Tags: m/m writing

josh logo

One Comment Taken Out of Context

Which is never fair to do, but I found it interesting in its implications. It was a request on a list I belong to. The poster was looking for GLBT reviewers. Obviously none of which I have a problem with. But this comment was made in passing.

(And, let me hasten to add, that this review site has every right to limit their reviewing to what they find of interest -- I guess what I mostly find intriguing here is my realization that this casual remark mirrors how I used to feel about sex scenes in genre fiction -- unless that genre was specifically erotica.)

 Not interested in "overly erotic" or sexual fantasy novels but more interested in "serious" literature.

Huh. Thoughts?
writing, how to, m/m, gay fiction

Woe is Him

It had conveniently skipped my mind that I'd agreed to do a guest blog for Romance Junkies a while back, so I had to put something together speedily, and I yanked another excerpt from the legendary -- and I'm beginning to think it only lives in legend -- writing book. This time the topic was ANGST, which is actually one of the more entertaining and powerful elements in both fan fiction and original M/M writing. 

And also there's a little tiny contest, but if you've already got SNOWBALL IN HELL it won't do you much good.

So there it is, read and enjoy. Agree to disagree. Comment or not. But never forget that it is FRIDAY. Yaaaaa-bloooooody---HOOOOOOOO!

josh logo

Conscientious Objectors

I've talked a bit about reviewing and reviewers here. I have the greatest respect for reviewers -- whether professional or amateur -- who write conscientious, informed, and reasoned reviews. Because that's not easy to do -- and it deserves respect.

I also enjoy those spontaneous, enthusiastic outpourings from bloggers -- heartfelt appreciation, -- because that's the closest most of us in e-publishing get to  "word of mouth," which is vital to a writer's success -- and which can't be manufacturered. It's the equivalent of you telling your best friend you loved this book, and her reading it and telling her friends, and so on and so on and so on...just like that shampoo ad from a million years ago with the wheat germ and honey...

Which brings me to one of my thoughts on reviews. I think one reason why writers may have some problems with "negative" reviews is that in e-publishing (which is where most M/M writing happens) reviews have been largely hijacked for promotional purposes. A lot of the initial word-of-mouthing on e-books comes through reviews and e-book review sites. Most of us are not in print, after all, and so readers aren't discovering us wedged on the shelf of a bricks and mortar bookstore. They learn of us through reviews on their favorite review sites -- or through word of mouth on blogs or discussion lists.  So many of us come to view reviews as promotional and marketing tools -- which I don't really feel is the true purpose behind reviews.

Meaning, I don't think reviews are supposed to be for the benefit of authors so much as for the benefit of readers. 

Agree or disagree?

I think the point of a review is to match the right book to the right reader. And if this helps a writer sell a boat-load more of books, all the better, but that's not the real aim of a review is it? Because to be effective, a review (I'm talking about a professional review now on a professional review site) must be honest and informed. The conscientious reviewer doesn't make judgments on a writer's research if the reviewer hasn't done her own on the subject. A professional reviewer should, in theory, be able to review a book even if the book is in a genre the reviewer doesn't usually enjoy, because there should be some objective criteria for reviewing any book. The first being the demands of the genre (which, true, might be hard for a reviewer who doesn't read in a particular genre) Maybe one of the most important things for a reviewer to consider is whether the book successfully holds attention and immerses the reader in the story -- because as a writer that's the main thing I'm after. I want the reader lost in the world I create, turning the pages and resenting any interruption -- needing to know what happens next.

True, a lot of reviewing is subjective, and you can't argue with someone's opinion. Or can you? Because, let's face it, there are informed opinions and uninformed opinions. If a cop reads my book and tells me I got my police procedure right, but a civilian reviewer reads my book and says she thinks my procedure sounds unlikely...well, whose opinion do I value more? Whose opinion is worth more? All reviews are not created equal.

And, as a writer, I can't help but feel that if a reviewer is going to say something negative it's more important to back that up, than it is to back up positive comments. Now is that realistic of me? Probably not. Human and understandable, but not logical. 

