I've made no secret of the fact that my current favorite popcorn reading is volunteer online serial coming of age gay romantic fiction. Because I'm an unreconstructed lumpen intellectual, I can't help thinking seriously about it, but because my academic career was truly spotty and interrupted by building factory nuclei and wrecking my hands and stuff, I don't have all the terms down and I think in a sort of undisciplined way. So you're going to have to make allowances for enthusiasm.
I suppose definitions come first. Or descriptions. I use the word "volunteer" instead of "amateur" because "amateur" has shifted in sense from the person who does something for the love of it and is usually a virtuoso to a person who's not good enough or dedicated enough or consistent enough to be a professional. Which is too bad. The volunteer writers of this sort of fiction take their craft as seriously as professional writers. The conventions of writing this kind of thing are somewhat different from the conventions of print fiction, and also, I think, different from the conventions of the fiction that finds its way into online journals that imitate print magazines, or that imitate the dignity of print magazines. Also, the conventions of this kind of writing are probably still in the rapid evolution stage of an art in its infancy.
I must think of a shorter name right away because "online serial coming of age gay romantic fiction" is too much to type every time and I hate acronyms -- okay, for the purposes of this discussion I think I'm going to call the genre "young man stories" until I think of something better. Not "boy stories" because that implies something else. Not "boy meets boy stories," though that's closer. And most definitely not "yaoi,"
which is something else entirely. Some of the authors get confused and call their stories "original slash fiction" thinking that the word "original" is enough to distinguish what they're writing from slash fiction per se but the outlook, conventions and sensibility of these stories are quite different from anything that could reasonably be called slash.
Young man stories occur in defined spaces. You can find them in story archives which are primarily intended to be erotic, which is their birthplace: in story archives dedicated to this one genre, hosting several authors: in authors' own websites: in e-groups such as yahoo groups: and as posts in forums and message boards. In story archives that are classified, they are usually found in "high school" and "college" categories.
Young man stories are almost always serial and frequently interactive. By "serial" I mean that they have multiple chapters which appear over a period of time, with the core group of readers reading each chapter as it comes out. By "interactive" I mean that there is a public dialog between the readers and the authors during the period of the writing, with readers potentially altering the trajectory of the story, or its language or other details. It's not unknown for authors to query their audiences about details of setting or technical information. An interesting instance of this is the author who is outside the US asking for details about USian high schools. Other queries are from authors whose first language is not English, asking for help with colloquialisms or other details of English (I believe that it is interesting that English is becoming an almost universal lingua franca at the time when I believe that future historians will point back and say that the English-speaking countries are entering a serious and permanent decline in political and economic influence). These illustrate a major difference between young man stories and yaoi: yaoi, whatever its setting, has at its core a sensibility that is Japanese or faux Japanese, and young man stories have at their core a sensibility that is American or faux American. Of course there are notable exceptions to both, but the exceptions do not alter the general strain of the genres.
Young man stories are usually about first relationships. They are occasionally about first successful
relationships, with a back story of a first unsuccessful or traumatic relationship or two. Young man stories, therefore, often include "first time" episodes (more about this later when I get into history). Young man stories are also frequently about coming out or being forced out.
Later I'll get into how young man stories are also distinguished by their treatment of family, friends, and community. The fact that these elements are treated in distinctive ways is, I think, part of the definition and description of the stories.
Next: where these stories came from. I think. (with questions for further study). Discussion of the development of online fiction communities with great big honking holes for fan fiction, heterosexual erotica and romance, and the other stuff.
Third part: the structure of young man stories. Discussion of the difference between serials and novels.
Fourth part: erotica, family and community in young man stories. I think this is where I wind up.
On another front, it's not raining
today, and I'm going to go see where my drinking water comes from, and I had asparagus and artichokes for breakfast!!