Characters · writing · Writing FUNdamentals

Writing a Healthy Romance

Romance novels often get blown off by the wider reading community (and especially the literary) as frivolous emotional porn (and sometimes actual porn) lacking any real substance or plot. This couldn’t be further from the truth. However, like all genres, romance does have some troublesome tropes. Some of these tropes are perpetuated in common advice heard throughout the romance community. Particularly when it comes to what constitutes a romance plot and what ‘needs’ to happen at certain points.

There has been some backlash recently against overtly abusive relationships portrayed in some books. So how can we avoid troublesome tropes and instead show a loving, healthy relationship in our romance?

First, what is a healthy relationship? This might seem like a very simple question, but many of us are never taught (even in our personal lives) what it means to be in a healthy relationship. Showing one in a conflict-riddled romance can be a challenge, but one I know you’re up to facing. These points might even give you entirely new ways to write your next story. Just remember these points are character-centric, not plot points. Your plot can and will affect how the relationship develops, but that doesn’t mean it has to be an unhealthy relationship.points for healthy Romance

Take Responsibility:

What this means is that your main character knows their happiness is their own responsibility. They aren’t looking for someone to ‘fulfill’ them or ‘make them whole.’ The idea of two lovers being separate parts of a whole is very unhealthy for both. It is one thing for a partner to have personality traits that complement or support each other. It is very different to completely rely on the other for their personal happiness. It creates an imbalance.

Understandably this is a big trope in romance: finding the one who ‘completes’ you as a person. It’s also fraught with issues. Putting someone in the position of being responsible for your happiness isn’t just unkind, it’s unloving. The moment they can’t emotionally, mentally or physically provide that happiness, what happens? Romanticizing that kind of relationship can potentially mislead our readers into thinking they either must find someone to fulfill this or do so themselves.

This doesn’t mean you cannot write this trope, but I strongly caution you to evaluate why you are doing so. Can’t your main character be happy on their own and still find joy in their relationship? Or perhaps they can find their own happiness with support from their lover? Possibilities abound.

Not A-Fixer-Upper:

We’ve all run across those stories where the love of the main character is all that it takes to make the love interest change and become law abiding, gentle, loving, what have you. Bullshit. Like, really. Total BULLSHIT. Unless the love interest is actively wanting to change and the main character is there to unconditionally support them (or vice versa), this is just … no. We humans are very stubborn and stuck in our ways, and any change undergone to gain someone’s love is often superficial at best and deceitful at worst. In a truly healthy relationship neither partner is going to seek to change the other. They like each other for who they already are. That’s what drew them to each other in the first place. They respect each other. Respect. Remember that word. It’s important.

Balance:

Jane just loved it when John would take her menu away and order for her. He always knew exactly what she wanted. It was so romantic.

Urk. ‘scuse me, had to gag.

Jane, I hate to break it to you but either you are a doormat, or John is overbearing and controlling and you need to hightail it. Even if John really did know exactly what Jane wanted, this relationship would still be unbalanced. And probably not only when it came to ordering food.

A healthy relationship is balanced when it comes to decision making (and yes that includes ordering food). When both partners truly respect (there it is again) each other they will discuss decisions. Respect also comes into play when each partner realizes the other might have more experience in certain areas. If John is a 5-star chef, he might be off the hook. Maybe. Even then he needs to respect Jane’s personal preferences. The ‘alpha’ male portrayal is often (not always) a thinly veiled abuser. Men who must dominate in a relationship aren’t being loving or respectful of their partner. This includes MOGAI relationships too.

If you find yourself writing a lot of these kinds of characters, women characters especially, this might be a sign of internalized misogyny.

Conflict Management:

Oh boy, there’s the big C. Conflict. Romance novels thrive on conflict and tension. But is it the right kind of conflict? Hang on. I’ll explain.

As writers, we understand that conflict is often (not always) the driving force of a plot. James Scott Bell in his book Conflict & Suspense on page 7, says that conflict is a “clash between at least two incompatible sides.” Too often in romance the ‘incompatible sides’ are the main character and the love interest. Which leads to conflict. Lots of conflict.

Conflict is natural in a relationship. However, it should be seen as a time to learn and grow. Too many times in romances a petty argument has both sides slamming doors and proclaiming the relationship over. This is not a healthy relationship. If each truly cared about and respected the other they would deal with their frustrations together. If the two are so incompatible as to constantly be in conflict then why are they even together?

A better method is to have the conflict come from outside the relationship. This allows them to grow together in a partnership as they work together to resolve it.

Show and Tell:

No, no. Not the showing and telling in your prose. Deep breaths. There you go. This showing and telling has to do with your characters and how open and honest they are with each other. Understandably, being open about certain things comes after a relationship has begun or is in it’s early stages. Being able to honestly communicate and respect each other’s feelings is one of the foundations of a healthy relationship. Repressing emotions isn’t healthy and only leads to later conflicts. Not the right kind of conflict either. Again, respect comes into play, on both sides.

