Can Guys Write Convincing Modern Romance? (Updated to include story.)

I don’t see why not. Just about anyone can learn just about anything if they put their mind to it, and any writer can improve their storytelling if they’re open to it and aware of it. Shakespeare wasn’t always Shakespeare and there was most likely an English teacher who thought the Young Will was a literary bonehead. There might even be one or two people out there who feel that way about me, although I find that very hard to imagine. I crack myself up.

So, I’m going to set myself a challenge, and I’m going to set one for you, too. My challenge is to write a short modern romance. I’m going to do my best not to drop any of my usual dubious witticisms *ahem* into it, and I’m going to refrain from ‘boy porks girl’ additions.

If you’ve got nothing better to do while you’re waiting, here’s your challenge.

Write a short story using one of the following opening lines.


“You’re telling me he picked his nose until his head caved in? I’m having more than a little trouble believing that.”

“You’re a really happening guy. I just wish you’d happen somewhere else.”

“That’s not a third nipple; it’s a boil.”

“Morgl was a drelb, a friendly drelb, which is really saying something.”

“The villagers had driven a stake through my heart, so the evening wasn’t off to a good start.”


I’ll be back later to check on my work.


6 thoughts on “Can Guys Write Convincing Modern Romance? (Updated to include story.)

  1. Things I love about writing #1,365,482.685.

    Sidetracking myself. Here’s how creative genius completely fails to work but nevertheless has a fabulous time.

    So, I started plot notes for “The Romance”, because everything a writer writes must be in inverted commas and appropriately capitalised, to show you’re “serious”, “committed”, and “know how to use the Cambridge Comma.” Okay, strike that last one. As if being a madman wasn’t enough, I decided to rummage through my music collection and here’s the least helpful to my cause song that came up.

    Maybe I could write a modern romance that has a few explosions and big dance productions. Maybe I could sell the idea to Bollywood. I like it when a story idea hijacks me and takes me on a bit of a ride, roped up and laying uncomfortably, squeezed into a smelly and airless car boot/trunk, before taking me out, pistol-whipping me a little, and then telling me it loves me.

    • The happening guy and the stake through the heart prompts appealed to me right away. I’ll come back when I have the stories for them.

      BTW, your Shakespeare comment made me think of something I read a while ago. Apparently, George Bernard Shaw threatened to “dig him (Shakespeare) up and throw stones at him” for his “monstrous rhetorical fustian, and unbearable platitudes.” Well, you can’t make them all happy! Incidentally, I feel the same way about T.S. Elliot. (good thing I don’t know where he’s buried!)

  2. So, here it is. I did this as a flash fiction exercise and I gave myself, very strictly, 2 hours to do it. I think it shows, but a deal’s a deal. Also, I did this as a multimedia story. You’ll see what I mean.


    Day One.

    “Every time I think of you.”

    I smiled, and then I smiled some more. He does this, that man I love. Ryan’s away right now, working in the back hills of Thailand. I can’t wait to have him here again but if history’s any indicator there’ll be cryptic little notes like this every day until he’s back.

    Day Two.

    “It always turns out good.”

    Cryptic. Now, there’s an understatement. Or, knowing R, it’s a philosophy of life. Or both. Or something. God, only two days and I’m missing him so much I can hardly think straight. He once told me that he loves the feeling of missing me. I didn’t get it. How can you enjoy it? “It’s easy,” he said. “It’s beautiful pain.”

    Some things hurt because they’re awful, he explained, but some things hurt because you miss their beauty, there, right in that moment when you want them but can’t have them. That’s beautiful pain. And then he kissed me so softly, so tenderly, that I knew he was showing me beauty so that I could feel the pain of its absence later.

    Day Three.

    “Every time I’ve held you I thought you understood.”

    There are things about him and us that I’lll never understand, but I understand this: he loves me without question. Or, as he put it, he loves me ‘beyond repair’. If anyone else said that I’d wonder what they thought was broken, but with R I just know what he means. That no matter where he goes, or what he does, or what kind of day he’s having, there at the back of it is something so untouchably good and whole that it can’t be damaged, so it never needs to be healed or tinkered with. That man. He knows how to make me melt, and he knows how to make me feel. Not only my own feelings, but how to sense out, reach out, and embrace those things, big and small, that add dimensions to my life.

    Day Four.

    “People say that a love like ours will never last.”

    Oh, he makes me ache for him. I was one of those people who didn’t think it could last; the first one, in fact. I saw the impossibility of it, until he showed me that with love nothing is impossible. He pillowed my head on his lap and gently, so gossamer gently, he stroked my hair. With a butterfly touch he rubbed the corners of my eyes, then rested his hands on my cheeks. I sighed, relaxed, and then the universe opened up and spoke to me. “It’s right,” he whispered. “Everything else falls away, and all that’s left is love.”