I ignore negative reviews. Not that I get many, but everyone gets a few. I look for the consensus of opinion because that's the closest you can get to a fair understanding of how your work strikes most readers. (And yes, okay, yes, there was that one time when I made fun of a particular review here, but it wasn't like it was a well-thought out rebuttal or anything, and, frankly, I'd be happier now if I'd ignored what didn't thrill me.) Which brings me to another aspect of reviewing. 

My friend (and my sometimes reviewer) kellkatkins and I were having a recent discussion on reviews, and she brought up the point about authors thanking reviewers for good reviews. My feeling is, good or bad, you don't respond to a professional review. In fact, if it's bad -- I mean really bad -- you don't respond at all because you're dealing with someone who has an ax to grind. Intelligent discourse will not result from dialog. 

But so much of the reviewing for e-books is done on informal blogs or discussion lists, and so many of these readers are so enthusiastic and kind, it seems...I dunno. It seems like the right thing to thank them. And yet is this perceived as sucking up? It would certainly be so perceived in professional reviewing, I think. At least in the old days. But now days the review dynamic has changed. The internet has changed it, just as it's changed writing and publishing. 

And I've come to know some really charming readers through their blogs and their reviews. Friendships have sprung up in certain cases. So...is crossing that professional distance a mistake? Or is it part of the new reader/writer dynamic? 

I'd really like to hear from other writers -- and reviewers -- on this because I admit I'm undecided.
writing, how to, m/m, gay fiction

What Not To Do

Sometimes it’s easier to demonstrate rather than talk about writing – partly because the difference between mediocre writing and good writing is often subtle – difficult to spot if you don’t know better. If you haven’t been taught. Trained. And yet it feels utterly different to the reader.


The excerpt below isn’t astoundingly bad -- mostly. In fact, it’s semi-competent, if uninspired, writing. Very typical of what you find in M/M or GLBT first novels or first-time submissions.


With water dripping down his face from wet, plastered hair, he glared at his watch again. An hour had passed. He didn’t believe another fifteen minutes would hurt him. What were a few more minutes when he’d waited four years to kill him.

First problem is that we’re getting the POV (point of view) second hand. Rather than being inside this character’s head, he’s being described to us. We’re actually getting a visual on the POV character – his “wet, plastered hair.”

With water dripping down his face from wet, plastered hair, he glared at his watch again.

You see how that removes us one step from the character and his thoughts/feelings? Whereas if the writer tried something along this line – The rain in his eyes made it hard to read his watch – we’re instantly inside the character’s head.  Which is where we want to be, regardless of whether the story is taking place in first, second (rare) or third person POV. We’re experiencing the rain and his frustration, rather than being told about it.

Good writing is immediate writing.

An hour had passed. He didn’t believe another fifteen minutes would hurt him. 

Again, what the POV character is thinking is being told to us, whereas if we write it like this – One hour down. What would another fifteen minutes hurt? – we have both the immediacy of the character’s thoughts, and we have a chance to establish the character’s “voice.”

We could give him a formal, prissy voice: An hour had passed already. Why not grant another fifteen minutes?

 Or a more casual: An hour wasted already. What did another fifteen minutes matter?

What were a few more minutes when he’d waited four years to kill him.

There’s nothing vastly wrong here, but the redundant “What were a few minutes more” weakens “he’d already waited four years to kill him.”

Also, it’s a wasted opportunity to give the reader the name of the potential victim (and in this case it was simply oversight, not deliberate messing with reader expectations).

Shadows darkened while the rain let up, and a gloom settled over the bars near downtown Houston. Streetlights emitted an eerie glow spreading through the dense air like a dull halo. He slid deeper into the darkness while people leaving the nightclub hurried to their vehicles, heads bowed, their only intent to get out of the rain. With his backside against an old wooden building, he wrinkled his nose at rotting timber odors.

There’s a lot of confusing and clumsy imagery here.