This one is a bit mutable depending on your plot and characters, their personalities, where they are in their relationship and how much they trust each other. However, if they respect each other at all, they will be honest and open about their true feelings. They will also find responsible ways to express those feelings. Again, this may also depend on your plot and the characters’ personalities.

Self-Care

This is related to taking responsibility for their own happiness. In order to maintain a healthy relationship the partner must first take care of themselves mentally, emotionally and physically as far as they are able. This will allow them to be properly supportive of their partner.

Partnership

An established relationship should feel like a close partnership, with each individual taking into consideration their lover’s thoughts and feelings before making a decision. This means they need to talk openly about things that concern them and make room in their lives for the other person.

Obviously, plot wise it may seem like a good idea for one or the other to go galavanting off to save the day.  But this is a partnership. They’ve agreed together that they wish to be in each others lives. Could they not face the challenge together and further strengthen their relationship? If not, is there another way the partner left behind could show support or help? If you start looking, I’m certain you’ll find many ways to use this to your advantage.

Agree to Disagree

Your characters are people with their own opinions and beliefs. They aren’t going to agree on everything, and that’s just fine. If they did, it would be not only boring but either unrealistic or unbalanced.

This one is a little trickier because so many romance plots call for there to be something that drives the two lovers apart. Often times this is a disagreement over something, a closely held belief by one or the other, or ideas on how to proceed with a solution to the issue they are facing. Many times instead of talking to each other like adults, there is either no communication or spiteful arguing where one of them leaves until they are forced back together to finally confront the issue together. While this does increase the tension, it strains what could be a healthier relationship.

I challenge you to find alternate ways to introduce tension and reduce the amount of quarreling between the lovers.

Commitment

Your lovers are going to meet challenges. They have to, to test the strength of the relationship. If they are truly committed to each other, they will remain loyal and be ready to work through the challenges together.

Joy in the Other

Why did they choose each other? What is their real reason for wanting to be in the relationship? Is it for selfish reasons? Or only out of sexual attraction? Do they actually enjoy being with the other person? Why? What drew them together? What is keeping them together?

Every relationship is different, and will always have things both partners need to work on. No relationship will be perfect at each of these points, but by working at them together you’ll find yourself writing much healthier relationships that people can still identify with.

 

Now let’s look at how to incorporate this into the theory of 12 Key Romance Scenes as proposed by Michael Hauge.

 

  • The Ordinary World: Your main character in their element. Show who they are and that while they may have a ‘need’ they are secure without needing a partner to feel complete. (Again, not all characters will be able to do this. They might grow over the course of the novel to learn that they are whole within themselves but that doesn’t exclude loving their partner).
  • The Meet: Just what it says. Somewhere in the beginning they meet each other, and depending on your plot there may or may not be instant sparks of attraction. This is a good point to establish mutual respect at some level, even if it is an ‘enemies to lovers’ trope.
  • Reconsideration: Here, many writers (Mr. Hauge included) would advise you to show that the pair are incompatible for one reason or another, or have there be an openly negative response by one of the characters. Why? Let them enjoy meeting each other and want to get to know each other. This doesn’t mean things will be perfect right off the bat. You can always have plot elements that will keep them from being able to get together. It doesn’t have to be the relationship itself that is a source of contention
  • Wise Friend Counsels: Let’s make this Wise Friend Listens instead. Let your character know their own mind and make the decision for themselves. Too often women aren’t allowed to decide for themselves whether or not the relationship is for them. Their well-meaning friend will tell them why the man is ‘the one’ for them. This is often a sign of internalized misogyny on the author’s part, and needs to be very closely looked at before allowing it to stand in your story.
  • Acknowledge Interest: Your main character has realized they have deeper feelings than they thought.
  • First Quarrel: This can go several ways depending on your character’s personality, but use caution and remember that if they truly are invested in the relationship they will respect each other. This could be a good point to show that, and instead of pushing them apart it could draw them together as they talk through whatever is affecting their relationship.
  • The Dance: A lot of writers would advise you to show the relationship development, except it’s always on the fence whether or not the relationship will actually work. There is no set rule that says this must be the case. There are plenty of ways to create tension without that tension constantly being on the verge of tearing the relationship apart.
  • The Black Moment: The relationship is dead? What? Why? Instead of having something internal kill it, why not find some external reason that keeps them apart or makes the relationship impossible. If it is something internal it could be related to the character’s fatal flaw, something they have to overcome.
  • Reunited: Don’t fall for the ‘fated lovers’ trope. Let them come together willingly and because they WANT to be together, not because they were ‘meant’ for each other. There obviously will still be obstacles to overcome, but don’t force them together. Let them come back to each other organically.
  • Complications: This is where those obstacles really come into play. The outside forces aren’t about to let this stand for whatever reason.
  • Finally together: Now they can face their issues as a couple, showing that they have grown together and can face the problem head-on. Their respect for each other allows them to defeat the issue and move on to …

 

Happily Ever After: There is nothing wrong with allowing your characters their happy ending. With the issues this world is facing, people crave something positive and uplifting.

