Writing Tips – Erin Quinn

You meet a lot of people through social media. Whether you ever meet them for real is another story, but this week’s author sharing writer’s tips is someone I know through Twitter. And she’s a fan of a romance novella of mine so I know she has taste.

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Meet Erin O’Quinn (Bonita Franks), a writer of gay fiction—emphatically not, she says, “M/M erotica.” Her novels, novellas and short stories all seem to have (gasp) a plot and, she hopes, characters who live on after the reader closes the final page. Her twenty-two M/M titles can be grouped according to their setting:  in Scotland (12), Ireland (5) and Nevada (5).

She’s part of a growing list of mm writers who don’t believe one size plot fits all. Here are her tips…


Establish a voice

All writers learn by reading the words of people they admire. And at first, our work might sound too much like terse Hemingway, or poetic Vladimir Nabokov, or witty Terry Prichard, or the voice of thousands of other writing giants.

But sooner or later, the best authors find that inner harp to strum, that singular chord or riff that makes readers sit up and take notice. Your unique voice is developed with practice, and with sensitive attention to your inner rhythms. You gradually hone that voice until you just know when a word is right. And then a sentence, and so on, until the work is finished.

Show. Don’t tell.

Chekhov wrote,

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Each time you write a page, return to it later and ask yourself whether you’ve captured the moment like a cinematographer: through a character’s tone of voice, in a well-turned metaphor, hiding among snips of dialogue, sliding between the clean, fresh sheets of a love scene no one has ever written before.

I don’t want to know that it happened. Show me how, and when, and why, and where, and whether it happened. Easy to say; hard to do. But I promise, you can do it.

Write for Yourself.

I realise I’ve just stated a heresy. The “experts” tell you to find an audience, and to aim for pleasing those readers. But I’ve found those readers are rather like myself—hyper and laid back, kind and evil-spirited, even-tempered and moody—in short, they are individuals who constantly change and grow. So instead of writing for some imagined John or Jane Doe, write to please you.

Even in a limited field like “gay romance” there are layers and levels of readers, of every sex. You will never in a bazillion years please them all. So look at your writerly goals. Do you want to be the darling of those readers who crave only the erotic fantasy? Do you care whether your name and titles are included on every list of “must read” authors? Are you afraid to cross genres? Then join the pack and write crap.

Or you can be true to yourself. Write to please your inner ear and to follow your own moral compass.

‘Open your listening ears,’ as Judge Judy says.

Allow your dialog to take the place of you, the author. You can wallow in irony, humour, symbolism, poetic flights—all through the mouths of the people in your story. But let them talk! Try for the natural rhythm and flow of verbal intercourse, and notice how you can write whole scenes and even chapters using dialog only.

I think the most successful writing is a blend of narrative and dialog. It need not be an even balance. But if you find yourself mired in paragraph after paragraph of descriptive passages, give your readers a break.

For me, the best dialog seems to my ear as though I’m listening in on a real conversation.

  • Make sure each speaker is immediately recognisable…through word patterns, vocabulary, cadence, syntax…but only if you’ve taken the time to make his or her voice distinctive from the get-go.
  • Forever bury those dialog tags! Especially when only two people are speaking, there is no need for the “he said, she said” tags that interfere with the conversation.
  • Do not fear the ungrammatical expression, or the ungainly pauses. How many of us speak like an orator, or know precisely every word we’ll speak before it’s uttered? In other words, keep it real.

Embrace your inner poet.

I’ll admit, my favourite writers are either poets, or they should be. I thrill to the music of internal rhyme, a well-tempered metaphor, the unexpected word, the oxymoron of internal dialog, a unique way of looking at a well-known face in the mirror.

We can be poets, and we should be poets, if we call ourselves writers.


To find out more about Erin and her books, check out her Amazon page, her Man in Romance blog, and meet up with her on her Facebook author page.

Next week we’ll hear about writing historical fiction from Michael Jensen.

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