    Like him, I stopped watching TV. I couldn’t take a news broadcast seriously again after he said a talking head pops up, bids you good evening, and then spends the next hour telling you why it isn’t. I realised that so much of what I thought wasn’t mine, but was introduced and formed by the shows I had watched. “They call it programming for a reason,” he said.

    He taught me to be authentic. “Be yourself, and be it magnificently.” He said that with a wicked gleam in his eye, and I wondered what shenanigans he was going to get up to, to make that point. He asked me if I wanted half a sandwich inspired by the local deli, and I nodded, wondering what danger I was putting myself in. Without another word he stripped his shirt off, rubbed garlic into his armpit, and squeezed down on a thin slice of tomato and a crust of yesterday’s bread. “Live dangerously. Your armpit sandwich awaits, madame.”

    Day Five.

    “But I know a love like ours will last and last.”

    He loves me. I don’t just hope he does, or want to believe he does; I know it ‘beyond repair’. God, I miss him. He’s the most annoying, fun, completely batshit crazy, distracting person I’ve ever known. Yesterday, I walked down the street giggling while I was crying, thinking about him, missing him so much I wanted to explode, or, as he puts it, wanting to climb a tower dressed as a clown with a high-powered rifle. He has a way with words. Yes, he certainly has a way.

    Day Six.

    “Maybe I was wrong not knowing how our love would grow.”

    What is he thinking today? Want to know what he said to me once? He said he didn’t think he could stand knowing two people like me. I felt kind of hurt by that, because it instantly fanned the flames of those memories where someone used my heart like a football to kick around. What he meant, though, was entirely the opposite. He played me a song from an arcane movie called ‘Hackers’. It’s something, something, ‘I love you, I love you todaaaaa-a-a-a-a-a-a-a—ay!’ and it’s haunting and beautiful. He says he likes to love ambush me. To make me ever so briefly feel ‘the edge of the storm cloud’ before revealing the brilliant sunshine behind it.

    Here’s what he meant, and it makes me melt every time I think of it. He loves me so much that if there were two of me he’d ‘spontaneously combust from a love overload.’ Our love has grown, that’s for sure. Shit still happens to both of us but, seeing I’m quoting so freely from him, ‘the quality of the shit has collapsed.’ He’s right. It happens, but my reaction to it has changed. It’s the stuff John West would reject, that the Reject Shop would say no to, that even Walmart wouldn’t give shelf space to. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, without any pain, or fear, or guilt, that he really loves me.

    Once, he made a couple of flash cards, and even in the making of them he was highly entertaining. He bought crayons. Seriously, who buys crayons for anyone over the age of five? He protectively wrapped an arm around his work, like some little kid in a spelling test at school, so I couldn’t ‘cheat’. He stuck the tip of his tongue out at the side of his mouth, in mock concentration. And then, with a flourish, he leapt to his feet, stuck a crayon in his ear, and declared himself ‘finished’. His manifesto was complete, and he was basking in its beauty.

    Good God, but I nearly wee’d my pants laughing. The first card looked like an egg that was spitting in a frypan. “Egg!” I said, excitedly. He looked at me. And looked at me. “Ummm … can I call a friend? Use a lifeline?” I asked. He looked down, deflated, and shook his head slowly, as if I were the most pitiable example of humanity in existence. “Okay, is it a … a … ummm … a …. I know! It’s a star that’s going supernova, and there’s the shockwave blowing out into space!” I said, hopefully rather than confidently. That look again, and then he said, straight-faced: “You know, I’m never going to completely forgive your mum for all those times she dropped you on your head as a child.” It was a sun. Allegedly. Although I’m still to be convinced.

    The next one was easier. I only got it wrong once. “Piece of cheese!” I screamed with all the excitement of a kid. “You’re doing this on purpose, aren’t you?” was all he said, completely deadpan. It was, of course, the moon.

    Then he did the usual, which is to say the completely bizarre. He very carefully and tenderly balanced the flash cards on my head, bidding me to keep still ‘so as not to fuck things up, as ever’. He returned to his spot, which he made feel as if it were a stage. “This last one should be easy. Even for you,” he added, archly. He held it up, and he was right. Here’s what it said. “For me, the sun rises and sets on you.”

    Day Seven.

    “But I wasn’t wrong in knowing how our love would grow.”

    He said it, that boy of mine. It’s hard enough to find someone to love. It’s even harder to find someone who will love you back, without all the game-playing and manipulation and hurty bits. “I never set out to love you,” R told me once. “I wasn’t open or closed to the idea, it’s just that you were so … unexpected,” he said. One of the 735 things (so far) I love about him is that he sees me, not for who I could be, or should be, or might be, or who he’d like me to be, but for who I am. He said that to me.

