Category - Charlie's Guide to Writing Historical M/M Romance

Charlie's Guide to Writing Historical Gay Romance - Introduction

WIP WedsmallHello everyone! Last year I started a series of posts on writing, and now that a new year is upon us, I thought it might be nice to continue it. As I was thinking about what topic to start with, I realized the one thing I haven't covered is a key part of my writing and the source of so many wonderful comments from folks: writing historical romance.

Now this guide isn't the ultimate guide or anything. This is just how I go about writing my historical gay romances. Heaven knows there are amazing authors out there who have been doing this far longer than I have, but if you're interested in how I do it, then hopefully you'll enjoy it.

I know the very idea of writing a historical seems daunting to some folks. Many wonderful authors I know would love to write one, but fear getting it wrong. I won't lie, it's A LOT of hard work, but once you lay the foundation of your research, it gets much easier. Granted, if I was hopping all over the timeline of history, I might drive myself barmy, but as I tend to stick mostly to the 20's and 30's, it does get a little easier for me research-wise.

So this series will consist of 5 parts. They are the following:

Part 1: Character (Creating your character's mindset, fashion, speech patterns) Part 2: Atmosphere (Feel of your historical) Part 3: Setting (Society's mindset, timeline, locations, maps, photos, references) Part 4: Details (Creating believability, reference material, music, furniture) Part 5: Conclusion (Putting it all together)

In this series I'll go over everything from creating character, how they dress, talk, interact with those around them, their speech patterns, handling slang, to creating a world for them in a specific time, how they function within that society and the little details which add believability before summarizing it all up. The above are just some of the topics I'll be covering but there will be plenty more in each post.

Here's the schedule: (Wednesdays)

Part 1: Jan 16th Part 2: Jan 23rd Part 3: Jan 30th Part 4: Feb 6th Part 5: Feb 13th

♥ I'm happy to take questions or requests. If you have something you'd like me to address specifically, please feel free to leave your question or comment here on the blog, on Goodreads, or feel free to email me.

x Charlie

Charlie's Guide to Writing Historical Gay Romance - Part 2: Atmosphere

Charlies Guideatmosphere300

Hello all, and welcome to part 2 of my series on writing historical gay romance. Last week's post (which you can find here) covered some key elements of creating character. This week we're talking about atmosphere, something I strive to improve with my own writing every day. Writing historical isn't just about getting the details right. You need your readers to feel and see the world you created, this era long gone. When I write one of my stories, I see it as a movie in my head, and if I don't feel as if I'm there, how am I going to get readers there?

The most intimidating part for some folks is getting the details right, but you don't need to write out every tiny detail, only enough to create a clear image and set the tone. You know why? Because most folks have seen enough TV, movies, artwork, photography, to get an idea of what certain things look like for certain eras that a good deal of the foundation is already there for you to build on. But you don't want to just throw out any old clichéd description.

Let's say I'm writing a noir-ish style story. Why do I say noir-ish style and not noir? Because noir is very specific. It's a very stylized type of crime drama with certain elements needed to make it that genre, and my stories don't really fall into that category. When I get around to writing Bruce's story, it'll probably cover a lot of those elements, as he's the only character of mine modeled after a Hollywood film noir type detective. The focus of my stories tend to be the romance, not the crime--if any, hence noir-ish. Anyway, so what do we know about noir? I use a lot of film analogies and examples because I'm a big film buff and as an artist, prefer to have visuals to draw from. You don't have to be an expert to get an idea. Film noir is french for "black film". (Note: The term wasn't applied to these films until the mid to late 1940's by a French critic, and wasn't widely adopted until much later. Your fella isn't going to know what the hell film noir is. He'll understand characters being hardboiled, but not noir.) Okay, so we're writing this noir scene. What's the one thing that comes into your head first? You guessed it: lots of shadows and darkness.

