Jumping The Shark in Gay Fiction
By Nick Archer
There's a fun website devoted to television called Jump The Shark (<http://jumptheshark.com/>). They describe their mission as "It's a moment. A defining moment when you know that your favorite television show has reached it's peak. That instant that you know from now on...it's all downhill. We call that moment Jumping the Shark."
I've spent many hours laughing along with the amusing comments on the message boards. And then I thought to adapt the concept to gay fiction.
Jumping the Shark in Gay Fiction is a story element that is so overused it's predictable. You can see what's coming a country mile away. Or it's a common mistake that amateur writers use. JTS in gay fiction is that moment or plot element that stretches our believability to the limit. Or it's the story element that is so over-used that it's a cliché. After that, it's all downhill...assuming there was a climax in the first place.
Don't take the list personally; all of us have used at least one of these in our stories.
·The "Personal Ad" Self-Description: "Me? I'm 6'1", 175 lbs., blond hair, blue eyes, 8" uncut cock, and I have a 6-pack from doing 3000 sit-ups a day..." Also known as: But First, Let Me Introduce Myself...
·The Collision: Our hero collides with a potential love interest in a crowded high school hallway or college quad.
·Dead Parents: It's soooo convenient not to have parents - therefore avoiding coming out to them. Not to mention that you can skip school, use the car whenever you want, forget homework and no curfew! Writing about an orphan has made JK Rowling incredibly rich, but she is a professional. Don't do it.
·Location, Location, Location: Stories are always located in sunny California or Florida with sex scenes on the beach. Ever get sand up your ass? It may come as a shock to some authors that gay people also live in areas where the snow flies. If you actually live in Tampa or San Diego, that's fine. But if you live in Kenosha, Kalamazoo or Kankakee stop writing about where you wish you lived. Write what you know.
·Oversized Body Parts: Penises seem to gain at least two inches in every story on the Net. Do we really need to know the length, thickness and circumcision status of everyone's dick?
·Richie Rich: This cliché often accompanies Dead Parents. The Parents die, leaving our Hero with gazillions. Or they have a perfect job from which they can take endless time off and still earn millions a year. Or they win the lottery. If the main characters are teenagers, they never seem to have jobs. And how many college students today have the luxury of not working?
·Let's Sit Around and Talk About Our Feelings: C'mon guys! This isn't a sensitivity seminar or a conscience-raising session! These are horny, red-blooded guys! They're only going to do enough talking to get into the other guy's pants. After they've lit a cigarette and are staring at the ceiling, they might get around to talking about their emotions. An extension: People seldom sit around and talk about anything, unless it's with a paid mental health professional. Usually they wait until they're in the drive-thru at McDonald's or washing the dog or raking the yard to reveal to their partner of 11 years that they've been boinking the poolboy.
·The Names-We-Wish-We-Had. Our parents gave us boring names - like David and John - so we'll give our characters the names we wish our parents had named us. Justin. Tyler. Trevor. Cody. Brad and Chad. Brice or Bryce. Roland. Tobias (Tobi for short.) Precious names -- names that are cute for a 3-year-old little boy but awkward for anyone older -- like Casey or Corey. Biblical names like Isaiah, Noah or Jonah. Names that are derived from professions (and are very popular among the Southern landed gentry) like Hunter, Trapper, Carter or Tanner. Common names with cutesy spellings like Taylar, Brien, Khile. Stop it!
·I'm Not Gay But My Boyfriend Is: "I'm straight, but I couldn't help but notice the other guy's six-pack under his tight Tommy Hilfiger shirt, bubble butt and 8.7 inch cock showing through his Fubu jeans." Yeah, you're straight, all right, until the third paragraph when you fall to your knees faster than a Catholic at Sunday Mass.
·Sports Hero Falls For Geek/Nerd/Outcast: Maybe it's one of our common fantasies - we've all jacked off with the image of the Sports Hero in our minds. Use the Sports Hero once, to get it out of your system, and then lay this cliché to rest for good.
·Moving is Traumatic: Moving may well be traumatic because it represents a loss of control over our lives (especially for teenagers). But let's give this overused plot element a rest! Enough already!
·Dialogue #1: Say What? Dialogue that sounds like it was translated from Mongolian to English by a computer: "Do you really deem me diligent because I persisted in my attempts to insert my penis into your rectum? Your compliments are more than necessary, I'm sure. Your words are not untruthful, but they do border on hyperbole." 12-year-old main characters that have the verbal ability of college graduates. Do not make your story into an opportunity to showcase your vocabulary skills.
·Dialogue #2: Valley Boys: "Like c'mon, duuuuude, I just moved to California. That board is totally rad! Bitchin' Like, I'm so sure." In other words, dialogue that makes it obvious that the writer is a middle-aged man trying to write like he was a teenager again.
·Dialogue #3: "Gee, Mister that's Swell." Be extremely careful about slang and idioms. They're going to date your story faster than a tweaking hustler in need of a fix. Include a few slang phrases to set the time frame of your story but be aware that the only English slang word to stand the test of time and is understood by all generations, cultures and classes is "cool." And nobody - absolutely nobody - says "Gee" anymore.