    His job takes him into hellholes of misery, and people who don’t ‘get’ him sometimes treat him really disgracefully, but through all of that he’s kept intact his ability to see into people, beyond the obvious, and show them what their best looks like. I told him once that he makes me want to be a better person. In true Ryan fashion he said all he was doing was opening up a space where I could be the real me. I think we’re both right.

    Day Eight.

    “Every time I think of you; every time. Every time I think of you; every single time, it always turns out good.”

    Today’s the day! All day I’ve been distracted, fumbling around and fucking things up. Tripping over things and, as that boy of mine says: “Burning the toast.”

    I’ve done the shopping for dinner but I couldn’t concentrate, so I hope he’s going to like sardines and plums on a mixed salad of kale and buttermilk. I’ve had a shower, and it’s interesting how silky smooth my skin feels after mistakenly using hair conditioner as soap. I even had a trim while I was in there, and I have little doubt he’d call it my ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer meets Scooby Doo’ look. I never have been good at staying inside the lines. Once I gave him a haircut, after whining and cajoling for hours that I could do it. Yes, once. Only once. He said he’d get back to me if he ever again felt the need to have a huge bald spot behind his left ear, and a racing stripe down the centre of his head. In fairness, though, he did report later that he felt he was walking a lot faster since he got his stripe and ‘aerodynamic contouring’. Joking? Who can tell. It’s R we’re talking about.

    And here he is. My resentment at the eight days that took him away from me vanish. I’m in his arms and he’s in mine, and, oh. Just ‘oh’. His tongue is soft in my mouth, as mine is in his. They’re whispering tales of love and longing, of the beautiful pain of missing someone, and of the helpless sweetness of their return. Soon, but not too soon, he’ll be back in the world he works in but his notes will sustain me in the world he loves in.

  3. How a shot at romance writing came about.

    Or, writing about ‘writing about writing’.

    Like everything else on this blog, writing about writing is wildly self-indulgent, pretentious, and bullshit. Maybe I’ll have ‘advice’ to share once I’ve pulled my version of JK Rowling, which is rather unlikely to happen for the following reasons:

    Lack of raw talent.
    Lack of interest.
    Lack of motivation.

    I might come back to the whole subject of writing about ‘writing about writing’ some other time, when I have nothing better to do – like when I’m massively constipated and just know I’m going to be spending the day sitting on the toilet trying to ‘work things out’. Until then, here’s a lighter piece about how the romance story came to write itself.

    I knew there was going to be a kiss in there somewhere because ‘chicks’. They like that stuff, and they, more than any guys, read romance. So you go where your reader wants to be drawn.

    I deliberately wanted the characters to be nameless and faceless, so you could use your imagination. If I’m going to make you feel something I want it to come from inside you, and not from being prompted to step into what I’m telling you I want you to feel.

    The story ideas I had along the way, and may use in any sequel or continuation I feel like writing, were pretty diverse but close to home. Home being this blog.

    gendermom is a blogger who has a transexual child. *Spoiler alert*. I had thought about making Ryan transexual, as a twist in the tail at the end of the story. I still might. I didn’t use that in this story because I set myself a time challenge of 2 hours, and I have no intention ever of trivialising the important. Gender acceptance, no matter the gender or cross-gender, is one I feel strongly about.

    A Christian blogger who is also unashamedly bisexual liked one of my posts, so I followed the like and read parts of her blog. There isn’t enough of interest to me to follow her blog, but again, I had that idea of inclusion and I had planned to make the girl in my story a lesbian (the blogger I refer isn’t a lesbian, she’s bi). I think there would be real depth in a story where a lesbian and a transgender guy-girl really love each other, and long before ‘he’ has an operation. I saw Ryan in that character as being someone who accepted himself totally but didn’t feel a huge and exclusive pull toward having a girlfriend ‘because she’s female’. He loves her for her, and it’s nothing to do with sex or sexual orientation.

    Both of the above bloggers don’t even know I exist. I don’t know them, have never spoken to them, but I thank them sincerely for providing some focus and impetus.

    Paring down the story to the elemental and important came about because warjna and I have been chatting about stories being about the character, and the scenes being about revealing who the character is. I wanted to strip away the usual descriptions and leave you with the essence of the characters. In that way, hopefully, their story is actually your story, or at least the one you’d like to be yours.

    The tenderness and romance was inspired by Ada. She wrote a beautiful poem and for me it has a haunting quality. I wanted to write in response to that. In essence, I wanted to write in a way that would make the sort of feeling Ada’s poem expressed unnecessary, or at least less painful.

