal's a more action-oriented guy. This ought to be visible in how they narrate.

How can you tell one character's voice from another?
Photo reference for Adal, despite his
objections. (Zac Efron)
What they notice: A character walks into a party. What's the first thing they pick up on? Depending on which of my three Disciple characters it is, it might be: the top-ranking officers, the cute girls, or the familiar/friendly faces. Heathric would pick up on the room's mood. Adal would look for his shortlisted friends.

Other characters might notice what people are wearing, the decorations in the room, or be looking for a quiet corner to hide in. (That would be me.)

Level of detail: People pay more attention to the things that matter to them. Conversely, they'll spend less time on things that don't matter, or have difficulty addressing them. Some people are also more prone to long, complicated thoughts while others keep it terse and to-the-point.

Word choices: One's upbringing, personality, and formal training will also influence the vocabulary one uses. Since Heathric and Adal are both from low-tech, rural, agriculture-and-animal-husbandry cultures, their world is framed in terms of natural phenomena, animals, and a dash of superstition. In training, one is a shepherd and the other is a Ranger.

Add in their personalities and Heathric ends up with a vocabulary that leans towards animals, emotions, and a certain gentleness/acceptance/working with what he's given. Adal takes a more proactive tone, focusing on utility and seeing things in terms of hunting, pursuit, and discipline.

All of these are deeply entwined with character development and world-building, as you can see. What would you add to this list?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Breaking in the new story

I've started writing a new story, recently. When you've spent a long time working on one story, the transition to a new one can be jarring. Even when it's set in the same universe as your previous work.

It's sort of like a stiff new pair of sneakers; a new story needs some breaking in.

Different characters
My character development process, for all my talking about it, tends to be on the slow side. And even though I've built characters from scratch many times, it always has its awkward stages when I'm waiting for the character to talk to me but he just isn't up to that level yet.

Working with "old," deeply developed characters -- like Kate, Kiefan and Anders in Disciple -- spoils you to a certain degree. I know I can just give them a topic and a direction, and they'll spool out a scene on their own.

By comparison, newer characters need more notes and more steering. It feels ham-handed, at times. I have to trust, though, that with repetition and listening for the character's voice he'll quicken on his own.

Character reference photo for
Hawks & Rams - Heath Ledger, from
A Knight's Tale
Different voice
Heathric's voice is different from Kate's. He's a different person with different priorities, different sensitivities. In some ways, he's more sensitive than she is. (I'm trying to break that T/F barrier, for those of you who read the MBTI series.)

A different character means a different narrative, since I let my characters narrate -- something I don't usually make explicit, but there it is -- and that means a different view on the story. And that is, itself, a part of the story. Hawks & Rams is a much "smaller" story than Disciple, it's very personal and Heathric's more intimate voice should be a good fit.

Even though, yes, Disciple is a very personal story also but the scope is larger and Kate's more objective voice fit that.

It's a useful exercise, as an aside, to write the same scene from different characters' POVs. One should be able to see the difference in the word choice, the focus, the whole mood or the scene.

Different expectations
Genre comes into play, also. Hawks & Rams is a M/M fantasy romance -- I don't think there will be enough sex to qualify as erotica -- and chances are that people who pick it up will not have read Disciple. I need to explain the world, from scratch, in the context of this place and time that the story is happening. Being an M/M romance, I can bet that the audience for Hawks & Rams will be mostly female. I could stand to slow the pace down and do more emotional and sensual description (which fits into Heathric's more intimate voice, too.)

Which are not my strong suit, admittedly. This will be good practice.

The "breaking-in" process is mutual, after all. I'm fitting the story to my style, and the story's fitting me to its style.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Indie life: Being your own continuity editor

Welcome to Indie Life -- the second Wednesday of the month!

Last month, I talked about pricing. This month, another self-publishing challenge: not just editing yourself, but being your own continuity editor.

Editing for the storytelling elements is difficult enough -- tightening up the narrative, keeping the action moving -- but there's all the little details too. Making sure the names of the seven moons in the sky are consistent. Remembering that the scene in Part III gets talked about in Part V, and changing one means changing the other. Realizing that one of the characters isn't a knight, halfway through the series, and needing to edit that out -- and it changes how he's treated, in certain situations. Making sure the black-bay horses stay black-bay and the yellow dress that gets ripped up in the laundry room scene isn't worn again later.

Do people notice these things? I do. Not all of the details, but different readers will catch different things, and even momentary confusion is not a writer's friend. Getting caught with continuity errors will make you look amateurish, too, so self-publishers need to ask themselves: do you want to be seen as a professional writer, or just a hobbyist?

Levels of continuity
Continuity is another recursive detail, like plot -- it appears, in equal complexity, at every level of the story. I need to keep track of details changing within each paragraph (the easy side), each scene, each chapter, each book in the series, and throughout all six parts of Disciple (the tougher side.)

Keep your distance
The first thing I need for continuity editing is a certain mental distance from the story. I need to not be sucked into that internal movie, not emotionally invested -- I need to track these details objectively. I find this is easier to do on paper, with a red pen, than while editing on-screen.

Mental distance is an important part of editing in general, of course. The ability to step back from my own emotional investment in the story, to evaluate its structure and execution, is very important. Personally, I think this includes stepping back from opinions like "this is a shitty first draft" as well as from "this part came out so awesome!!1!"