 Shadows darkened while the rain let up,

No. Wrong order. We’re getting the reaction before the action.  The rain let up. The shadows darkened. Or deepened -- but that’s subjective.

and a gloom settled over the bars near downtown Houston.

Okay, he’s trying to draw the scene, and that’s good, but this particular phrase doesn’t convey what he’s trying to say, does it? Because we already know about the gloom from the previous line. So the only thing pertinent here is the info about bars near downtown Houston, and there’s more interesting things we could say about them. We could talk about the thump of music, about music slipping out through a crowded doorway as wet and giggling customers squeeze inside. We could talk about people making out in the alley behind the club, or a kitchen door banging open and trash carried into an alley and emptied into bins, etc.

And, in fact, a couple of lines down he does go on to describe people rushing to their cars -- which is good.

Streetlights emitted an eerie glow spreading through the dense air like a dull halo.

I like the image, but the wording is awkward. “Emitted” suggests sound (I know that it can be light or heat or whatever, but it doesn’t work for me).  When a sentence is awkward, I think it helps to simplify it. Chop it into bits. Say it in as few words as possible.

Streetlights were haloed in eerie light

Not great, but cleaner, and I think it gives the same image.

With his backside against an old wooden building, he wrinkled his nose at rotting timber odors.  

Why do we need to know his backside is against “an old wooden building”? Does this add to our understanding of the scene? And…his backside? Does the writer mean the POV character has his back against the wall or his ass? It’s confusing. Goofy.

Again, the author distances us by trying to describe the POV character while at the same time put us in the character’s head. The character wrinkles his nose at rotting timber odors, but what does that smell like? I don’t know if readers have a strong instant association for “rotting timber odors,” but if you say he smelled sawdust or tar or rain or wood, that’s more likely to evoke reader identification.

The more precise you can get, the better.

His t-shirt clung to his body, his teeth chattered and he shivered.

This is increasingly becoming what I call busy writing. Again, the POV character is being described – I’d rather know what that clammy T-shirt feels like clinging to his wet skin rather than being told what he does in response to it.

Why? Because the point of these descriptions is to describe the scene for us, to put us in the scene with the character, so if the best the writer can do is tell us his wet T-shirt clung to his body…well, why do I need to know that? What’s useful or interesting about that? If the writer can tell me something that makes the scene more vivid, more real, more original…then, yes, I want that description, otherwise, it’s more interesting to get the character’s response.

See, it’s the selection of detail that you want to share with the reader. Sometimes the interesting thing you want to share is in the description of the POV character, but usually the interesting thing will lie in the character’s responses or feelings or thoughts.

By the way, either his teeth chatter or he shivers, but not both at the same time. They weaken each other when you put them together in the same sentence. It’s just…busy.

This wasn’t the first time he’d stalked his intended victim. He’d sworn years before he’d make the three police officers pay for his father’s death. He ground his teeth together.

Okay, did he really grind his teeth together? Because that seems stagy and artificial. Why doesn’t he just twirl his mustachios and be done with it? Busy writing again.

Also, it’s an info dump. Just a little one, but still glaring. Do we really need to know the killer’s motivation in the prologue? I’m thinking this is a bit of a spoiler for the crime novel that follows.

They hadn’t killed him. His father killed himself. They destroyed his spirit, his will to live. In the stalker’s eyes, they’d killed him. His eyes narrowed like dart tips. He would get revenge or die trying.

“In the stalker’s eyes.” Sheesh, this is about as far removed as if we were observing a specimen through a microscope.

His eyes narrowed like dart tips.

Yeah, right. Pin points? Is that what we’re supposed to picture, because I can only visualize this happening in a cartoon. This is a writer grabbing for an original metaphor – which, yes, that’s good – but original and anatomically impossible is merely silly.

He would get revenge or die trying.

Where are those mustachios when we need them? The worst thing here is not this melodramatic statement, it’s the fact that it’s redundant. No KIDDING he’ll get revenge or die trying, he’s the villain in the prologue! What else would we think?

