Ins and Outs of M/M Romance: Writing About Real Gay Men by Rick R. Reed

When I asked Rick R. Reed, horror author, and lately M/M romance author to participate in our series offering advice to new M/M authors I knew that he would have strong views about writing gay characters and I wasn’t disappointed. Here, then, is Rick’s advice and I think it’s timely and pushes all my buttons.

So a friend related an incident to me recently that I thought would be a good way to start off this blog. This friend, we’ll call him, “Jeff” has several liberal, gay-friendly bumper stickers on his vehicle. Recently, he noticed a man in a pickup truck driving up next to him. The man was smiling, so Jeff wasn’t concerned. At a stop, the man pulled up alongside Jeff, still smiling. Jeff returned the smile and rolled down his window, because it looked as though the man had something to say to him.

 He did. The man said, “You’re going to hell. You motherfucking, cocksucking piece of shit.” Jeff drove away, shaken.

 The point of the above anecdote, as it relates to new writers of gay fiction, is that there is ample room for social commentary in this genre. And, I think, there should be some amount of responsibility, when we create our fictional universes of gay men loving each other, to respect and report on the realities of actual gay men’s lives.

Now, before I get into my thesis more specifically, let me be clear, since I know many of you reading this might grouse: “I read gay romance to escape. I want to read—or write—about cowboys, shapeshifters, tough cops, and grizzled detectives. I don’t necessarily want real gay life, whatever the hell that is.”

 And I would say you have a point. I would not argue you with you. I am a writer, but I’m also a reader and sometimes, pure escapism is exactly what I’m looking for. There’s nothing wrong with that.

 On the other hand, and getting back to my original thesis, I do know that many budding gay fiction authors are straight women who may not have had as much first hand experience with gay life as gay men. I am not saying you cannot, or should not, write about gay men. Several female writers do that as well as, if not better than, many openly gay male writers.

 What I am saying is that we all have a responsibility to be true to the characters we create. We need to give some recognition to the very real problems, pitfalls, and pleasures real gay men experience, aside from falling in love.

As a gay man, I can tell you that I—or close friends—have personally wrestled with such issues as homophobia, HIV, drug abuse, promiscuity, job discrimination, hate crimes, the inability to marry the person we love, and many other things that occupy today’s headlines.

 I think, as writers, we can find powerful fodder for fiction in these real life issues. In my own work, I have dealt with some of these issues—HIV in NEG UB2, hate crimes in Bashed, and crystal meth addiction in Orientation. Dealing with real world issues like these can make our fictional universe come to more brilliant and authentic life. As we write love stories that include real life challenges, we can make a more effective commentary on relationships—and the perils that cause them to either work…or not. And that’s the stuff of any good romance, right?

 When contemplating bringing social relevance into your gay romantic fiction, you don’t even necessarily have to delve into specific gay-centric issues. Check out Lynn Lorenz’s handling of Alzheimer’s in David’s Dilemma or Isabelle Rowan’s treatment of homelessness in A Note in the Margin.

 I guess what I’m saying here is not that you can’t write fluffy, sentimental romance but that, sometimes, if you can add social commentary or substance, especially if it’s pertinent to the community you’re portraying, it can make your work that much more resonant and meaningful.

 If you’re looking for ideas or just what’s happening to real gay men and women everyday, log onto 365Gay, or the Bilerico Project Report, or Towleroad. All of these feature excellent reportage on what’s going on with gay men and women around the globe. And who knows? You just might find a great idea for your next story that you can rip right from the headlines.

Rick Reed’s Contact Information



I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball


  • Wow, I’m fashionably late, as usual. But I never had a chance to read the post and dig through the comments until tonight. Rick, this is a great post with some excellent points, and I’m totally with you. I like a nice, healthy dose of realism with my romance, so I enjoy reading about real people with real problems and issues. Like most everyone has said, yeah, it needs to be well written, and as you said, Rick, the issues need to stem naturally from the characters and their situations.

    I never really thought about it, but I guess I’ve got some of that going on in my books. TBH I haven’t ever sat in front of my laptop and thought, “hmm, what social commentary and/or current hot button issue can I tackle in this scene?” Some of my guys happen to have issues they’re dealing with and others don’t, that’s all.

    Thank you for this post, Rick, definitely something to think about! Not just for new writers, either. I’m sitting beside ZAM and taking notes too *g*

    • Ally…something you said really hit home: “TBH I haven’t ever sat in front of my laptop and thought, “hmm, what social commentary and/or current hot button issue can I tackle in this scene?”” That, IMO, would be exactly NOT the way to approach writing. If we start out with the “theme” or the “issue” I think we’re bound to fail as writers of fiction. And you, of course, have learned that lesson well.

      • Having just recently joined this merry group at Jessewaves site I have a lot of catching up reading to do, so I’m even more fashionably late. 😉

        Great post, Rick, and great contributions by everyone!

        I’m *just a reader*, I have no ambition to write myself, sometimes I like to read fluff but mostly I want *More Than That*:
        Realistic characters in a realistic world with realistic problems and joys, several of you already described that more eloquently. And even a fluffy romance can gain depth if the characters don’t live in their own little bubble.

        But I would like to encourage all writers that there definitely IS a readership for realistic stories which do not fit into that “Romance” mold.

        Hopefully more publishers see this too. Maybe it just needs the right kind of marketing as the genre evolves, “product lines” with a fluffy plot and a sure HEA and others where readers / buyers know “anything goes”.


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