Enough to Make a Grown Man Cry by Josh Lanyon

Hello, Romance Junkies. I’m Josh Lanyon. I write M/M romance usually within the context of a romantic-suspense or mystery romance. I’ve been writing and publishing M/M or gay fiction for over a decade; in fact, I’ve got a book out at the end of the month titled Man, Oh Man: Writing M/M Fiction for Kinks and Ca$h. This morning I thought I’d share a brief excerpt from the chapter on writing that ever popular staple of M/M romance: Angst. 

Angst is closely aligned to another vastly popular element in M/M fiction known as Hurt/Comfort or HC. If your protagonist is critically injured and languishing in hospital, and his boyfriend is out of town on a secret mission, the hurt/comfort quotient drops, but the angst quotient skyrockets. See how that works? 

Of course hurt/comfort and angst are not exclusive by any means to M/M fiction. Most romantic fiction is rife with the emotional highs and lows that result from pain and plenty of it. And like hurt/comfort, angst is a staple of slash fan fiction – which is where a great many M/M writers come from. As you can imagine all those serious illnesses, critical injuries, nervous breakdowns, rapes, betrayals, addictions, kidnappings, stalkings, deaths in the family, broken dreams, shattered hopes and really really REALLY bad days lead to a certain amount of tension. Even anxiety. 

Angst is actually a Germanic word meaning “anxiety.” The Danish philosopher and theologian Kierkegaard, used the term angst to express his belief that the human condition was riddled with despair. He wrote a philosophical novel called Fear and Trembling. What does that tell you? 

Typically we associate angst with adolescence. Few people are better at suffering loudly and noticeably than teenagers. It’s an art form with them, and you have to respect that. 

Acne and existential quandaries aside, angst is also a very important ingredient in M/M fiction. Well, not all M/M fiction. Romantic comedy and action/adventure are mercifully angst-free for the most part, but any time your characters are suffering over their conflicted feelings — generally for each other — they are usually angsting. 

Please note: if they’re just depressed and insecure, that’s not angst. Angst requires serious suffering. Breaking up with your boyfriend is sad. Your boyfriend dying is tragic. Finding out after your boyfriend dies that he was seeing someone else — now that’s angst. 

Death, disease, disaster — this is all angstilicious stuff. High drama is what separates true angst from the anxiety normal to the human condition.  

Historical M/M lends itself particularly well to angst. It’s the whole, love-that-dare-not- speak-its-name thing. In my World War II historical novella Snowball in Hell, Journalist Nathan Doyle has just returned home from North Africa — still recovering from wounds received in the Western Desert Campaign — when he’s asked to cover the murder of a society blackmailer. Lt. Matthew Spain of the LAPD homicide squad is the cop in charge of investigating the blackmailer’s murder – and he has his own secrets. 

 He could feel Mathew’s withdrawal, although each time their eyes met, Mathew smiled fleetingly, and the knowledge of what they had shared was in his eyes. In Union Station, things happened very quickly, and they were out front on the pavement while the never-ending flood of passengers and friends and family parted around them. 

Nathan said, “Can I drop you somewhere?” 

“There’s a car coming for me,” Matt said. 

Nathan nodded. He knew he shouldn’t ask, already knew what the answer had to be, but he asked anyway. “Will I see you again?” 

Matt said brusquely, “I’m not leaving town.” And that pretty much answered Nathan’s question. He nodded, turning away, and Matt caught his arm. He immediately let him go, and said quietly, painfully, “It’s not that I don’t—I’m a cop, Nathan. It’s…too dangerous.” 

Nathan nodded. Smiled suddenly. “I know. Nice to have had a taste of…what it could be like. That’s more than I ever thought I’d have.” 

Matt’s face twisted as though Nathan had said something terrible, and Nathan wanted to reach out and reassure him that he meant it, meant every word. That he was truly grateful for these few hours, that it was the best Christmas ever. He had no regrets at all, despite the fact that he wished he hadn’t woken up this morning, that perfect happiness would have been to have gone to sleep in Matt’s arms and never opened his eyes again. But of course he couldn’t say that, and he couldn’t reach out. He could never touch Matt again. 

Instead he said softly, “Take care of yourself, Mathew.”Snowball in Hell by Josh Lanyon (Aspen Mountain Press)   

Yaoi is also angstful: all those giant cartoon eyes veritably brim with grief at the human condition — mostly their own.  

Wondering if the object of your affections feels the same is not technically angst — unless you’re under 18. Having a closeted lover, however, is generally grounds for angst.  Because I have a weird sense of humor, the more angstful the story, the more likely I am to find it funny. I guess someone left a banana peel on my pain threshold. Anyway, my advice is that you use angst sparingly. Less is more. Heaping coals on your hapless character’s head in chapter after chapter just reminds me of those sappy Victorian novels where the noble and long-suffering hero (or heroine) endures tragedy after tragedy only to die with a brave smile and an angelic sentiment upon his rosebud lips after saving a child from the wheels of a train. 

In my opinion the more angsty the journey, the more life-affirming and reassuring the happy ending should be — but that’s just me. I’m in favor of happy endings from a purely philosophical standpoint. 

Sometimes angst is its own reward — some protagonists do suffer beautifully — but generally it requires comforting. Ideally from the other protagonist. You can see what a vicious cycle this could turn into. It’s enough to make a grown man cry.