 

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writing

The Pitfalls of Pleading Insanity: How jokes about being a ‘crazy’ writer hurt all writers.

 

2017-04-08 (2)Ah, the crazy writer.  Edgar Allen Poe, Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemmingway, Slyvia Plath. The names conjure the image of tormented, alcoholic, or strange souls destined to be on the outskirts of society while they penned the next literary masterpiece.  Several famous writers have suffered from mental illness and have even succumbed to their disease or addictions. Somewhere along the way the image of the ‘crazy’ writer, holed up in a dank cabin and reeking of alcohol and tobacco while wearing a bathrobe and slippers, became the go-to image. This has even been reflected in movies and books.

To society at large writers can seem strange. We’re often quiet, solitary and research things that no ‘normal’ person would consider. But does that make you ‘crazy’?

No.

Some writers have delved into extreme risk-taking behavior for their research but those instances are few and far between. The majority of writers are just as sane as the next person. What makes writers special isn’t ‘hearing voices’ or being addicted to coffee or drinking alcohol like water. It’s the willingness to bare bits of ourselves for the world to see. It’s sacrificing hours, days, weeks, years on works that may never see the light of day. Is that crazy or insane? No. It’s dedication to a craft.

As someone who suffers from a medically diagnosed mental illness that has resulted in being disabled, I find these memes about ‘crazy’ or ‘insane writers’ not just unamusing, but deeply hurtful. You might joke about ‘hearing voices’ but until you’re sitting at you computer and hear someone walk into your house and get up to go greet them to find no one there, or hear someone telling you that you should stick your hand on that hot burner because you deserve to be hurt, or you might as well stab that knife into your gut because you’re worthless, you won’t understand what it REALLY means to hear voices. Being mentally ill means living with this every single day.

It is not like imagining a conversation between your characters. I How to be a Writerdo that. I know the difference—the vast, vast difference —between two.

Besides that, when we say writers are ‘crazy’ we’re robbing them of their actual creative mind. We’re relegating creativity to a mysterious mental hiccup that can’t be predicted or nurtured. This is a grave mistake. We need to emphasize that creativity is not some mysterious, ethereal muse that can only be summoned if insane or inebriated. It is something that can be actively nurtured and grown. Creativity means hard work, dedication and the willingness to learn.

Some of you are probably rolling your eyes and muttering about my being ‘overly sensitive’ and ‘not getting the joke.’ I do get the joke. Sometimes I even joke about being crazy. I am crazy. I take meds for it. But my crazy is a disease. Something that is trying to kill me. Read that again. This disease would KILL me without treatment. I’m sorry but I’d rather you not joke about my life. If I chose to do so, that is one thing, but please—some respect.

This is my personal plea to you, my fellow writer, to not share memes that make fun of being mentally ill. There are plenty of other, much funnier, memes about writing to share.

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Characters · Going Over the Rainbow · lgbt · mogai · writing

Going Over the Rainbow: The Diversity Dilema

GoingOver theRainbow (1)

Ever since BookCon 2014 diversity has become one of the new buzz words around the publishing industry and among writers. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks tag showed a massive outpouring of support and desire for diversity in children’s books. While at the time the movement was primarily focused on cultural diversity it has grown over the last couple of years to reflect the need for all kinds of diversity; racial, physical ability, mental illness, sexual orientation and gender identity, and not just in children’s books. While this has been needed for years and nearly everyone your meet acknowledges this to some degree, there has been some push-back. Some authors felt as though they were being forced to write characters that might not fit their stories.

Thus came the rise of tokenism, diversity quotas and many instances of misrepresentation as well meaning authors attempted to correct their lack of diversity. Others refused to add diverstiy, citing the fear of getting it wrong. While the We Need Diverse Books campaign is crucial in highlighting where the industry lacks, it has not helped authors write more diversely.

Writing with diversity is something that every author should strive for. Yet, there isn’t much out there to show you how to do so. I’ve mentioned before, there are some stories that are not ours to tell. Jami Gold had a very helpful blog post about writing more diversely and I myself have written about it in the past. Yet there still seems to be a lot of confusion about what it means and how to go about it.

Especially how to go about it.

