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