Again, he glanced at his watch. When he looked back to the bar’s entrance, a man and woman, laughing and clinging to each other, ran for a small red Fiat parked close to the entrance.

Laughing and clinging and running at the same time? Okay, I’m going to allow it. They’ve been drinking, after all, and God knows it does sometimes feel like you’re doing all three at the same time.

I give points for the “small red Fiat,” although "small" is redundant (one of those words you want to generally eradicate from your final draft), and why are sportscars always red. But still, points for being precise.

His face contorted in rage. His eyes narrowed to slits, recognizing his intended victim. His hand darted to the pistol sticking in his pants. Trembling, he gripped the wooden butt. That bastard didn’t have any right to laugh and have a good time. His father wasn’t able to, and the stalker couldn’t till he killed them all.

I’m very interested in this wooden butt. Is it significant? In a stronger writer, I’d think so. Here, I’m not sure. I am sure that face contorted in rage, eyes narrowed in slits is clichéd overwriting. And “his hand darted to the pistol sticking in his pants” is a very tricky line to pull off. Nuff said.

The rant that follows is predictable, mechanical. Better to give us a memory of the father dying, or visiting the gravesite or…something evocative, something that stirs emotion or gives us a mental image.

Referring to the POV character as “the stalker” is about as distancing as it gets.

With a poisonous smile creasing the corners of his mouth, he nodded, his jaw firm.

Busy, busy, busy.

He released the pistol butt. Let Mr. Detective John Hayes have his fun. It won’t be long and I’ll make him wish he’d never been born. He looked around, but now wasn’t the time. People got caught by making rash decisions.

Huh? We suddenly slipped into second-hand first person POV. Suddenly it’s “I’ll make him wish he’d never been born.” Which tells me that the writer did indeed want us to feel the immediacy of the POV character’s thoughts and feelings, but didn’t know how to go about doing that.

Putting these first person thoughts into italics, might fix the problem right here, but it doesn’t solve the overall problem, does it?

Also, now this entire scene doesn’t make sense. He was lying in wait to shoot John Hayes, but now he’s stopping himself from killing him on… impulse. Was this the plan or not? What’s rash about following through on the plan? Confusing. Silly.

As the Fiat sped away, he eased from the darkness and headed to his car. He needed to sleep. He’d planned this for four years and knew it was perfect. Three police officers were about to die, and he would get away with it.

"Eased from the darkness" is not a bad image.


He’d planned this for four years and knew it was perfect.


Apparently not -- if the last hour and fifteen minutes are anything to go by.


Three police officers were about to die, and he would get away with it.

No. And neither will the author.
writing, how to, m/m, gay fiction

I'm Not Arguing That Which You!

At the request -- behest? -- of a friend I read a couple of Suzanne Brockmann's novels this weekend: HOT TARGET, FORCE OF NATURE, and ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT. I admit I was pleasantly surprised, although to be honest I only read the storyline concerning FBI agent Jules Cassidy and hs on again / off again relationship with Hollywood actor Robin Chadwick. Brockmann is good at writing action scenes and she has a strong sense of humor. And like all writers who come up through the unforgiving ranks of mainstream romance, she understands pacing and how to plot. I like the fact that she allows both characters their strengths and weaknesses -- and a fair share of the good lines.

One thing she does that drives me nuts, though. She has a bad habit of undercutting the emotional intensity and power of her own scenes with the use of inappropriate and ill-timed internal dialog. For example, Jules and Robin (who's younger, closeted, and an alcoholic) will have an argument, and Jules will say some fairly brutal (if necessary) things to Robin, and we'll get Robin's mental response, usually along the lines of: Well, yowza, way to stick the knife in, G-man. 

Brockmann is straining for that certain wisecracking smartass tone here and it's unnecessary. In fact, it's jarring. Like she's trying to lighten up a dramatic moment even though the reader is not ready or needing her to yank on the window shade.  We don't need that comedic filter, and what it serves to do is throw the timing of the scene off. A powerful moment is weakened. 

