I’m probably the very last person who should tackle the subject of writing M/M Romance because writing gay romance wasn’t really a conscious decision on my part. I’ve always wanted to write in the romance genre, and m/m stories were simply the stories that spoke to my heart when I took on my kids’ playful challenge to write my first full-length novel.
From the very beginning, I felt I had a responsibility to eschew stereotypes and tell a realistic story within the confines of the romance genre. I have always seen romance as a form of fantasy. If romance novels were based on reality, there would be more characters waking up in pools of drool with bad bedhead. They’d have morning breath that could peel the paint off a car.
While romance is fantasy, the emotional lives of its characters must resonate for the reader as true. The best romances have high emotional stakes, good tension, and the breathless wonder of passionate love.
That’s what I was reading romance for, at any rate.
I went into my stories believing I should avoid relying on coming-out drama and homophobia as my main plot points—although these are facts of life for the LGBT community—because my goal was always to write a romance novel featuring a protagonist and a love interest who just happen to be gay, rather than to make the story about being gay.
A fully fleshed-out character in any genre, one with individual likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams, fears and fantasies, will not be a stereotype. While I might create an “Alpha” male character that designation only has to do with where he stands with his peers. If he’s a real person there will be so much more to learn about him. How does he treat his mother? How does he feel about his father? How do people perceive him at work? How does he interact with animals and children? What secrets is he keeping? When he’s alone with a lover, what does he really want? What does he expect? How is this expectation going to coincide or collide with his heart’s desire?
The power dynamics in romance are infinite with any characters, but for thousands of years we’ve had preconceived notions when it comes to defined gender roles. It was expected that our big male heroes would find and subjugate their dainty, feminine counterparts in bed. When you turn that scenario on its head, fascinating things happen. Smaller isn’t always weaker. Feminine doesn’t mean helpless.
In any couple, threesome, foursome or moresome, straight or gay, relationship dynamics are as individual as the people in the relationships are. When I write an intimate scene between two male characters of equal size and strength it calls for a voluntary power exchange, even if it’s not stated explicitly. When one is tall and one is short, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the taller man will always be the dominant partner. Playing against type is always fun. I always let relationships flow from the characters I’ve created.
I have no qualms about writing a sex scene between men because I enjoy taking any character to an intimate and completely vulnerable place. I keep in mind that good sex scenes, like any other scenes I write, must serve the story. They must move the plot forward or tell us something important about the characters. I use pretty frank language and describe sex acts in fairly graphic detail, but in this I take my cue from the best-selling romances I read by my favorite authors.
M/M Romance can run the gamut from very sweet with no sex, barely warm kisses, and a closed bedroom door to club scenes and multiple partners. As with all romance, the main characters must reach a happily-ever-after or a happily-for-now. The happily-ever-after is dictated by the characters’ idea of a happy ending. Some stories might end in marriage and kids. Some might not.
Does it seem like I try to approach writing an m/m novel the way any writer approaches their romance project? If it does, then YES! With the possible exception of pronoun problems—as in: he put his arm around his shoulder and pulled him in for a kiss—I can honestly say that writing m/m romance is like writing any other kind of romance. Character development is key along with story and skill and all the craftsmanship a writer can bring to the work.
At the end of the day, I hope I’m providing my readers with a page-turning story about love—one that warms their hearts for a while and leaves them satisfied.
I try to create characters that are fully realized human beings with professional and emotional goals. They must make a journey toward happiness with setbacks and struggles. They sometimes have a steep learning curve. The emotional stakes have to be high and the tension adjusted accordingly. Then I try to give readers the blissful, happy ending they’re looking for, whoever the characters may be.
In short, for me a romance is a romance, is a romance.
About Z.A Maxfield:
Z. A. Maxfield started writing in 2007 on a dare from her children and never looked back. Pathologically disorganized, and perennially optimistic, she writes as much as she can, reads as much as she dares, and enjoys her time with family and friends. Three things reverberate throughout all her stories: Unconditional love, redemption, and the belief that miracles happen when we least expect them.Readers can visit ZAM at her website, Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr.
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