As you are no doubt very highly aware, there is no shortage of yaoi out there.
Some of it is good, and some of it... well, not so much. This will hopefully help you avoid pitfalls and write better yaoi, whether you're writing Fanfiction
or playing around with your own original characters. Please note that this article contains NSFW
content. Nor is it a guide on "how to write porn" - the sections relating to explicit scenes are here for educational purposes only, and if you're looking for A Date with Rosie Palms
, you'd do just as well reading an anatomy book or sex education text. Which is what, by the way, that section is mostly from.
Barring a three- or more- way relationship
, there are two main characters: the Seme
and the Uke
- The Seme — the pitcher. Frequently has a more dominant personality in general. He is usually taller and more masculine-looking.
- The Uke — the catcher. He's usually shorter, and usually more of a Bishounen or even an outright Dude Looks Like a Lady.
Note that you don't have to follow traditional dynamics. If you were to survey real
gay couples, you would notice that very few do, in fact, follow this setup. Your characters can take turns "topping" and "bottoming" in the bedroom, and share a more-or-less equal partnership outside of it. They can be switch
which means they enjoy both dominant and submissive roles in the bedroom and equal outside, or they can have what is called a Total Power Exchange relationship, which means one is strongly dominant and one is strongly submissive but that the couple has previously negotiated and agreed to the idea.
Even in "traditional" BL, you might have a dominant uke and a henpecked seme. Your uke can be the one that looks very tall and masculine, while your seme might be a Bishounen
. They can be both uke-like, or both seme-like. See Boys Love Notes
for some common BL relationship types, or make up your own.
Try to avoid Wimpification
. It's been done to death. It also carries Unfortunate Implications
. Again, don't feel like you have to be restricted to just one character type or behavior, just because it's Tradition!!!
If you desire a more "traditional" uke, there's no need to turn him into a whining, sniveling mess, nor is there a need to turn your seme into a Bastard Boyfriend
. Men and women are socialized to act and react differently to various situations, so try to make it clear that your uke is
a man, and not a stereotypical schoolgirl with a penis — unless, of course, you deliberately want to write a character who doesn't respond in traditionally-masculine ways.
Beware Of Homophobic And Transphobic Stereotypes
This is VERY
important. While you may think BL or Slash Fic
is a straight women's only space, it isn't.
There are people of all orientations and genders (or lack thereof) which read and write BL / Slash Fic
, both as original media creations and fanfiction and roleplaying. Also, getting off on guys doing it does not
make you immune to having homophobic attitudes or an instant ally, any more than the stereotypical straight males drooling over Les Yay
are always and forever feminists and supporters of women's rights and lesbian rights. So here's a few pitfalls to look out for, both in actual writing and in interaction with other fans.
- The seme/top is the boy, the bottom/uke is the girl: This one's addressed in depth above, but along with all its other problems, it's a homophobic stereotype and manages to be both misogynist and misandrist.
- All Gays Are Promiscuous: Some gay or bisexual men are promiscuous, and the media often exaggerates this. Others are not, and there are even some who are demisexual (e.g. only interested in one person and monogamous toward them) and asexual but romantic toward the same gender. Some gay or bisexual men hold to moral codes that prohibit promiscuous sex (yes, it's possible for someone to, say, be both gay or bisexual and believe that cheating on their partner is wrong), and some are afraid of sexually transmitted infections. This trope can be played without the stereotypical implications simply by making it clear that it's just that character who is promiscuous, by setting the scene as one where promiscuous people would be, or similar, but having someone ravenously crave sex with every man that he sees is the homophobic stereotype.
- Related, All Gays Are Pedophiles is an even worse homophobic stereotype and if you have your gay or bisexual men all craving young or young looking virginal boys (or alternately tons of young boys trying to hook up with older men for only an Excuse Plot), you have a problem.