·Superheroes: These are main characters without any flaws. They are perfect in every way. They're beautiful, rich, intelligent, well hung, and fashionable and have a wonderful sense of humor. They would never get zits or an STD, or file bankruptcy, or lose their temper or - God forbid - fart. Leave the Superheroes for the comic books.
·Smilies: Never, never, never, never use smilies. Your job as an author is to paint a word-picture of your characters, plot and settings. Any interaction between yourself (the writer) and the reader should be done through words, not through icons. An addendum: never use phrases or acronyms you might use in a chat room; such as hehehehe or BTW.
·The Alarm Clock: Please, please don't start your story with a ringing alarm clock. We all hate to get up in the morning, and everyone hates the sound of the damn thing. Why remind us? A postscript to this is the doorbell. The only time you should write about the ringing doorbell is when the Avon Lady arrives. A post-postscript: Nix the ringing school bell. Besides, few schools use actual bells anymore. Most use an annoying tone or beep over the intercom system.
·Switching Narrators: If you feel the need to describe the thought processes and/or feelings of more than one character, I've got two words for you: third person! In third person you can describe the thoughts and feelings of ALL your characters if you are so inclined. What a concept!
·The "Phyllis" Syndrome: The Mary Tyler Moore Show had two major spinoffs; Rhoda and Phyllis. Rhoda was successful because Rhoda Morgenstern was a likeable character and she was funny. She was everyone's favorite next-door neighbor. Phyllis was not successful because the Phyllis character was basically unlikable - selfish, pretentious and boorish. The point is - be very, very careful if you make your main character unlikable. It's a sure way to alienate readers. If you insist on having a selfish, rude, ignorant, insufferable, stupid individual as your main character, at least give him some redeeming characteristic.
·Is It Live or Memorex? All good fiction has elements of truth to it. And good autobiographies have elements of fiction to them. But make up your freaking mind! Are you writing fiction or an autobiography? If you're writing fiction you have permission, no, you MUST stray from the facts. Not only to protect your ass from lawsuits but in order to make it fiction. If you absolutely can't do it, if it's too difficult for you to allow yourself to fictionalize your memories, then for God's sake, label your story an autobiography and get on with it!
·Onions Always Make Me Cry: The major characters shed more tears than if they were slicing an onion. Most men, gay or straight, really don't cry that often. Our brains are wired differently and hormones play a big part, too. It takes a lot to make a man cry. It shouldn't happen on every page or even in every chapter. Save the crying scene for the climax of the story. Either that or get a Veg-O-Matic! It slices, it dices, it chops! Onions sliced so fast, you won't have time to cry! (Old Curmudgeon's Note: I always get at least one email saying something to the effect: "I cry all the time. It makes me feel better." Well, good for you! You're the minority. Notice I said most men. Now hand me that box of tissues.)
·That's Some Bedside Manner: Delete the maudlin hospital scene. You know the one - where the lover is crying (see above) over his comatose boyfriend. I'm serious. Do it right now! Highlight the scene and hit the delete button! I won't be happy until you do.
·Who're You Callin' Stupid and Lazy? You assume your reader is stupid and lazy if you: 1) Summarize the previous chapter at the beginning of the next chapter (The reader can re-read it for themselves) 2) Label your stories `Series' (They can see it's a series) or 3) Write The End at the end of your story (Unless you're writing a screenplay or a story for young children, it should be obvious from your story that you're done.)
·Details, Details, Details: Details are great. They give life to your story and involve your reader. But you can take it too far. Do we really need to know the playlist on your iPod? Does that conversation about whether to have lamb chops or pork ribs for dinner really need to be included? Does the reader really need to know the directions from your house to your favorite sex toy emporium? I'll answer those questions with a question: Does it further the action or help define a character? If not, delete it. It is possible to have too many details.
·Card-Carrying Member of PFLAG: Ever notice how parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, uncles and aunts all accept the gayness of the main characters without any reservations? Does this happen in real life? It does with some, I'm sure. Let's take a poll - raise your hand if your relatives accepted you immediately when you came out. Hmmm. A minority. Thought so.
·"Alex, I'll Take Facts for $500:" This not a game show where you have a 50% chance of getting the right answer. BUZZZZ! Wrong answer! Do your research! If you are unfamiliar with a topic or your memory has been clouded by too many controlled substances, hop on the Internet and Google it! True, you are writing fiction but getting the facts straight can prevent you from making major errors and will just simply make your story better and more believable. Besides Google, try Mapquest or Wikipedia. If the information is not available on the Internet a short, polite email to a local library, chamber of commerce, tourism or travel bureau, professional association or historical society may do the trick. Tell them you're a writer (because you ARE) doing research for a story. That's what they're there for. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how helpful these people will be. Do not guess!
(Ooo! Look at that! I Jumped the Shark! ;))
Those are my major pet peeves, but I'm sure they're more out there. Any more? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
ã2003, 2007 Nick Archer