So, to that end I’ve developed a worksheet that you will hopefully find helpful in writing more diversely without falling back on stereotypes or feeling as though you’re just filling a perceived quota. The following info graphic is a shorthand version of the worksheet and is something I hope you’ll find both useful and educational.

Diversity Graphic

The Diversity Double Check (Info-graphic text)

  • Are you part of the minority you are writing about? Yes or no?
    • Yes. Awesome. Keep up the good work. Your story needs to be told.
  • No? Do you have access to people who are part of this minority and are you willing to ask questions and do research? Yes or no?
    • No. Please reconsider your stance. Writing truly diverse characters comes from learning about others and being willing to set aside our own assumptions.
  • Yes. Good. You’re headed in the right direction. Now, is your character’s story directly related to their experience as a minority? Yes or no?
    • Yes. Please take a step back and think about why you feel qualified to write about this experience. This is not a situation where empathy can help you write authentically. In order to write this you must have experienced it.
  • No. Alright. Are they the only character in the story representing their minority? Yes or no?
    • Yes. Caution! Why is this the case? You need to have a very compelling reason for this otherwise you may not be showing true diversity.
  • No. Good. You are on your way to a diverse cast. Now, do they have a stereotypical background, occupation or role in the story? Yes or no?
    • Yes. Caution! Why is this the case? You need to have a very compelling reason for this otherwise you may not be showing true diversity.
  • No. Awesome. Last question. Do they die? Yes or no?
    • Yes. Caution! Why is this the case? You need to have a very compelling reason for this otherwise you may not be showing true diversity.
  • No. Fantastic. You are well on your way to a diverse and well represented cast.

The questionnaire worksheet was created to help you ensure your story is diverse without resorting to tokenism or filling a perceived quota. You might find the answers to some questions uncomfortable. All this means is that you’ve uncovered internalized bigotry. This is not a reflection on you, but on the culture and society in which you’ve been raised. Knowledge is the first step to overcoming this perceived default state.

Even those of us who are part of a minority often find ourselves defaulting to white straight cis-gendered characters simply because this is what we see the most. It will take work to overcome this. The worksheet will help you find ways to incorporate diversity into your story—not effortlessly—but hopefully, seamlessly.

It will start you off with big picture questions about your story as a whole, from there it will take you to character specifics to help you better grasp the ways in which to reflect diversity. Lastly, there are a couple of exercises to help you get your muse used to the idea of writing diverse characters. This is not a quick fix thing. You will have to work at this, just like any other aspect of writing. It will take practice and you are going to make mistakes. It is part of learning and being a writer. But, I know you can do it and it will be awesome.

Diversity Worksheet generic (PDF)

Diversity Worksheet generic (docx)

Do you have any questions about how to incorporate more diversity into your stories? Have you found writing diversely a challenge? What about it feels challenging to you? What other kinds of worksheets or help would you like to see from me?

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Characters · Going Over the Rainbow · lgbt · mogai · writing

Going Over the Rainbow: Gay Male Characters

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With the end of a tumultuous and tragic Pride month there are more concerns than ever about how gay men are represented in media. So how can you, as a responsible author, help dispel many of the harmful stereotypes that lead people to commit horrible atrocities? By accurately and sensitively writing gay men. Please allow me to offer a few words of advice on this.

Gay/Homosexual Male: A man who is primarily attracted to other men to the exclusion of other genders.

Developing a Gay Character

So, how might you go about creating your own gay character? These questions might help you discover why your character has chosen this identity for themselves and how it impacts their life and relationships.

  • How do other characters react to your character’s orientation? How does your character react/respond to these reactions?
  • How does the society in your story react to gays? How does this affect your character? What assumptions do others have about gays/your character?
  • When did/will your character realize that they were attracted to males? How does/will your character think/feel about this? Is the realization because of a specific event, a gradual understanding/coming to terms, etc?
  • How does your character express their gender, whether by choice/effort or naturally, in terms of presenting, passing, self-image and comfort? Do they express their gender a certain way in the hopes of finding other gay men?
  • How does your character tell people about being a gay man (if they tell people at all)? If their coming out to their parents had a negative impact has this changed how they approach others about the subject?