Big ComboType film noir into Google images and what do you see?  A wall of black and white images. And not just black and white, but look at those shadows. The smoke, the fog, the intensity. If we're writing our scene, it's not enough for our character to just be walking down a darkened New York or L.A. street. We need to describe these shadows, the fathomless darkness, the veil of fog, the sounds he hears around him but can't see. Is it raining? How heavy? What's he wearing? Is the rain and wind getting through his overcoat, whipping at his skin through his upturned collar? What can he smell? Rotting garbage? Is there steam coming up from the sewers? Is there any lighting at all? Where's it coming from? How's he feel walking down this street?

If it's Bruce, he would be in his element. He's not afraid of the shadows or the world they're a part. He's seen worse, done things he's not proud of, but what the hell, we're all damned anyway, right? He's not afraid to die and any mug who wants to go a few rounds can bring it on. He's a booze guzzling, cigarette smoking, hardboiled detective who always carries a gun, a sap, and his smarts. He fought in the war, sinking into the rotting yellow mud of the trenches while young fellas fell dead at his feet. This street ain't nothing, and if he gets home at the end of the day with only a few bruised ribs and a nice new shiner, he'd write it off as a good day. This is your movie. You're the director. Add texture to your scenes, sounds and taste. Then let the imagination of the reader do the rest.

Let's talk interior. If I'm describing a scene in a character's bedroom, I want enough detail for readers to get an image of the room. Am I going to use the official name of every piece of furniture he comes across? Let's say your readers are getting all swept up in the sexual tension between these fellas. One is on the brink of losing it. He can't deny himself any longer, standing by watching Joe every day, working beside him, being his friend and pretending he feels nothing more, putting up with Joe's teasing--and all of a sudden, Joe slams his fist on the Chiffonier. What? What the hell is a Chiffonier? It might seem obvious to some, but is there really a reason why I have to call it a Chiffonier and not a chest of drawers--which is technically what it is, just higher and more narrow. Am I writing a story about furniture or guys in love? I'm not saying don't use any terms of the time, because that sort of defeats the purpose of writing a historical, I'm just saying to use them sparingly. It's an intense scene where something is about to happen, something big. Emotional drama! Do I really want readers to be thrown out of the moment because of furniture? Which brings me to a very important question: Who are you writing your story for?

The sad truth about historical fiction is that many folks find themselves intimidated,not just with writing it, but reading it as well. It's not the sole reason some don't read historical, but it's one of them. When I decided to write in the 1920's and 30's, I had to decide what kind of stories I wanted to tell and who my audience was going to be. There was so much going on during these periods, the possibilities were endless. The fact is, I wanted to entertain. I've never been one for tough drama. I'll never win a Pulitzer with my hard hitting depiction of humanity during these eras, and I'm okay with that. If this were the movie business, I'd never win an Oscar because I'd be making films like Gangster Squad and Sherlock Holmes, not Downfall or Thin Red Line. I love the latter two films, but I haven't re-watched them since the first time I saw them. Same with films like Schindler's List. I've lost count with how any times I've seen The Untouchables or L.A. Confidential.

I'm an entertainer, and to some, that's a bad word. Critics are always searching for hard-hitting and meaning. Yes, I want my stories to have meaning, to evoke emotion, and yes, they'll have drama and angst, heartbreaking moments, and a message or two. But I write to entertain. I write so anyone--even those who don't normally pick up historical can easily read one of my books and enjoy it. I write with the slight exaggeration of a Hollywood motion picture, looking to whisk readers away for a while, to add a little glamour and decadence. The characters will still be very real, with very real traumas, troubles, and heartache, but it will be balanced with humor and fun, because personally, who couldn't use a little laughter in their lives? The point is, I know the purpose I'm trying to serve. I know the reasons I write what I write, I know who I write for, and I'm happy with it.