- Double Standard: Rape, Male on Male: Gay and bisexual men's penises are not magnetically drawn to any rectum in the vicinity, nor do they desire to have any objects around painfully or nonconsensually shoved up their asses no matter what. In fact, nonconsensual penetration is rape no matter what the gender or orientation is, as is being forced against one's will to penetrate something or someone. Nonconsensual or even sudden, unprepared-for penetration is also not enjoyable even for the most masochistic and can injure.
- No Bisexuals: Bisexual men exist. You're writing a stereotype if you suddenly have a character who did show romantic and sexual feelings for women suddenly be 100 percent gay - just write him as bi.
- While this isn't a trope, no trans people is also a homophobic (suggesting no transgendered person can be gay or bisexual) and transphobic (for invisibility and prejudice reasons) stereotype, unfortunately one imposed by some yaoi archives and such that don't want depictions of vaginas on their archives for example. If you're open to the idea as an original fiction writer or writing fic for one of the sadly few fandoms that do have canon transmale characters, consider writing a transgendered man. And no, that does not mean you have to play up his "femininity" or anything and smash the audience over the head with an anvil - just depicting something like a chest surgery or hysterectomy scar will do, or if you want more drama, a character explaining no, those needles aren't heroin but his hormone replacement therapy.
In interacting with other fans:
- "How dare you tell me how to write this!": Blowing up at constructive criticism from actual LGBTQ people is one of the worst mistakes a straight slash writer can make. If, say, a gay man comments saying your characters had Anatomically Impossible Sex, the proper response is to politely explain that the story is fantasy and the sex was intended to be so (if it was intentional), or to remove and/or research and rewrite while thanking the commenter - and maybe even asking him what the issue was - if you just didn't know how to write sex between two men. The proper response is almost always not "GET OUT OF MY SPACE."
- "I hate yaoi fangirls who want to be boys." This is a sentiment often expressed by some ignorant people that somehow believe reading yaoi or slash makes someone transgender. (It doesn't.) While some yaoi fangirls who post stuff pretending to be men/saying they wish they were male are confused girls or in need of education as to not internalizing misogyny, the yaoi/slash community is often one of the first stops (especially post The Turn Of The Millennium) actual younger transmen make in their self-discovery, and hate helps no one. If you really have issues with "girls wanting to be boys," address misogyny and inequality that might make people hate their own femininity and provide direction to proper counseling resources that can help people figure out where they are, but don't hate or especially group shame people for looking androgynous or identifying/posing as men or saying they wish they had penises or whatever.
- "Keep in mind that they're all REALLY straight." Enforcing heteronormativity under the guise of "protecting canon" helps no one. Most fanfiction writers know the actual orientation of whomever they are writing about already, anyway, and sometimes they do write about characters or people that are really gay or bisexual, so they don't need to be "informed of reality."
- The only times this is justified and not homophobic is if someone is about to out a real person who hasn't come out (in which case it shouldn't be "keep in mind he's straight" but "keep in mind he might not want people knowing whatever he may be") or falsely accuse a real person of cheating on their wife with a man or the like in a way that that person will actually know.
Porn Is Not Necessary
Don't shoehorn it just for the sake of having it. Sure, you want to see hot Ho Yay
action, but if it doesn't make sense with the plotline, you're not doing any favors by jamming one in
anyway. Some of the best works out there focus on the relationship
and the plotline more than sex.
If you can't write sex (too embarrassed, afraid of it falling into the wrong hands, not enough experience, trouble transposing the sex act into words, what have you) there's no need to feel embarrassed. You can use a Sexy Discretion Shot
; merely imply that your characters had sex. Sex is not
the be-all and end-all of Boys Love
. Or Girls Love
. Or het
, for that matter. In fact, most readers would rather you fade to black or focus on someone/something else than suffer through badly written IKEA Erotica
Penetration Is Not Necessary
Gay sex doesn't have to include penetration, and in Real Life
a lot of it isn't. As well as masturbation and oral, there is passionate making out, and toys, and as a good way to show an equal relationship there is also grinding/frottage. Heck, you can have them fully clothed and it can still be genuinely for adults.