Writing a Gay Character

As with writing any character, their sexuality is just one part of their whole identity. When writing your gay character here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • You can have your character specifically state they are gay. This will help the reader understand where your character is coming from. Having other characters react and ask questions will help mitigate an info dump. Many readers will reject a queer coded character unless it is specifically stated, but this is your decision to make.
  • Before writing a coming out story think carefully about whether or not this is your story to tell. Every person’s story is different and if you yourself are not a gay man this might not be your story to tell.
  • Do let your character have close intimate non-sexual/non-romantic relationships with characters of all genders. Being gay doesn’t mean your character will be attracted to every man they meet. Be clear on character intent and watch wording to avoid confusing your reader.
  • Try to avoid making your character gay simply as a plot device. It should be an integral part of who they are, not a quirk.
  • It might be best to avoid having them be a so-called ‘flaming gay’ as this can perpetuate harmful attitudes toward femininity and can promote the idea that gay men want to be women. If you choose to write a such a character please be careful of using feminine stereotypes for their characterization.
  • Be very careful about having your gay character die, suffer tragedy or mental illness as this is an incredibly harmful trope and should be handled with the utmost care.
  • Be mindful of the character’s ‘gaze’ or how they describe other characters as they can end up seemingly sexually attracted to people you didn’t intend and can lead to reader confusion as to their sexuality.

 

Things to keep in mind:

Gay men are increasingly the subject of queer experience appropriation, infantilization and fetishization in stories. The popularity of the ‘slash’ (M/M) genre has perpetuated some very harmful stereotypes, tropes and the continued fetishizing of gay relationships. It has also led to the stereotype of white cis-gendered gay men being the default ‘gay’ seen in media. This excludes gay men of other races and gay trans men. Please always keep in mind you are writing a person, not an orientation.

Tropes:

Tropes are tropes for a reason and most of these are not bad in and of themselves, however like a lot of tropes they often perpetuate harmful stereotypes and thus should be used cautiously. Some of these are problematic in and of themselves and should not be used without extreme caution and sensitivity. These tropes are marked with an asterisk.

Agent Peacock | All Gays Love Theater | All Gays Are Pedophiles* | All Gays Are Promiscuous* | All the Good Men Are Gay | Always Camp | Ambiguously Gay | Anything That Moves | Armoured Closet Gay | Badass Gay | The Bear | The Beard | Big Beautiful Man | Bury Your Gays* | But Not Too Gay | Camp Gay | Camp Straight | Cast Full of Gay | Closet Key | Club Kid* | Coming-Out Story | Cure Your Gays* | Depraved Homosexual* | Everyone Is Gay | Experimented in College | Faux Yay | Flying Under the Gaydar | Forced Out of the Closet | Gay Aesop | Gay Best Friend | Gay Bravado | Gay Conservative | Gay Cowboy | Gay Groom in a White Tux | Gay Guy Seeks Popular Jock | Gayngst | Gym Bunny | Have I Mentioned I am Gay?: | Have You Tried Not Being a Monster?* | Hello, Sailor! | If It’s You, It’s Okay | Lover and Beloved | Macho Camp | Magical Queer | Manly Gay | Nobody Over 50 Is Gay | Sissy Villain* | Transparent Closet | The Twink | Word of Gay: Word of God*

Gays in Fiction

Gay men have been written about since the 1st Century and have been a constant fixture in human society all through the ages. A list of books featuring appropriate and accurate representation of gay men is a subject for debate.

Where We Are on TV 11

Lists of LGBT Fictional Characters  

Famous Gay Men in History

Alexander the Great

Michelangelo

Leonardo da Vinci

Oscar Wilde

Alan Turing

Emperor Hadrian

Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben

Babur

William Lygon, 7th Earl Beauchamp

Cyrano de Bergerac

Leonard Bernstein

Marlon Brando

Ferdinand I of Bulgaria

Caligula

Jean Jacques Régis de Cambacérès

Truman Capote

Giacomo Casanova

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Tennessee Williams

Further Reading:

The Critical Media Project: LGBT

Gay Representation in Media by Dustin Bradley Goltz

Reinventing Privilege: The New (Gay) Man in Contemporary Popular Media

What Led to Lexa: A Look at the History of Media Burying Its Gays

Going Over the Rainbow: The Trope Trap

Going Over the Rainbow: Hot for You

Is there anything you feel I’ve left out? How would you handle writing a gay man? Have you ever written one? If you haven’t, would you consider it?

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Characters · Going Over the Rainbow · lgbt · mogai · writing

Going Over the Rainbow: Lesbians

GoingOver theRainbow (1)

It’s been a rough year for fictional lesbians and not a great one for the rest of the MOGAI population either.

I don’t have any new words to say about Orlando that haven’t already been spoken. I can only move forward and hope this series inspires you to write even more queer characters so that many more people can read your stories and see we are human too. That’s my greatest hope.

So lets just jump right into today’s subject.

Lesbian: A woman who is primarily attracted to other women.

Developing a Lesbian Character

So, how might you go about creating your own lesbian character? These questions might help you discover why your character has chosen this identity for themselves and how it impacts their life and relationships.