Josh

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coming soon: MAN, OH MAN: WRITING M/M FICTION FOR KINKS & CA$H

MLR Press

http://www.joshlanyon.com/

http://jgraeme2007.livejournal.com/

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/JoshLanyon

15 Responses to Enough to Make a Grown Man Cry by Josh Lanyon

  1. Alex Beecroft

    LOL! Excellent post, Josh 🙂 And I’m with you in not needing too much angst. I think I’m less nice than you – when a character angsts too much, particularly if they angst rather than take action to fix whatever it is, I tend to want to slap them round the head and tell them to pull themselves together. But a little sprinkling of it brings out the flavour of everything else, like salt.

  2. Selah March

    Oh, I do love me some man-on-man angsting. I especially like a good rejection scene in which somebody has to be stoic whilst his heart is torn into bloody shreds.

    But I still like the make-up sex best of all. 🙂

  3. Ally Blue

    LOL You KNOW how much I love me some pain and suffering (followed by the happiest of HEAs, naturally), so I’ll spare everyone my yakking about it *g*

    Not-so-secret confession: my favorite angst? Harry/Draco. Oh my, the possibilities! Best procrasturbation material there is, heh.

  4. Kimberly S

    Great post Josh! Very informative, with your ever present dash of humor. 🙂 Looking forward to the release of Man, Oh Man!

  5. Cassandra Gold

    I love angst, and tortured heroes, and h/c. A bit of pain makes the happy ending more satisfying. Of course, an author can go overboard with any of these, but in small doses they get me every time.

    I love the way you explain these things 🙂

  6. Josh Lanyon

    Come on, Ally, we have the official word that you’re the Queen of Angst. *g* Seriously, I agree with you. There’s no story without conflict, and conflict generally results in angst. At least in my house.

    Hey, since we’re confessing deepest darkest guilty fan fic pleasures: The Professionals is mine. A show I’m guessing no one here has ever heard of. *g*

  7. Josh Lanyon

    But a little sprinkling of it brings out the flavour of everything else, like salt.

    It’s all about that delicate balance, isn’t it? A pinch of salt versus half a cup.

  8. Josh Lanyon

    Oh, I do love me some man-on-man angsting. I especially like a good rejection scene in which somebody has to be stoic whilst his heart is torn into bloody shreds.

    Abso-damn-lutely. A little angst is ideal. Evoking reader emotion is what it’s all about — especially in romance writing. But it’s dangerously easy to slip from poignant to irritating. And I think you’re right. The key may be the outwardly stoic response of the injured party. Because self-pity is not attractive, but courage…oh, yes.

  9. Josh Lanyon

    Thanks, Kimberly. I admit I’m increasingly less patient with the delays.

    Hmm. A little bit of josh-angst there. *g*

  10. Josh Lanyon

    I love angst, and tortured heroes, and h/c. A bit of pain makes the happy ending more satisfying.

    Hey, I’m with you Cassandra. A satisfying story is a story that resonates emotionally, so if the path of true love is smooth and untroubled…well, that’s dull. Granted, this is what we wish for ourselves in real life — but in fiction? No. A story requires conflict, and conflict results in a bit of pain and anxiety.

  11. Ally Blue

    Hey, since we’re confessing deepest darkest guilty fan fic pleasures: The Professionals is mine. A show I’m guessing no one here has ever heard of. *g*

    Oh yeah, I’ve heard of that! Never actually seen it, but I’ve heard of it. Through online friends who read and/or write the fanfic, ironically enough. I gather the show has rather a large fanfic following.

    Heh, I got the whole Angst Queen thing because I am apparently worse than Dean Koontz about giving my guys tortured pasts as well as tortured presents LOL

  12. Josh Lanyon

    Heh, I got the whole Angst Queen thing because I am apparently worse than Dean Koontz about giving my guys tortured pasts as well as tortured presents LOL

    Tortured pasts are very useful things! And they definitely seem to work for you.

  13. Lee Rowan

    Never heard of the Professionals? Ha! That’s one of the golden-oldies of fannish m/m angst. I can’t tell you how many Pros zines I’ve seen. Alas, it never clicked for me–the guys were just too damned surly.

    Angst vs whiny… it’s a narrow line to walk. You’ve done a good job with Adrien English–his health condition gives him an angsty aura, but he just deals with it. That adds tremendously to his appeal.

  14. Josh Lanyon

    Never heard of the Professionals? Ha! That’s one of the golden-oldies of fannish m/m angst. I can’t tell you how many Pros zines I’ve seen. Alas, it never clicked for me–the guys were just too damned surly.

    It’s an acquired taste, but now I’m a hopeless addict.*g*

    I was clueless about the fannish connection to M/M Lit for years. How’s that for coming late into the game? And I think what’s happening now is an interesting meld of gay genre fiction with M/M fiction — both influencing and changing the other — and evolving into something new. It’s a very promising time to be writing.

    Angst vs whiny… it’s a narrow line to walk. You’ve done a good job with Adrien English–his health condition gives him an angsty aura, but he just deals with it. That adds tremendously to his appeal.

    Thanks, Lee. I think self-pity is deadly to effective angst. Even if it’s justified.*g*

  15. Carmelo Bhagat

    i can relate to some of the facts in this page. Ive been healed from acne since I was 33 years old. Those still experiencing from it, I have one thing to say; BE STRONG!

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