Anyway. That's a quibble, but reading Brockmann reminded me of one of my main complaints about M/M fiction -- the lack of believable or meaningful conflict.  Let me hasten to add that Brockmann is good at creating believable and realistic conflict, and then resolving it fairly realistically. But sadly this is not true of much M/M writing -- both fan fiction and original fiction. In fact, the reason so much of original M/M fiction is weak on conflict might be because many of the authors started out writing fan fiction where often the plot revolves around something as simple as: Does He Feel the Same Way? 

Without conflict there really is no plot. Plot is conflict and it comes in various flavors, but in romance you can break it down into two categories: Internal and External. External means it comes from outside the relationship -- one of the characters has been kidnapped or has contracted a disease or is getting married in the morning. And you can get some terrific story mileage out of any and all of this, but the best conflict, to my way of thinking, is Internal. Meaning it evolves from the characters themselves -- their clashing goals and needs and personalities. In fact, usually the best romance plots are a combination of external and internal conflict, with the internal conflict often driving the external. 

Raise your hand if you didn't get that.

Actually, don't worry, I cover this in obsessive detail in the legendary writing book. 

When it comes to M/M romance, I see two consistent problems regarding conflict. Either the conflict is contrived and artificial (But, darling, he's my brother!) or it's a genuine conflict, but the writer resolves it quickly and painlessly. Or, worse, pretends it was never really there in the first place. 

I read an article this weekend about how humans crave aggression and violence, but you'd never know that from the majority of M/M writers. Is it something to do with confusing real life and fiction? Because in real life, right enough, our objective is to work things out with our significant others, to draw up treaties and smoke the peace pipe. To compromise where we can. To forgive and forget. But what makes for healthy real life relationships makes for boring fiction. So, while in real life it's a wonderful thing if you can find someone who's ready to laugh with you ten minutes after you were ready to kill each other, in fiction it's not so riveting. 

Now, true enough, every story doesn't need to be fraught with tension; there are charming little domestic sagas that are fine just as they are. Very comforting to read. The literary equivalent of flannel sheets and a cup of cocoa on a dark and stormy night -- sometimes that's exactly what you want in a love story. 

But if that's not what you're trying to write, if you're going for something with a bit of bite -- some angst, some hurt/comfort, some balls -- then it's got to be real. It's got to be a genuine conflict that can't be resolved by the characters sitting down and talking for five minutes -- because readers get quickly fed up with characters who aren't smart enough or grown up enough to sit down for five minutes and TALK. 

Okay, so who was that naked guy who jumped out of your bed/shower/birthday cake? 

One of the consistent things readers bitch about (this in reviews of Other Writers work, by the way -- at least so far, thankyouJesus) is/are characters who refuse to communicate -- because unless this is one of the main conflicts between your characters (that one of them is unable to discuss his feelings or deal with conflict) -- there's no excuse for it. Especially when people are living together. So the number one rule of creating believable conflict is that the conflict or point of contention can't be something that is resolved by a few minutes of honest discussion. Because who cares about two dolts who can't talk to each other?

And that can be tricky, because what we're talking about here is creating real obstacles to our characters' happiness -- we are sowing the seeds of an unhappy ending. That's why romance writing isn't easy: it's about taking two people who should be perfect for each other and then pointing out all the reasons of why it can never work -- and then coming up with valid solutions to those problems. It's also one reason why romance writing - done well -- is satisfying to read. These are really stories about beating the odds. 

Anyway, speaking of beating the odds, I've got 60,000 words due by the end of next week, so more on this later.
writing, how to, m/m, gay fiction