    I threw in few unexpected jokes because I’m periodically demented, and that’s my way. I did them for my own entertainment.


    *SPOILER ALERTS*. Viewer discretion is advised. Backstories and twists.


    Ryan’s backstory.

    Ryan is in Thailand because it’s one of the countries he often travels to, to work with the hill tribes and isolated communities who, through grinding poverty, what they think of as necessity, and also unadulterated evil, sell or allow their children to be sold into the sex slave trade. Stopping it is an issue I feel very strongly about, and so should you. Yes, I’m pontificating. No, I’m not at all sorry I’m pontificating. There are children – CHILDREN – being really and seriously harmed out there, right now, today. What the fuck are YOU doing about it? Yep, Ryan is as aspect of me, but he’s only an aspect, and I am not my character.

    He isn’t ‘damaged goods’; he wasn’t molested as a child. He just hates paedophiles and the sub-human vermin who enable them. For him, it’s a life quest and a spiritual quest; it’s his reason for being, to save those kids, and he wholeheartedly believes it’s his purpose in life. As he would say, through me, “I’m here for this reason or II wouldn’t be here at all.”

    If I had made him transgender I still wouldn’t make him a victim. He isn’t, and the only time anyone and everyone in the LBGTXetc domain is ever felt to be a victim is because of sub-intelligent, hateful cunts with mouths that exceed their ability or desire to use them wisely. While being in that domain doesn’t mean you get a free kick or that I’ll like or respect you as a person, I at least admire your courage and commitment to be who you are and to live your life the way it makes sense to you. Just don’t call me a ‘breeder’, or I’ll think you’re the same sort of toxic bonehead as the people who slag you off.

    Ryan knows how to love because, instead of being bitter and twisted about how his gender has been used to wage war on him, he has the insight to ‘not be that’. He knows who he really is, because life and experience have taught him who he really isn’t. He’s authentic.

    ‘Her’ backstory.

    I’m going to call her Jaime (pronounced Jamie), because Ryan and Jaime, or Jaime and Ryan, sound good together. Ever noticed how some couple’s names only really work one way, like ‘Carol and Lindsay’ sounds right but ‘Lindsay and Carol’ sounds a little jarring? These characters are interchangeable; I like that.

    Well, we know she’s a lesbian, so why a ‘guy’? Well, you’re being presumptuous. I never, in the story, alluded to a sexual relationship. I wanted you to think it was there, because the hated ‘gender normative’ issue is what we’re used to. I thought it’d be fun to ambush you later, because I like doing that. I wanted to demonstrate that love is love, that romance is not the province of the straight or the ‘bent’, and that we can feel our way into loving characters without judgment if we love them before we’re introduced to paradigm-changing context. Had I started the story by identifying their sexual and gender experiences, I think you’d have probably dealt with their reality in a different way. You can’t do that now, unless you’re prepared to undo your thoughts about them as people.

    Jaime is sweet, kind, shy, unsure of herself but growing in confidence and self-awareness, and more than all of that she has a genuine and sweet innocence. She always thought she was a second behind the pace and a step behind the obvious, because she came from a loving but slightly uptight and traditional everyday family. Do they know she’s gay? Fucked if I know, and I’m her dad so you’d think I’d have a clue. Maybe we’ll find out later. She works for an insurance company, which makes her a bit jittery because she hates human tragedy, which is why she transferred out of the claims department. Now she works in underwriting. It’s not what she wants to do with her life, but it’ll do for now.

    Their backstory.

    Do they live together? Ever had sex? Have ‘other people’ they’re seeing? Fucked if I know. I don’t like spoilers when they happen to me, so I’m not going to think about it. If I write any more of this story I want to be surprised and delighted, just as I am now, because apart from Ryan being a campaigner I had no idea about any of this stuff until I was writing it.

    And another thing. Because with me, there’s always another thing. I just remembered that days ago I was talking to Ada about a brilliant movie everyone needs to watch. Right now. So go and get it. It’s called ‘Once’. Its set in Ireland and its brilliant. Here’s the song Ada and I were talking about, which really started me down this path of writing a romance. The only distinction I’ll make is that the song, and romance generally, I think, starts from the point of ‘need’; of something that needs fixing. I wanted to start from the point of ‘want’. That you add to my life but don’t repair my potholes. Your reason for being here is that I love you, and not that I love how you fix my fuck-ups.

    Writing this was more fun than writing the story. I hope you enjoyed it, too.

  4. While I’m here talking to myself I might as well add that the ‘love you today’ song I loosely referenced in the story has been driving me nuts all evening. Finally, when I stopped tormenting myself about it – yes, I was too lazy/stupid to just google it – it came to me. ‘Heaven Knows’, written by Squeeze for the 1990s movie ‘Hackers’.

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