The point being, that nobody has to be face-down; it can be just as hot with a scene dedicated to them making out on the couch.
A few sex ed points for more graphic material
To Wrap or Not To Wrap, To Lube or Not To Lube
anal penetration with anything
generally almost always requires lubricant of some sort, since the rectum is not self-lubricating. Some people can make do with spit or outright dry, but these are very rare. Real Life
penetrative sex also is safest with the insertive partner wearing a condom to protect his partner from HIV/AIDS (and not just for anal, also if doing "front hole" with a transman, pregnancy if he's pre-surgical) and to protect himself from HIV/AIDS and from urinary tract infection. (Though some male/male couples in Real Life
don't use condoms, because "bareback" (condomless) sex is a thing especially pre-AIDS and/or among people who just don't care about being infected, occasionally monogamous couples will dispense with condoms if they know they are monogamous and the receptive partner has good enough hygiene that the top won't get a UTI, and/or the top or both partners are transmale and using prostheses or toys, meaning no bodily fluids entering anyone else's body as long as the devices are cleaned properly between partners)
Obviously in fiction, you are not obligated
or required in any way to depict your couple using condoms or lube. Some writers think this is Too Much Information
and takes away from the passion of the moment, or have other reasons to refuse the idea of depicting the use of condoms and/or lube - that is your right as a writer. That said, it is
possible to make both work in an explicit story. It's your decision in the end. Keep in mind, though, that the more realistic a fandom is, the more likely you are to draw flames, especially
if you don't just skip over condoms and lube but exaggerate the characters not having any need for them in an otherwise detailed and explicit scene. As in, anime and manga and literature and comic book fandoms won't necessarily care about realism, but film, live action TV, and especially Real Person Slash / bandslash are more likely areas to get flamed for a lack of realism. One rule to go by is if the universe you're depicting has HIV/AIDS mentioned in canon or is Like Reality Unless Noted
for original works, you probably should consider your characters using condoms unless they have a damn
good reason not to do so.
In regard to lube, if your characters are using it, there are basically three types of lubricants. Oil-based are the oldest (olive oil being used by the Greeks, mineral oil, and the first modern lubes, glycerine and petroleum jelly), but generally are best avoided because they can have an ongoing laxative effect and can leak well after the fun is over. Water and silicone based lubes are more recent inventions (think KY, Astroglide, Wet, and many many others) and are generally far better for tolerability and safety and ease of use than almost all oil-based (though Crisco has a following among men into large insertions
, and we'll just leave it at that).
Some items that aren't
lubricants at all would include alcoholic beverages (astringent, painful), peanut butter (oily but too sticky), shampoo/soap (astringent, induces strong bowel contractions that could even bring down "stuff" from above the sigmoid colon), gasoline/kerosene/petroleum fuels, perfume/aftershave, and anything that is either astringent or sticky. Waxes don't generally work because they dry and harden inside - bowel obstruction is no fun.
Some items that are possibly lubricant but insufficient or unsafe are plain water (insufficient, dries too fast), spit (insufficient, dries even faster than plain water), industrial oils like motor oil or gun oil (carcinogenic, often inflammatory to skin), and pre-ejaculate or ejaculate (insufficient, irritating, and possible HIV/AIDS risk)
If your story involves "makeshift lube," look it up on Google and make sure it falls under the category of relatively safe for human consumption/use oil-based non-sticky substance, and/or find a way to have actual lube present. This will add realism to your story, as opposed to breaking readers' Suspension of Disbelief
and making them either laugh, flame, or simply feel sympathy pain in the butt.