The Eyes Have It

"Dammit!" Dr. Raoul Martinque’s eyes spit fire.
Unless you’re penning Fantasy, Horror, or Alternate Universe, you should never write anything about someone’s eyes spitting fire.
Or shooting icicles.
Or turning to liquid pools.
Or dropping to the floor, or flying to someone else’s face, or flashing, snapping, crackling or popping.
Well, maybe I’ll give you popping. Because sometimes people’s eyes really do seem to pop open. That one’s arguable. But I’ve never seen anyone’s eyes spit fire or shoot icicles -- or even daggers.
Granted, I know what you mean by these descriptive phrases -- I think we all know what you mean -- but this is beyond cliché, this is just plain old bad writing. So why do inexperienced writers (and a few hacks) keep latching on to them?
Well, partly because these kinds of descriptives used to be popular in the days of pulp fiction -- and, unfortunately, are still popular in the kind of romance fiction that gives romance writers a bad name.
By the way, for a really entertaining, and ultimately instructive book on writing, get hold of a copy of GUN IN CHEEK by Bill Pronzini. Though it's out of print now, it's a classic -- and one of the funniest things I ever read.
Anyway, these phrases have a primitive effectiveness about them. We understand what the writer means by “eyes spitting fire.” We know it’s not meant to be taken literally, and people’s expressions do change when they’re angry or affectionate or amorous. Good writing is precise writing, so it’s natural to want to capture these expressions and emotions.
I like -- believe in -- the idea of eyes being the window to the soul; you can read a person pretty accurately when you’re able to look her in the face. Granted, that's not a new idea or unique to me -- which is one reason why eyes are so important in writing romance. Speaking of which, if someone meets someone else’s eyes, it should signify A Moment. It shouldn’t be there just because the author thought it was time to throw in some stage business.
Eyes narrow, they widen, and…I’m going to regret saying this, I bet…they do sometimes seem to darken, lighten, even…uh…sparkle. They don’t really sparkle, but writing is a delicate balance between realism and symbolism. So to an extent readers understand that characters in romance novels are different from you and me. They have sapphire eyes or emerald eyes or even topaz, silver, golden, or jade eyes that...well...occasionally...sparkle -- all of which I personally and deeply regret, but here I know I’m outvoted by many romance readers who like these artistic liberties. In fact, these descriptions seem to function like code. Which means they’re a useful shorthand between author and reader.

The guy with the sapphire eyes? He's the hero.
And even I have to admit that there are people who have a certain glint or shine in their eyes -- a liveliness that for lack of better word could be called “sparkle.” Please don't quote me on that, though, because I'm going to deny I ever said it.
My personal thought is you should always try to capture the physical reality of what you’re trying to describe. Faces tighten with anger, they soften with tenderness, brows draw together in thought -- these are clichés too, but they more accurately capture the physical possibilities of the human face. You can get away with a bit of this if you use it sparingly.

What you want to do, if possible, is describe things in fresh ways, but there’s a limit. You can strain a metaphor too far, and any description that brings the reader up short, is not effective. Anything that yanks the reader out of the story, makes her or him go…huh? Or, worse, laugh, is a mistake. You want the reader in the moment with you -- with the characters. Not squinching his own face in an effort to figure out whether something is anatomically possible.
Now where you can get away with using some of these hokey descriptives is if they show up in the internal dialog or thoughts of your POV character. A certain smart-ass tone allows for observations that in flat narrative would be cliché, but in that character’s head become “voice.” 

Does that make sense? 

So your protag might facetiously observe that Dr. Raoul's eyes seemed to be spitting fire, but this would not be an objective, clinical observation. This has more to do with your character than Dr. Raoul (who is clearly not on his best professional behavior).
The point of writing romance is…it’s supposed to be romantic. So you have a certain amount of artistic license. Use discretion. Use moderation. Use common sense. Don’t make me flash my eyes at you.
josh logo



So...I'm hoping (praying, pleading, making bargains with a disinterested Almighty) that I'll be finishing up this &^^%$$##@@()*&ing writing book this week. And because I have nothing better to post about, I thought I'd throw out an excerpt -- UNEDITED -- from one of the chapters on one of the most fascinating aspects of M/M fiction (to me, anyway). Love to hear your thoughts on the H/C scenario. 






RESCUE ME - Hurt/Comfort & Angst



Jill P., reader  I think that H/C is so popular because, if it’s well written, it’s how we ALL would like our partners to treat us if something bad happened…. or maybe because so many of us have HAD something bad happen, and had to deal with it alone/with an unsupportive partner.”



