I don’t have much interpersonal conflict in my life. I tend towards easy-going and diplomatic and try to spend most of my time with people who are the same. And so, when it comes to writing and developing these conflicts in fiction I find I’m struggling with it. I throw a conflict at the characters and then try to solve it for them in the mediation style I would use if I were trying to help them in real life, which makes good reality, but boring fiction.
So, I’ve been thinking about ways of broadening my character and conflict types and have found inspiration in some interesting places. These sources can also provide great inspiration for dealing with writer’s block.
1. Personality Type Assessments. The realm of popular psychology has more type assessments than you can shake a writer’s dream stick at. Whether you buy into any of them or not, they provide a rich source of common collection of characteristics which you can kidnap and make your own. Many people have written books and other interpretations of The Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, making it one of my favorites. Please Understand Me 2 by David Kiersey has not only detailed descriptions of each type with strength and weaknesses, but also a section on relationships and the types of conflicts different pairings are susceptible to and ways to resolve them. Reading that chapter was almost dangerous since story ideas started attacking me as I read and I really need to finish one of the in progress works before starting something else.
2. Tarot Cards. I know this sounds strange, but stay with me. Each tarot card represents a character archetype and/or a universal theme of conflict or desire. As such, I find them great for brainstorming for fiction or real life. There are many free online places that you can get these readings. For example, I just went to Llewellyn Worldwide, chose a Celtic Cross pattern (because it provides a lot of variety) and skimmed through the results looking for combinations that seemed interesting to me for current or future projects. I like to read a card’s description and position and then think about whether or how it might be applicable and what implications it might have.
3. Zodiac and Chinese Year signs. You can easily find lists for both of these which will paint in broad strokes the characteristics for people born under these signs. I’m not suggesting you match your characters to these signs, just that it can help to have a basket of grouped strengths and weaknesses to start from to build your own unique character. It can also help identify when you the flip side of characteristics you may be painting as purely strengths.
So, what do you use for inspiration?
As a bisexual female, I have to laugh at myself sometimes that I spend so much time reading about sex between men. At first I thought novelty explained it, but I’ve come to believe that the power of gay sex extends further than that. Gay male sex provides more opportunities for narrative milestones. Generally, in heterosexual non-kinky romances intercourse commands center stage and most of the other stages as far as the physical relationship goes. The characters may certainly have variety in their sexy times, but for the most part this variety does not represent separate steps in the relationships.
So, what sexual milestones and extras do m/m romance authors have in their writing toolboxes?
- Kissing: Yes, yes I know all romance novels have kissing. However, in gay romances the characters sometimes have issues with kissing and so it can come later in the courtship, making it, to my mind, an interesting twist.
- Handjobs: Gay Sex 101 for those characters who may not yet have come to terms with the whole sex-with-another-guy experience. Also good for those in a hurry or in a public place.
- Frotting: Have a character not ready for any type of penetration yet but wants something a little more advanced than a handjob? Try experimenting with rubbing those cocks against each others’ bodies in a variety of ways. Also useful when unprepared with lube and condoms.
- Oral Sex- giving and receiving: Often a first step in the story for more experienced partners. In stories with men just figuring out their sexuality, this still can present progress in character and relationship development. Add in to swallow or not and you have even more possibilities.
- Anal Sex- giving and receiving: Some couples switch easily and without drama. For others, a change in the way they normally do things signals an important development in the relationship. (For a hysterical article on the realities of anal sex, check out Numb Shots)
- Giving up condoms: In contemporary fiction, set in the age of AIDS, condoms understandably abound. And so, going bareback shows that the relationship has moved to a higher level of trust and commitment. It also makes the scene extra-hot as far as I’m concerned.
- Shared bathrooms: Same sex partners can manage sex in a public bathroom much more easily. Contrasting my experiences with boyfriends and girlfriends, I can state this with a high degree of confidence.
- Rimming- giving and receiving: I confess that these last two don’t fit in the milestones category, but they provide great spice options anyway.
While readers would probably find it tedious if an author hit all of these in one book, the possibilities lead to a lot of potential variety across books and interesting conversations and struggles for the characters. It also makes it easier to write a lot of sex scenes with each of them moving the relationship/plot forward.
Opinions? Did I miss anything?