Conclusion to Part 2: Atmosphere is about immersing your readers into the world you're creating not only through accurate detail, but with sights, sounds, and texture. To have readers "see" and "feel" the setting. Use visuals to help you. Movies stills, photography, anything visual that evokes emotion, draw from it. Picture what you want in your mind, how it makes you feel, and slowly translate that to words. Determine who your audience is. Who are you writing for? What do you want to achieve? What kind of story do you want to tell?

Well, I hope you enjoyed Part 2! Stay tuned next week for Part 3: Setting.

Charlie's Guide to Writing Historical Gay Romance - Part 3: Setting

Charlies Guide SettingHello all! Welcome to the third installment of my series on writing historical gay romance. Today we're talking about setting. Setting is more than a time and place, it also encompasses the social milieu--the culture which will help shape your characters and the world around them. To fully immerse your character in his time period, you need to research the timeline leading up to your current setting.

Society can change drastically in a few years, and your character will have lived through these changes. For example, in my stories set in the thirties, my characters would have grown up in the early 1900's and spent their young adult lives in the 1920's. There were huge changes for them to deal with on their way to adulthood. Much the same way some of us look back at our own childhood or teenage years and what was happening around us at the time.

Times Square NYC 1908

Some of my fellas, like Bruce and Hawk would have been children during the early 1900's, their parents undoubtedly of a certain mindset, one that was challenged after the Great War, of which by then, these fellas would have most likely fought in. Then came the Roaring Twenties, which might not have affected them had they lived in a small rural town somewhere out west, but as they were both born and raised in New York City, this new, fast-paced, 'anything goes' attitude would have swept up these now twenty-something year old young men. They survived a war, they're young, they're going to say 'the hell with it', and get their kicks while they can. Come the stock market crash, things change. Society no longer tolerates them. It's now illegal for them to be served a beer down at their local bar should anyone question their sexuality. Of course if someone found out, being refused a beer would be the least of their worries. They'd lose their jobs, face imprisonment, or considering their careers in law enforcement, probably face worse. The country is in despair, millions unemployed, soup kitchens at full capacity, the breadlines never ending. To fully understand the 1930's and the fellas who resided there, I had to research the years leading up to it.

Times Square NYC 1927

Let's discuss location. The further back in history you go, depending on place, the more difficult it may be to come up with research material. But in order to have believability, you need to research your locations, find out what was and wasn't around at the time. For my stories, I often refer to the WPA Guide to New York City, which is a guide to 1930's New York City. It has in-depth coverage of all five boroughs, including photographs and detailed maps. It's an amazing book, but I always have to double check my facts, because the book was published in 1939, and my stories tend to be set in the early 1930's or in the 1920's. Obviously a book published in 1939 will be closer to how things were at the time than a modern day guide of NYC, but I need to make sure if I mention a certain building or landmark, that it actually existed at the time. I can't have Julius and Edward in awe of the Empire State Building when it hadn't been constructed yet.

I use a lot of photo references of locations, people, and maps. It's always far easier to describe something when you've seen it. Even if you don't use a specific photo for your location, it gives you an idea of the area. With larger cities, it's usually easier to find books on that city's history, and at times you can even narrow it down to specific boroughs or towns. Small details like architecture, design, stone color, building facades, shops, cleanliness of the streets or lack thereof, all help toward a more believable image. You're not just writing in a backdrop, you're breathing life back into this long gone era. This is the world your characters live in, where they work, interact, fall in love. What's it like for them there?

Once you have enough reference material for your setting, you can then add your atmosphere.   Combining the two will go a long way in creating a believable world. You have your location, then you add your mood. When we watch a film, why do we feel as though we're there? What do you see, hear, feel? Don't forget colors. They also help set moods. The other day I watched Cinderella Man, and aside being a very enjoyable film, I really liked the look of it. I noticed there were a lot of browns and muted colors, which added to it's historical feel and went well with the depictions of the Great Depression, whereas The Gangster Squad which was more of a homage to the gangster films of yore, was filled with bright neon signs, popping colors, and sharp Art Deco architecture. It was all about glamour.