I’d never heard the term “Hurt/Comfort” or “H/C” until I discovered fan fiction. Basically it’s where one character is ill, injured or traumatized thus requiring the loving care and attention of another character. The scenario isn’t unique to fan fiction, of course. It’s similar to the classic heterosexual romance dynamic where the powerful hero becomes weak and injured requiring the nurturing attention of the spunky heroine, thereby resulting in a temporary shift of the power dynamic, and allowing the heroine insight into some aspect of the hero’s character previously unknown to her.


When that set-up is moved to original M/M fiction, there are key differences from heterosexual romance. The main difference is one of intensity. Characters (in fan fiction especially) are generally very ill, very injured, and/or very traumatized. Addiction is not unheard of. Rape is not unusual -- nor is being forced to confront long-buried memories of childhood abuse. Lives and, not infrequently, sanity are at stake.


The other interesting thing is that, often as not, it isn’t the Alpha male brought to his knees by illness, injury or trauma, it’s the Beta male. So no particular shift in power dynamics takes place unless it’s seeing the tough Alpha male having to take on the caretaker role. And perhaps that is part of the attraction. An Alpha having to comfort and cuddle his vulnerable male companion is, in theory, an Alpha showing a side not often seen.


Liz, reader: I’m not sure, but for me it shows me the men taking care of each other’s needs ….in my family the men don’t comfort one another.  They fight and hurt a lot.  So, I like reading the dynamics and the range of emotions between two men in a H/C story. I think when I cry or laugh while reading, then the author did a damn fine job.


The male psyche being what it is, the situation must be pretty damn unusual and the level of damage inflicted has to be extreme for one male to passively accept being coddled by another -- or for the other male to feel comfortable taking on the role of nurturer. In short, we’re seeing characters behaving out-of-character but in believable circumstances.


For this to be effective, the writer has to make sure that both characters have been portrayed as strong, independent, and healthy (emotionally, mentally and physically) previous to the illness, injury or trauma taking place. It’s the contrast between their usual tough and resilient selves and their new -- temporary -- roles as Hurting and Comforting that appeal to most readers.


Keep in mind, though, that strength isn’t about muscles or even a hardman attitude. There’s also a certain appeal in a sensitive, smart character suddenly shoved into treacherous water, and struggling to stay on his feet.  




In my opinion, the dependency of the hurt character needs to be restricted to a specific time-frame -- even if the character is left permanently disabled. Helplessness just isn’t very attractive.


By the way, being hostile, bad tempered, and throwing tantrums isn’t the same thing as showing strength. That’s all an expression of fear, and fear is just a different face of weakness.


In fact, Hurt/Comfort offers the opportunity to show the character rising above adversity. Injured, he still manages to escape from the burning building or crawl out of the car wreck. Recovering from his deadly tropical fever, he confronts his fears of mortality and realizes what’s important to him. Facing life in a wheelchair, he has the courage to offer his lover his freedom rather than…you get the idea. Character growth. It’s a good thing.


And on the opposite side of the padded cell, we have the brusque, authoritative, sexy-as- hell partner ready to do whatever it takes to get his lover back on his feet: putting his own needs a distant second, showing a tenderness and attentiveness he didn’t even know he was capable of. He doesn’t give up searching for his missing partner, he sits at his bedside reading aloud no matter how long the coma lasts, he jumps in front of the bullet. Whatever it takes. Nothing is too good for the man he just discovered he loves.


And, yes, that’s another of the most useful aspects of Hurt/Comfort: it often serves as catalyst to one character’s recognition of his true feelings for the other. There’s nothing like a near-brush with death -- yours or a loved one’s -- to put everything in focus.


Even if the characters were previously attracted or in love, they will bond still more deeply through Hurt/Comfort.