While you can safely ignore what the human anus and rectum is composed of (and is and is not capable of) if you are intentionally writing non-human characters, intentionally Anatomically Impossible Sex
, or something else in which you can entirely dispense with realism and sanity like Crack Fic
), if you're writing in a setting involving humans where realism is expected, it's probably a good idea to know a little bit about it and what should not ever enter it. While a detailed lesson on the anatomy of the anus and rectum is probably a bit Too Much Information
for here, here's a few pointers on it that a lot of yaoi fic writers get wrong.
- Not a self-lubricating organ. See above in the section on lubes.
- Neither the anus nor the rectum has a hymen. As should be blindingly obvious to anyone who's had a bowel movement in their life. (For the record, a broken hymen isn't even a reliable virginity test anyway, as the vaginal hymen can be nonexistent or barely existent and broken or torn easily. And an anal hymen is Artistic License - Biology in the extreme.)
- The Ass Shove as it is typically shown is the worst way to cause injury and damage with penetration. Usually, unless the penetrating object is really small and thin (and even then sometimes), there is a ring of muscle called the "sphincter" that generally works to allow the holding of feces for a short time. In regard to penetration, forcing past the sphincter can damage or hurt it, rendering someone incontinent at worst or very sore and angry with the idea at best. This is why a receptive partner needs to be relaxed and comfortable with being penetrated and why the insertive partner needs to help the receptive partner relax and stretch the muscle into an "open" rather than "closed" state. Obviously this is something that can be glossed over if you as a writer find it TMI, but said preparation can actually be one of the sexiest parts of a yaoi or slash story because the anal entrance and sphincter has the most sensitive nerve endings of the entire region, so you can use your imagination there as to why this could be a lot better to depict than just "shoving it in."
- The prostate (which only cisgendered males have) is usually in the same spot give or take an inch or two. The "find the prostate" thing is often overdone in yaoi and slash fic - if someone has had sex with one man, he won't likely take too long to find the prostate in another. Also, the prostate is almost always close enough to the "entry point" that most men won't need a partner with a Gag Penis to "hit" it, and it depends on the man: some like it being bumped, others like steady pressure, and others find it being messed with just weird instead of pleasurable.
- Things can "get lost," unlike in the vagina. It's almost impossible to lose something in an average vagina (though it has happened on occasion) because the entrance of the cervix serves as a barrier. The anus has no such barrier, so anything that gets shoved too far in is usually staying and being brought up through the bowel via peristalsis (small objects) or becoming immovably (without help) lodged deep in the bowel (larger objects). The results are not usually good and end up in the emergency room. Anything used for anorectal insertions should have a flared base (meaning something that works as a "stop") and/or another safe means of being pulled out of the body. This is actually important to depict, if your story involves toy use, as a result of Viewers Are Morons.
- The tissues of the anus and rectum are a thin mucus membrane that are easily pierced. This means sharp (swords), rough/splintery (tree branch, table leg, etc), or similar stuff (caustic chemicals, jagged plastics, glass jars) doesn't go there in any kind of realistic setting as a consensual act, as it can kill. It also means guns and bullets aren't good sex toys because an accident = a gutshot.
- Finally, BLOOD IS NOT LUBE nor is it the sign of a good rough kinky sex session. In Real Life blood is a very bad sign that means STOP RIGHT NOW, because something is torn or perforated and proceeding further could cause even worse damage. If your character's (hell, if your OWN) anus is bleeding for any reason penetration-related or not other than a bumped hemorrhoid or a too-long fingernail at the entrance, that is when a trip to the nearest emergency room is required, and if the bleeding is profuse, a call to Emergency Services may even be.
We're Not 18 Anymore
If you tend more toward Bara Genre
/ Yaoi fusion or write slash (and/or you're over 25 or so yourself or you just found a work with older characters interesting or like an old band or whatever), you may end up writing characters that are over 30-35. There's a few special considerations to keep in mind, again, only if you're trying for realism or in a realism-dependent genre.