As I mentioned before, you can refer to Hollywood movies, but don't forget these films have a way of being over-dramatized and exaggerated where the history is concerned, so if you are going to turn to films for inspiration on setting, make sure to double check your facts. They have a habit of sneaking in things because it looks good even if it technically doesn't belong in that period. Here are a few links with some pretty amazing photographs from various periods of history.

Conclusion to Part 3: Setting is more than just location, it includes the culture and social mindset of the time, all things which would have an impact on your characters and the men they grow up to be. How does the world view them? What are society's laws? The government's laws? What occurred in the years your character was growing up? Was there great change? Very little change?

I hope you enjoyed this week's post! Stay tuned next week for Part 4: Details.

Charlie's Guide to Writing Historical Gay Romance - Part 4: Details

Charlies Guidedetails300Hello all! Welcome to the fifth installment of my writing series on Gay Historical Romance. Today we're talking a little about details, something which makes a huge difference in a historical. I love to put details in my stories, but I also like for them to be subtle. Sort of like background scenery in a movie. The details are there to add to the story and its authenticity, not to distract.

By now I know a good deal about the periods I write in, so if I have a scene where let's say the characters are listening to the radio, I'll know what sort of brands were around at the time, what radio programs were on the air, and have even listened to a few myself or read a transcript or three. The scene isn't about what they're listening to unless it's an important news flash or presidential speech, so I don't want the focus to be taken away from what's happening with the characters, I just want to create an image in the reader's mind. Even if it's only in passing, naming a specific program or having snippets from an actual transcript will lend authenticity to the scene. It should all blend seamlessly together rather than shout out, "I did research!" Take this scene from When Love Walked In where Bruce finished work for the evening and crosses the street to his favorite cafe.


"Hey Joe, what do ya know?" Bruce greeted the handsome blond with a wink as he set himself down at the counter. Apple'n Pies had the best pies in New York City, and Joe was the godsend who made them.

"How's it going, Bruce?" Joe replied with a bright smile, chuckling when Mittens meowed for his attention. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. Hello to you too." He gave her a little scratch before reaching under the counter and placing a large, brown paper bag in front of Bruce.

"One roast beef sandwich with extra roast beef, a side of potato salad, one slice of pie, one coffee—easy on the creme, and a reminder to go to bed before sunup."

Bruce glowered at him. "Gladys called you, didn't she?"

"You bet," Joe laughed. The phone rang, and he gave Bruce a wicked grin. "I'll bet you five dollars that's her calling to make sure you're taking home more than just pie."

"Five dollars? Who do you think I am, Rockefeller? I ain't got that kinda bank to lose." Bruce said his goodbyes and high-tailed it out of there before he got another earful.


Now this is a very short scene, but it required research nonetheless. What Joe gives Bruce for dinner had to be looked up. I wanted a common, full, but inexpensive meal a fella like Bruce would go for. Being a private investigator, he doesn't exactly make a mint. He's not going to go down to a restaurant for dinner and if he did go somewhere it would probably be an automat or cafe. Coffee is essential for any detective, and pie is non-negotiable for him--as brought up by his secretary earlier in the story. I could have just had Joe hand him a paper bag with some food, but having it be a pretty popular meal of the time adds that little bit extra. Also it says something about Bruce and the time he is living in regarding the bet. $5 for Bruce would be $87.63 for us now. Times are tough to be making bets you know you're going to lose. Dollar has a handy inflation calculator.

799px-Soda_jerker_flipping_ice_cream_into_malted_milk_shakes._Corpus_Christi,_TexasWhen I'm writing, I'm constantly pausing to look up the term for something, a particular brand, or a visual so I can get the description right. If it's something I need to come back to later because I don't want to break my stride, I place a *, which to me stands out and tells me research is to be inserted there. My first drafts are full of these little stars. I also use (these fellas) and then type a quick description of what I need so I don't forget when I come back to it later.