Jill P., reader: When it comes to H/C, I like mainly physical. And YES -- I hate when the comforter turns into a 12-year old girl….I love my H/C to be a strong man who shows his emotions (even if he is normally uncomfortable with doing so…), who is realistic about the whole situation -- as in, “THIS SUCKS. We know it sucks, let’s deal with it and get on with things.”


It’s difficult to say who really has the starring role in the Hurt/Comfort scenario. Is it the one Hurting or the one Comforting? It probably depends on the individual reader’s kink, as does preference as to which partner is damaged. One thing for sure, switching roles midway through is guaranteed to annoy most readers, although I’ve seen writers do this in the interests of preserving some kind of power balance.


Caretakers who are overwhelmed by caretaking, or by how ill, injured, traumatized their beloved is, are pretty much a turn-off. A few tears, a moment of panic, a little stress is only to be expected -- readers like strong men to be vulnerable -- but you can’t have both characters competing for Wimp of the Year Award, okay dokey?




My personal take is that you get more for your mileage if you keep the Hurt/Comfort stuff understated and minimal -- without cheating the reader. Don’t hospitalize your protag and then send his boyfriend out of town -- unless his love interest is going to be one of his doctors. There’s no point in injuring a character and leaving him to suffer on his own or in the hands of strangers. It’s the caretaking element readers are interested in.


Try to devise a sequence that leaves the characters no option but to care and take it: getting lost or snowed in together, waiting for the ambulance to arrive, long convalescences. Give the characters quality time alone together to show one in pain, and one concerned and caring. That’s basically what it’s all about.


Chris  Owen: I think one of the primary joys of hurt/comfort fiction is the idea that someone can come in and perhaps not save the day but at the very least be supportive and caring and helpful.  People often feel alone in their real lives and as reading a story can, in some cases, be a 

type of escape, it adds to the fantasy to give the primary romantic pairing a full and loving emotional support system or have them earn such a relationship.Author of Bareback, An Agreement Among Gentlemen, etc.


Through it all, the characters must stay in character. The reader is seeing a side to your characters that wouldn’t ordinarily show, but this facet of personality still has to be psychologically possible for both characters.


A large part of Hurt/Comfort has nothing to do with character arcs, but if the character should learn something from his illness or adversity, if he should demonstrate growth and maturity through his suffering -- or his caretaking -- then that needs to be demonstrated. Your injured protag can’t stay curled up in a fetal position forever. Likewise, once his lover realizes how much he cares, he can’t plausibly return to complete and chilly indifference. I don’t care how many incriminating snapshots he finds searching through his lover’s sock drawer.


Furthermore, if a normally strong, sensible man is reduced to a quivering wreck, the circumstances need to be suitably dramatic.


I seem to have forgotten about the sex.


While Hurt/Comfort doesn’t necessarily wind up with the characters realizing their love and having sex…a lot of the time it does.


Yes, cue the Marvin Gaye. Part of the recovery process often involves long and lovely sexual healing. You’ll have to follow your own instincts here, but I personally think that characters need to be pretty much convalescent before they’re fucking like minks. And I suspect that hot sex is probably not a cure-all for rape or childhood abuse.


Beyond that, there’s no doubt that physical and emotional intimacy are generally beneficial. Who doesn’t want to be held after something horrific happens?  Who doesn’t long to be reassured that they’re still lovable, desirable following an emasculating experience (which major illness and trauma generally are).


Just keep it real. I’ve read way too many stories about half-dead characters having sex in hospital beds under the very noses of medical staff. Granted, if your protag’s love interest is a physician, nurse or therapist, this scenario probably ties into a few variations on the theme -- which is nice for the fetishists in the room.


Risky sex, uniforms, and the potential for bondage aside, critically ill guys are often -- temporarily -- unable to get it up. Trauma, whether physical, mental or emotional, generally does not act as an aphrodisiac.


Close calls, on the other hand, often do.


When it comes to Hurt/Comfort, male writers tend to be sketchy on details. They set up great scenarios, but they tend to shy away from really…getting into it. Don’t be shy. Utilize all the senses when describing these scenes. 


Just keep it plausible, and keep your characters in character.