  • How do other characters react to your character’s orientation? How does your character react/respond to these reactions?
  • How does the society in your story react to lesbians? How does this affect your character? What assumptions do others have about lesbians/your character?
  • When did/will your character realize that they were attracted to females? How does/will your character think/feel about this? Is the realization because of a specific event, a gradual understanding/coming to terms, etc?
  • How does your character express their gender, whether by choice/effort or naturally… in terms of presenting, passing, self-image and comfort? Do they express their gender a certain way in the hopes of finding other lesbians? What challenges/opportunities does this present them?
  • How does your character tell people about being a lesbian (if they tell people at all)?

Writing a Lesbian Character

As with writing any character, their sexuality is just one part of their whole identity. When writing your lesbian character here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • You can have your character specifically state they are a lesbian. This will help the reader understand where your character is coming from. Having other characters react and ask questions will help mitigate an info dump. Many readers will reject a queer coded character unless it is specifically stated, but this is your decision to make.
  • Before writing a coming out story think carefully about whether or not this is your story to tell. Every person’s story is different and if you yourself are not lesbian this might not be your story to tell.
  • Do let your character have close intimate non-sexual/non-romantic relationships with characters of all genders. Being lesbian doesn’t mean your character will be attracted to every woman they meet. Be clear on character intent and watch wording to avoid confusing your reader.
  • Try to avoid making your character lesbian simply as a plot device. It should be an integral part of who they are, not a quirk.
  • It might be best to avoid having them be a so-called ‘butch lesbian’ as this can perpetuate harmful attitudes toward femininity and can promote the idea that lesbians want to be men. If you choose to write a ‘butch’ lesbian please be careful of using masculine stereotypes for their characterization.
  • Be very careful about having your lesbian character die, suffer tragedy or mental illness as this is an incredibly harmful trope and should be handled with the utmost care.
  • Be mindful of the character’s ‘gaze’ or how they describe other characters as they can end up seemingly sexually attracted to people you didn’t intend and can lead to reader confusion as to their sexuality.

Things to keep in mind:

Lesbians face unique challenges in modern society. As women who love women they are often fetishized, made the butt of tasteless jokes, and given little personal agency in media. Their stories are commonly portrayed as inherently tragic, as nothing more than close friendships, as a woman who simply hasn’t found the ‘right’ man, or as men-hating extremists. These stereotypes are incredibly hurtful and far from the truth. It is your responsibility as the writer to make certain your portrayal, while true to your story, doesn’t reduce your lesbian character to a stereotype or trope. Always keep in mind that you are writing a whole, complex person, not just a sexual orientation.
Additionally, if a term seems like it might be offensive, please err on the side of caution and omit it. Terms like ‘gold star lesbian’ and ‘dyke’ should not be used as they can be incredibly offensive. Dyke is a term reserved for intra-community use. Please refrain from using it if you are not part of the community. 

On ‘butch’ lesbians reecepine of Tumblr says:

There are privileges and disadvantages to lesbians passing for straight in the heteronormative world and in the LGBTIA+ community. An obvious advantage is safety. A disadvantage is femme invisibility (source), hence desperate queer coding which tends to lean towards masculine expressions (short hair etc.).

But often you can’t choose to pass or to be butch. It’s fairly common for pre-pubescent children to demonstrate gender nonconforming behaviour, but there is a strong association between high-level gender non-conforming activity and people later IDing as transgender or homosexual. It happens, it is stressful and it attracts corrective behavior modifications and abuse, from childhood onwards. Meaning a lot of lesbians don’t conform to gender norms and never have, and have been criticized their whole lives for that. I was assigned female at birth, have been socialized as female, and ID as cis. I’m (usually, relatively) feminine-presenting but have naturally masculine mannerisms, so I can pass for ‘not butch’ only if I go out of my way to act, and dress in what feels like a costume. My natural state of behaving, though, doesn’t mean I want to be or am trying to be male.

Tropes:

Tropes are tropes for a reason and none of these are bad in and of themselves, however like a lot of tropes they often perpetuate harmful stereotypes and thus should be used cautiously. Bury Your Gays is one of the most prevalent and one to be avoided.

All Lesbians Want Kids | Ambiguously Gay | Bait-and-Switch Lesbians | Bury Your Gays  | Butch Lesbian | Cure Your Gays | Dude, She’s a Lesbian | Girl-on-Girl Is Hot | Girls Behind Bars | Hide Your Lesbians | Lesbian Cop | Lesbian Jock | Lesbian Vampire | Lipstick Lesbian | Psycho Lesbian | Rape and Switch | Schoolgirl Lesbians | Token Lesbian

Lesbians in Fiction

Lesbians have been written about since the 2nd Century and have been a constant fixture in human society all through the ages.