- Men over 35 have longer "refractory periods." This means that your story of a couple in their mid 40s having multiple climaxes will likely lead to anyone who knows better laughing at it - especially since cisgendered men can't have multiple climaxes like women (and some transmen that retain the ability, though there's some research that testosterone causes refractory climax as opposed to ongoing, so many transmen are just as "I'm done now" as cis men), the closest thing they can have is short refractory periods, meaning someone who is 18 might be able to get hard again in 10 minutes. This increases with age - so, using the mid 40s example, it may take 2 or 3 hours at best before trying again without benefit of Viagra or similar drugs.
- Speaking of Viagra and all the other ED pills, they are and aren't miracle drugs. If the issue is blood flow or even psychological to some extent, they are miracle drugs because they facilitate blood flow for an erection, allowing, say, a late 40s man to feel like he has the reproductive system of an 18 year old, to become aroused faster and more easily, and to in some cases have a shorter refractory period again or combat the effects of alcohol or MDMA. That said, they don't address truly deep-seated psychological issues or make one attracted to people he isn't, nor capable of having sex all night long, and they're useless if the problem isn't blood flow related - a paraplegic, for example, won't have any more effect from Viagra than he would from thinking sexy thoughts and hoping for the best.
Avoid Cliches Like The Plague
Victim Falling For Rapist:
OK, you know how it goes: BIG, HULKING Seme
rapes sweet, innocent, virginal, little Uke
, uke falls in love with seme anyway. No. It's been done to death, and let's not even get into all the Unfortunate Implications
. Yes, the very terms Seme
connote a power dynamic. And, yes, Japan is big on the rape fantasy genre. But that doesn't mean you have to Follow the Leader
and do it too.
For some fans, the Uke
is an Audience Surrogate
. In a World
where "good girls don't,"
the female reader may be trying to wash her hands of the situation by saying, "Oh, it wasn't
me with [Insert Bishounen of Choice Here], it was [Insert Uke's Name Here]"
. And even if it was, it's not like that person "wanted it." (Of course, for other fangirls it's the fantasy of having the helpless little uke at your mercy, but the result comes out about the same for the reader.)
Having sexual desires and urges does not
make you a bad person, or a slut, or undesirable, or dirty, or anything else, no matter whether or not you have a Y chromosome. It means you're human. Since Most Writers Are Human
(and by extension most readers, too), there should be no need to polish that halo
. Some of the hottest
yaoi erotica involves an uke who desires sex — and lets the seme know that. It also involves a seme who treats his uke like a lover and not a victim. Furthermore, using rape to titillate is not only cliche, but also frequently causes Fetish Retardant
— and that's not even mentioning the trigger
factor for those who have actually had this crime happen to them. You don't want to alienate your readers.
The Audience Surrogate itself, in some instances:
This depends on what your readers want. Sure, some readers want a character they can use as an audience surrogate. Other times, and this is especially
common in fandoms with existing canon or if you're writing with the idea of an explicit but plot-heavy work, people will
want consistent characterization and characters who are not a male Mary Sue
. If you're writing for something where the primary point is audience surrogacy such as Porn Without Plot
or a story where the sole purpose is
to get Yaoi Fangirls
seeing themselves as the seme or the uke, go for it. If, however, you are trying for a more complex work and the readers are expecting something more complex than quick smut, go read Mary Sue Tropes
and Avoid Writing A Mary Sue
then go take a browse through characterization tropes, familiarize yourself with the canon and/or how your original characters can be believable and act believable, and make full, well-rounded characters, not Mary Sues
that just happen to have penises.
There's no excuse for writing poorly-spelled, awfully formatted, unpunctuated crap. If you are old enough to be reading and writing the often-explicit material in this field, you are
old enough to understand at the very least how to turn on spell check and grammar check and autocorrect, and to use your writing software's default settings. Better yet, go look up some of the many free resources to improve your spelling, punctuation, and writing skill in general. Then also go look up Bad Writing
here to see some common pitfalls of bad style. In short, if you aren't writing at least at a 10th grade level (using US education system as a reference) you will
look like you're under 18 (which will get you banned on sight from many places and lead to many people being afraid to interact with you and quite a lot of creepy people not being afraid to interact with you) even if you are well over 18.
