The Pronoun Problem

If you haven’t read it yet, check out this article in the LA Weekly: Man on Man: The New Gay Romance. Some of the arguments will be familiar to slash fans, but I was impressed that they interviewed Constance Penley, among others.

One of the problems unique to writing homosexual erotica is pronouns. How do you distinguish he from he or she from she without repeating names or resorting to “the other man” or similar awkward constructions?

I’ve found paragraphing to be a good way to delineate one character from another while avoiding attribution. Sticking to one point of view throughout is also useful, because then the non-pov character is seen by the reader as other automatically.

Here’s an example. I used paragraphs here, as well as Travis’s pov. All feelings described thus are experienced by him.

Travis closed his eyes, already tired again. “Ohhh.”

“Not hurting you, am I?”

“No…,” Travis said in a low voice. Will was massaging his foot. The sensation was indescribable; a little longer and he would be moaning with sheer physical gratification.

Will shifted to better reach Travis’s foot. “You looked like you could use this.”

“Your hands are warm,” he noted, muzzily.

“Your foot’s cold,” Will said, running his callused thumb from heel to arch.

“Cold all over,” Travis said. He closed his eyes tighter, to concentrate on Will’s fingers gently rubbing his toes. Little swirls of pleasure seemed to caress his calves, his thighs, and even higher.

“We could work on that, too,” Will said. Travis’ eyes fluttered open, then Will continued, “Don’t you have any socks?”

This next method, single pov, was a little less successful. I still had to stoop to “her partner” at one point.

In this example, I didn’t paragraph as much, but tried to move clearly from a section of one character’s action to the other’s.

“You could’ve come back earlier,” Laurel grumped, pulling her face out of a flannel-covered pillow. She stared with narrowed eyes as Zondra stripped out of her post-midterm club clothes, the silver lycra pungent with sweat and cigarette smoke. With a flourish, Zondra whipped out her hair sticks; curls deluged down her bare back. Flinging her arms wide, she waited for applause.

“I’m sleepy,” Laurel said. “And I have rounds in the morning.” But she licked her lips.

Zondra knelt beside her on the bed, her muscular thighs like a perfect ski slope. Laurel began to sit up, deciding she needed to sink her teeth into that luscious flesh, but her partner leaned over and pressed her facedown again.

In this example, I avoided too much switching back and forth between names with descriptive action; since I stayed in Mariamoni’s pov, I didn’t need attribution for the action – it’s clear who’s feeling the sensations, and who’s causing them.

Trude’s mouth came down on hers, wide and wet and warm. She sucked at Mariamoni’s lips as if they were small candies in the flavor she desired above all others. Mariamoni had never realized how slick and hot the interior of a mouth could be, nor how sweet. … She tugged restlessly at her bonds.

Trude gradually shifted position, bringing their bodies closer together. Mariamoni welcomed her warmth and weight, especially the pressure against her bosom, that created a certain deep, pleasurable ache. Her limbs ached, too, with yearning to wrap herself around Trude, a yearning that could not be satisfied.

Looking at these examples made me realize how long it’s been since I’ve written any short fiction!

Related post: Making It Good.

Published by Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen’s writing showcases her voracious lifelong love of books. She reads over 120 new books each year, especially historical romance, fantasy, and space opera, and incorporates these genres into her erotic fiction. Her first erotic novel, The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover (Harlequin Spice, December 2008), was translated into French and German. Her second Spice novel, The Moonlight Mistress (December 2009), was translated into Italian and nominated for a RT Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award. Her third novel is The Duke & The Pirate Queen (December 2010). She has also published erotic short stories as Elspeth Potter. When not writing, Victoria conducts research in libraries and graveyards, lectures about writing and selling erotica, and speaks at literary conventions on topics such as paranormal romance, urban fantasy, erotic science fiction/fantasy, and the empowerment of women through unconventional means. Her daily writing blog features professional writing and marketing tips, genre discussion, book reviews, and author interviews. She also guest blogs for Heroes & Heartbreakers and The Criminal Element. She lives in Philadelphia.