While it's true that a first draft is allowed to be as shitty as it needs to be, just to get it on paper, I don't believe that anything on paper is so shitty that it can't be fixed. I also don't know how seriously other writers use that phrase, but personally, I don't insult my writing. And I don't doubt my ability to fix things; it's just a question of how drastic the surgery will be. There's a good reason I've talked about using a chainsaw to edit my stuff. :)

To-do lists
I keep TO FIX lists for each draft, in each Scrivener file. Many of the things listed are continuity details, accumulated as I wrote other parts, or as realized the implications of one scene would impact another (or needed setting-up, in an earlier scene.) Some of them can be done with search and replace, like the note "Wall Street = Wallside Street" or "Search&destroy -- "firing" archers." Some need more thought, like "Drop mention of Kleelinde, or explain."

How do you keep track of continuity details?

Friday, May 3, 2013

MBTI #8: The Shadow and online resources

This last post will be much shorter because there are a wide variety of opinions out there about what one's "shadow" is, what it does, and when it's used. I'm going to focus on the one that makes the most sense to me.

John Beebe's shadow structure
Dr. Beebe's argument is that the shadow is comprised of the four functions that don't appear in your MBTI preferences list, in a particular order complete with spiffy names and a theoretical structure.

He has a point, I think, about those four other functions having their uses but being uncomfortable and, in some cases, downright upsetting. Particularly the "demon function", the opposite of your inferior MBTI function. For me, that's Si -- internal analysis of past events and situations -- which in me always takes the form of obsessive ruminating about some bad thing that happened, some opportunity missed.  Always depressing and pointless.

There's a nice, clear run-down of this idea over at It rings true to me: I do use my Ti to shoot people down ("here are the holes in your argument") and don't pay much attention to my Fe (other people's emotions are not my problem).

Your character's shadow
Of these, the "demon" may be the most useful in a story, as it can be a source of conflict and uncertainty for your character.

Online resources
If you poke around Google, you'll find tons of books, forums, videos -- and tons of different, sometimes conflicting, opinions about MBTI. Here are some that I've found useful.

Personality Cafe -- a lot of my links go to this chat board. I'm active there under a different name. MBTI is only one of the personality systems they use there, but it's a nice community where you can ask questions and get advice on specific MBTI types. I've used it to fine-tune my understanding of what my MCs would consider important, or stressful, in very complicated situations.

Personality Cafe on Youtube -- there have been various video challenges over the years and most of them are on Youtube somewhere.

Cognitive Types on Youtube -- a series of videos demonstrating how to "read" personality type from body language. Fascinating stuff. They post new ones every so often.

DaveSuperPowers did a series of videos on various types, but sadly he stopped.

A frequently referred-to book on PerC is Was That Really Me? by Naomi Quenk.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

MBTI #7: The Dark Side

This is one part of MBTI that I've found especially useful: how different personality types respond to stress, and how what each one considers stressful varies.

There are different theories about types reacting to stress -- I suspect that's because it's still a highly individual thing and it's difficult to generalize. Personally, I find the idea of an inferior function takeover in times of stress fits reality well. It rings true to what I've experienced as an Se-inferior who suffered from bouts of emotional eating as a teenager.

Inferior function takeover
Below are a series of posts about the theory of being "in the grip of" one's inferior function when under stress. Since this is your weakest function, it's not your "normal" self. People will notice the change in behavior that results. It contributes to a sense of unease, of flailing against your problems (though some types completely shut out their problems as part of their reaction). You feel miserable, tired and trapped.

How this manifests depends on what your inferior function is; there are similarities and overlapping patterns, but each one has its own flavor of negative behaviors. These links also talk about how the primary function works, and how one recovers from wrestling with one's inferior, which are useful too.

Inferior Ti (ESFJ & ENFJ) Inferior Fi (ENTJ & ESTJ)
Inferior Te (ISFP & INFP) Inferior Fe (ISTP & INTP)
Inferior Ni (ESTP & ESFP) Inferior Si (ENTP & ENFP)
Inferior Ne (ISTJ & ISFJ) Inferior Se (INTJ & INFJ)

What caused this?
The things that stress one MBTI type may be no problem at all for another type (see my example below.) So to figure out what can trigger an inferior takeover in your character, some homework may be in order. In general, though, it's caused by situations which overwhelm the dominant functions, or cause you to severely doubt the accuracy of those functions -- traumatic, since those are your strengths -- or situations that prevent you from using your dominant functions effectively.

An example
I had a well-developed character in an extremely stressful situation. He's an ESTP, almost exactly my opposite (I'm an INTJ.) Because he's so different from me, I knew that what he found stressful about the situation would be different from what I found stressful -- and he'd react differently.

From the wonderful thread How you see the 16 types - in GIF form, a stereotype of ESTPs.

So I did some homework on ESTPs and came to the conclusion that what would chafe him would be the physical restrictions and the isolation (things that I would have no problem with) rather than the implicit betrayals and uncertainty (things that would drive me up the wall.) The resulting depression in my ESTP would be the result of his inferior Ni taking over, making him broody and pessimistic.

Now, since Ni is my dominant function I naturally am broody and pessimistic :) so it was not obvious to me why this would be so scary and miserable for him. But it seemed appropriate that he'd lose his usual upbeat, active personality while under such stress, so I unleashed all the dark imaginings of Ni on my ESTP and let him turn self-destructive accordingly. He didn't have the defenses to deal with that kind of darkness because he doesn't have to, normally.

To recover from it, he needed a chance to bring his other functions to bear -- a chance to apply his logical Thinking -- and most importantly to get some physical activity and socializing back into his schedule.

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