Wiki List of lesbian fiction

Famous Lesbians in History

Sappho of Lesbos

Gertrude “Ma” Rainey

Mabel Hampton

Barbara Gittings

Jane Addams

Gladys Bentley

Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon

Eleanor Roosevelt

Lilli Vincenz

Jerre Kalbas

Barbara Jordan

Marie Antoinette

Virginia Woolf

Florence Nightingale (speculated)

Further Reading

avoiding-lgbtq-stereotypes | definitions | safe-zone-resources/truth/ | sexual orientation study guide | Civil Rights and Orientation | Theories About Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Sexuality | Wishlist for Fiction | Am I a Lesbian? A Journey of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identification | Are Feminism and the Transgender Movement At Odds? | Gender Trouble 

Is there anything you feel I’ve left out? How would you handle writing a lesbian? Have you ever written one? If you haven’t, would you consider it?

If you enjoyed this post and would like access to exclusive content please consider supporting me on Patreon.

writing

10 Tips for Making Tumblr Work for Writers

 

As a die hard introvert online social media is not my forte. Though it certainly makes things a bit easier by giving me a screen to hide behind, but even then I struggle. So today I’ll be going over something that does work for me and might for you. Tumblr. It’s not just for SuperWhoLock and hipsters. ^_^

I’m thrilled to be a guest over at Jami Gold’s blog today. Follow the link below for the full post.

10 Tips for Making Tumblr Work for Writers

Characters · Going Over the Rainbow · lgbt · writing

Going Over the Rainbow: Writing a Character Who is Transgender

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Trans Terms

Transgender issues have been in the spotlight lately with Target’s new policy and North Carolina’s anti-LGBT legislation. Neither of these news items tell us much about just what it is like to be a trans person, other than that going to the bathroom in public places can be like playing Russian roulette where all the chambers are filled but one.

I decided to go ahead and write this after seeing a post on a Facebook group I’m a part of asking writers how they write genderqueer characters. While well meaning, many of the comments showed a fundamental lack of understanding of what it means to be trans or genderqueer. So I’ve tailored today’s post to cis-gendered writers looking to write trans characters sensitively. As I’ve said before, there are some issues best left to trans or genderqueer writers, but please don’t be afraid to write a trans character. I’m hoping this post will help you be more confident in portraying them.

Transgender (adj.)

An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. People under the transgender umbrella may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms – including transgender. Some of those terms are defined below. Use the descriptive term preferred by the individual. Many transgender people are prescribed hormones by their doctors to change their bodies. Some undergo surgery as well. But not all transgender people can or will take those steps, and a transgender identity is not dependent upon medical procedures.

(http://www.glaad.org/reference/transgender)

Writing a Transgender Character

So you want to write a transgender character? That’s awesome! Here are some thoughtful questions that you can ask yourself about your character to help you better understand how they see themselves and how they interact with the world:

  • Which gender does your character identify as?
  • How does this gender manifest and how does your character show/perform it?
  • How does your character think/feel about being transgender? Does it give them an advantage/disadvantage? Is it a big deal to them or not?
  • Do they deal with gender dysphoria? If so, how do they handle it? If not, what other identity challenges might they face?
  • When did your character discover that their gender identity did not match their assigned gender? What kind of experience was it?
  • Does your character plan to transition to their gender? Why or why not? If so how do they plan to transition (hormone therapy, surgery?) and what challenges might they face?
  • How does the character interact with the world?
  • How does your character want to be perceived by others? How are they actually perceived?
  • How do other characters react to your character? Do they use their chosen name and pronouns or not? How does your character handle these reactions?
  • How does the society in your story treat your character?

This is just to get you thinking about building a complex character who is transgender. If you can’t answer all these questions now, then just keep them in the back of your mind for consideration as you continue to develop your character.

  • Keep specific gender traits for your character consistent. A character worksheet can help you to make sure you have the details down.
  • Don’t fall into gendered stereotypes for gender expression. There is nothing wrong with any of the activities themselves, but be careful about using them to portray a specific gender expression. Remember that some people are gender non-conforming. A female character can act masculine without being trans.
  • How your character expresses their gender should fall in line with their personality. They are still the same person no matter which gender they identify as. Personality traits are not gender dependant.
  • Pronoun usage should match your character’s chosen pronouns unless the character speaking is someone who refuses to address your trans character properly.
  • As with pronouns, names should stay consistent within a scene. If your character prefers a particular name for their gender identity this should be used when the character is the point of view character in the scene. Other characters might use or disregard their chosen name with appropriate reaction/consequences.
  • Remember, gender identity is independant from sexual orientation. A person who transitions from male to female and is attracted only to men may identify as a straight woman. A person who transitions from female to male and is attracted to men would most likely identify as a gay male.

 

I hope this will help you get started writing a transgender character. As with any gender identity it’s important to remember you are writing a person, not a gender. Who they are is more important than what they identify as and while it is a large part of their personality, it shouldn’t be the sole focus.