Your work will also be seen as low-quality stereotypical crap and be avoided and attract flames and even trolls.
The Overused Excuse Plot:
Here's a few of them, that have been done to death. Like all Sturgeon's Tropes
, that's not to say they are bad
and many of the stories they are in are popular, and a very good writer can possibly create a fresh take on them or at least a side-splittingly hilarious deconstruction
. That said, if you find yourself using any of these, just stop and think for a moment.
Porn Without Plot:
- Victim falls for rapist, as mentioned above.
- Uke owes Seme a debt and has to pay back via sex (whether one-time or being a Sex Slave)
- Uke and Seme are straight, dammit! Except for that sex with each other thing that just keeps happening!
- Seme rescues Uke from something or other, Coitus Ensues
- Uke or Seme is IllBoy and the other has to care for him.
- Uke and Seme are in high school.
- Uke and Seme are in any of the following professions: prostitute/Sex Slave (especially if that's the uke), salarymen, Yakuza, or anything else with the Sempai Kohai arrangement, ancient samurai, modern cops/detectives/soldiers/spies.
- Uke is a virgin.
If it's well-written and tasteful, it can be good. But if it's poorly-written and crass, why bother with it? If you can't come up with even a slight semblance of plotline or relationship, at least put effort into your sex scene. Though the story will hold the audience's attention better if there's something besides sex for them to focus on—something that ultimately makes the sex even sexier.
Coitus Ensues, especially if your story is
not'' Porn Without Plot
: Remember that thing called Suspension of Disbelief
? You need to establish some idea of why your characters are hot for each other or otherwise interested in sex with each other. Developing the relationship (or if there's no relationship and just a hookup, at least staging the scene somewhat) is important and skipping over it in a non-PWP is generally going to annoy readers.
Unless you're writing Crack Fic
or writing in a universe where it's possible, avoiding mpreg is a really good idea. No, this doesn't mean that you can't have your couple have a kid: just have them use one of the ways of having a kid that ordinary male couples generally do so: one partner is bisexual and has the child with a woman, the use of a surrogate mother unknown to the couple, or adoption. You can make adoption just as dramatic and just as heartwarming as conceiving and giving birth and raising a child from one's own body.
BL is not Hentai:
Some new (Western) writers tend to take the "the uke is the girl" thing way too literally, and have him be the seme's sex-toy in a way similar to the way women are treated in hentai. In general, BL sex is about the uke, and the goal for many readers is to watch the uke get off. The seme's job is to do whatever is necessary to accomplish that (and he'll enjoy doing it, too). This applies to oral, handjobs, etc. just as much as anal; the seme should "service" the uke as much or more as the uke "services" him. (This is also the opposite of the stereotypical gay porn trope that the "top" is always and only insertive.)
It's been overused. Why not try a relationship in which no one needs to be rescued? Or where the characters help each other learn and grow, but subtly (and not because of Angst
)? It may not be as dramatic, but if you do it right, it can be one big Crowning Moment of Heartwarming
At the risk of being an absolute Hypocrite
(see below), I will say this: Foe Yay
isn't bad in the sense that it's "bad" to write or to like the characters. But ask yourself, "How in the world would two characters who can't stand one another make a good couple?"
Be Respectful of Others' Pairings
OK, we've all seen our share of crack pairings
. People put on their Shipping Goggles
, and sometimes they'll see a pairing you don't like. Or a pairing that you like but not as a couple. So it goes. Rather than having a Flame War
over whether it should be (let's say) Heero x Duo, Heero x Relena, etc.
, why not just agree to disagree? Enjoy the fics for what they are: fiction. Focus on the quality of the story and writing, not the pairing. The Fandom
will be a lot more peaceful, and thus more enjoyable, for all concerned.