Jumping The Shark in Gay Fiction
By Nick Archer
Thereís a fun website devoted to television called Jump The Shark. They describe their mission as "Itís a moment. A defining moment when you know that your favorite television show has reached itís peak. That instant that you know from now onÖ..itís all downhill. We call that moment Jumping the Shark."
Iíve 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 itís predictable. You can see whatís coming a country mile away. Or itís 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 itís the story element that is so over-used that itís a cliché. After that, itís all downhillÖ.assuming there was a climax in the first place.
Donít take the list personally; all of us have used at least one of these in our stories.
∑The "Personal Ad" Self-Description: "Me? Iím 6í1", 175 lbs., blond hair, blue eyes, 8" uncut cock, and I have a 6-pack from doing 3000 sit-ups a dayÖ." Also known as: But First, Let Me Introduce MyselfÖ
∑The Collision: Our hero collides with a potential love interest in a crowded high school hallway or college quad.
∑Dead Parents: Itís 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. Donít 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, thatís 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 everyoneís 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?
∑Letís Sit Around and Talk About Our Feelings: Címon guys! This isnít a sensitivity seminar or a conscience-raising session! These are horny, red-blooded guys! Theyíre only going to do enough talking to get into the other guyís pants. After theyíve 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 itís with a paid mental health professional. Usually they wait until theyíre in the drive-thru at McDonaldís or washing the dog or raking the yard to reveal to their partner of 11 years that theyíve been boinking the poolboy.
∑The Names-We-Wish-We-Had. Our parents gave us boring names - like David and John - so weíll 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!
∑Iím Not Gay But My Boyfriend Is: "Iím straight, but I couldn't help but notice the other guyís six-pack under his tight Tommy Hilfiger shirt, bubble butt and 8.7 inch cock showing through his Fubu jeans." Yeah, youíre 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 itís one of our common fantasies - weíve 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 letís 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, Iím 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 címon, duuuuude, I just moved to California. That board is totally rad! Bitchiní Like, Iím 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 thatís Swell." Be extremely careful about slang and idioms. Theyíre 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. Theyíre 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 donít 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, Iíve 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 everyoneís 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 youíre 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 canít do it, if itís too difficult for you to allow yourself to fictionalize your memories, then for Godís 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 donít 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 shouldnít 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 Curmudgeonís 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! Youíre the minority. Notice I said most men. Now hand me that box of tissues.)
∑ Thatís Some Bedside Manner: Delete the maudlin hospital scene. You know the one - where the lover is crying (see above) over his comatose boyfriend. Iím serious. Do it right now! Highlight the scene and hit the delete button! I wonít be happy until you do.
∑ Whoíre You Calliní 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 ĎSeriesí (They can see itís a series) or 3) Write The End at the end of your story (Unless youíre writing a screenplay or a story for young children, it should be obvious from your story that youíre 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? Iíll 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, Iím sure. Letís take a poll - raise your hand if your relatives accepted you immediately when you came out. Hmmm. A minority. Thought so.
∑ "Alex, Iíll 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 youíre a writer (because you ARE) doing research for a story. Thatís what theyíre there for. Youíll 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 Iím sure theyíre more out there. Any more? Email me at
© 2003, 2007 Nick Archer