For details, I tend to refer quite often to particular music, songs, movies, clothing, food, prices, sports, technology, consumer products, reading material, cars, brand names, pop culture, communication, and so on. I also make certain to use the correct term for the item at the time as well.  Lisa's Nostalgia Cafe offers a great source of every day life items for referencing, including jobs. There were a lot of positions back then that are either uncommon now or no longer around, such as cigarette girls, soda jerks,  and telegram delivery boys. If one of my fellas goes to a drug store, it's going to be completely different to the drugstores of today, offering flavored soda water, malted milkshakes, juice, and more.

Bishop MuseumMaybe he's got a nasty headache and he decides to buy some Anacin. So he walks down to the nearest drug store. Let's say that drug store is similar to the one pictured here. While my fella walks in to do whatever he's going to do, I would integrate a brief description of the place. Size, the black and white tiled counter, the chrome and red leather stools, how airy and bright it is, maybe how new, clean, or modern it is compared to his usual drug store down on 12th, the people sitting enjoying a meal, the person who serves my fella. The ten cents he pays for a glass of orange juice, and what the hell, he'll have a slice of pie, too. Maybe as he walks in while the song, "You've Got What Get's Me" floats up from the radio behind the counter, and just then the soda jerk looks up, holding our hero's gaze slightly longer than he should. I'm a fan of placing a line from a song or two in my books. The songs are always relevant to the year and the story. I always look up the lyrics of the song to see if it fits with what's happening with the character(s).

Research the architecture of the time as it would influence a lot of the interiors. In the 1920's Egyptian themes were popular, in the 1930's Art Deco was everywhere, consisting of specific materials. There was a lot of chrome about, certain color schemes, and shapes. Remember not everyone kept up with the times and you'll have different generations which may mean using brands or songs from much earlier.

Conclusion: Details are important, but remember they're there to add authenticity to your story, not to distract. Things such as brands, architecture, pop culture should be blended seamlessly throughout your story depending on what your characters are doing, rather than being pointed out. Readers will know how much research went into your book by the way all the elements come together.

Next week is the final installment of the series. Part 5: Conclusion, putting it all together. Thanks for dropping by!

Charlie's Guide to Writing Historical Gay Romance - Part 5: Conclusion

Charlies Guide conclusion

Hello all! Welcome to part 5 of my series on writing historical romance and the final installment. The last four weeks we've covered: character, atmosphere, setting, and detail. When you gay put it all together it might seem daunting, but the more you work at it, the easier it gets.

If you want authenticity, it's very important to do your research. Don't forget to look up timelines if you're going to mention a specific brand, event, or style of fashion. Clothing, speech, frame of mind, architecture, music, movies, technology, all lend a hand in creating authenticity. Modern phrases will jolt readers out of the story, so keep a lookout for those. When naming your characters, give them appropriate names of the time. Think about how they dress and if it fits in with their social standing. What about their level of education? Their background? Family history? Think about society and the way it's had a hand in shaping your character, how it continues to shape them, and what it means for the relationships they have with others.

Use references such as movies, books, and photographs to help you with setting, fashion, and speech patterns. Read books written during that period for a sense of voice. Remember that you can't hold your characters up to the same standards as today's modern thinking individual. Where certain situations plausible then? Create atmosphere by describing more than what your character sees. Immerse your readers with a feeling of depth using your other senses.  Like with any well-written book, research is always required. Granted that with historical, it usually involves a great deal more, but if you enjoy getting lost in an era long gone, writing in this genre will feel wonderfully satisfying, not to mention you'll have fun too! Hope these posts have been of some help to folks. If there's anything I didn't cover or you're uncertain of, feel free to leave me a comment or drop me an email! Happy reading!

Links to previous posts in the series:

Part 1: Character Part 2: Atmoshpere Part 3: Setting Part 4: Detail

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