Special Note:

It’s worth it to note that crossdressing is not the same as being transgender. GLAAD states:

While anyone may wear clothes associated with a different sex, the term cross-dresser is typically used to refer to heterosexual men who occasionally wear clothes, makeup, and accessories culturally associated with women. This activity is a form of gender expression, and not done for entertainment purposes. Cross-dressers do not wish to permanently change their sex or live full-time as women. Replaces the term “transvestite.”

PLEASE NOTE: Transgender persons are not cross-dressers or drag queens/kings. Drag queens/kings are men and women, typically gay or lesbian, who dress like men or women for the purpose of entertainment. Be aware of the differences between transgender persons, cross-dressers, and drag queens/kings. Use the term preferred by the individual. Do not use the word “transvestite” at all, unless someone specifically self-identifies that way. (http://www.glaad.org/reference/transgender) Wording changed to be more inclusive.

Further Reading:

Going Over the Rainbow: The Gender Divide

Going Over the Rainbow: The Trope Trap

Going Over the Rainbow: What is Gender Dysphoria?

Not just one way to be transgender…

Tragic Tropes: Transgender Representation in Contemporary Culture

Answers to Your Questions About Transgender People, Gender Identity and Gender Expression

Trans FAQ

What’s the difference between being transgender or transsexual and having an intersex condition?

S/He Parents of transgender children are faced with a difficult decision, and it’s one they have to make sooner than they ever imagined.

The K-12 Binary Schools are becoming ground zero for clashes over transgender rights.

ABOUT GENDER IDENTITY

Transgender

How NOT to Write a Trans Character (this post contains language and terms some might find offensive)

What Is a Woman? The dispute between radical feminism and transgenderism.

‘Orange Is The New Black’ Actress Tells Katie Couric Why It’s Not Cool To Ask About Trans People’s ‘Private Parts’

Characters · excerpt · Going Over the Rainbow · lgbt · mogai · writing

Going Over the Rainbow: What is Gender Dysphoria?

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Yesterday on Tumblr I had an anon ask an excellent question about gender dysphoria and what having an episode feels like. So I thought I would share it with you all here as well. This is one of those things that unless you experience it yourself it can be difficult to comprehend. I did my best to explain it but I highly recommend that if you decide to write a character who experiences gender dysphoria while you do not, that you have someone who does, beta read for you.

gender dysphoria episode ask

[Text: Anonymous asked: Could you describe of what a gender dysphoria episode is like? I understand the basics I think, but was wandering if you could describe it in more detail? Or maybe you could point out a part in the Jeweled Dagger that shows this?]

My Answer:

sorrowsfall:

Gender dysphoria is something that is only briefly mentioned in JD during a conversation between Genevieve, Olivia and Nora.

“Nora often wishes she’d been born a boy. She hates being a girl.”

 “I am sorry, Nora. That is a difficult thing.” 

Nora shrugged. “I make do. Though if you can get away with dressing as a woman maybe you can show me how to dress as a man. It would make me a lot happier than wearing this fucking dress.” 

Genevieve blinked at the course language then smiled. “I’d be happy to help.” – (The Jeweled Dagger)

The scene I mentioned in my post yesterday has the dysphoria front and center. (This might be a bit spoilery for both JD and Daggers and a rather long reply, so I hope you don’t mind). Lafayette might be genderfluid but being forced to present as a gender they are not currently experiencing can be just as difficult and disorienting as it would be for a trans person.

Current circumstances have forced Lafayette to come to Court as Genevieve. The dysphoria starts as they’re getting ready with them not recognizing themselves in the mirror.

As he got ready Lafayette kept trying to get into the right mindset. He could pretend to be Genevieve but he hated doing that. It was like trying to wear something that didn’t quite fit and chaffed, except it was internal rather than external. Watching himself in the mirror as he started applying the paste to his skin made him uncomfortable and left him with a sick hollow feeling. Did Rona not understand what she was asking of him, demanding he only appear as Genevieve? He wasn’t some actor playing a role. Though he supposed this wasn’t much different from the days he had to pretend to be male too. – (The Daggers of Ariyon)

I’ve deal with this myself a lot (it’s one of the reasons I hate mirrors so much). Imagine going into your bathroom to get ready in the morning, yet the person staring back at you in the mirror is not you. Intellectually you know it’s your face but your gut is telling you this is all wrong. Sometimes, if I’m having a bad day, this will set off either a panic attack or a depressive episode that can last hours or days. Other times I end up self-harming. Yeah, mirrors are not my friend. :/

Hearing the wrong pronouns can result in an episode too.

Nate didn’t look convinced until Olivia stuck her head out the door. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on her.”
A small jolt shot through Lafayette at the ‘her’ but he shoved the feeling aside. – (The Daggers of Ariyon)

It always gives me a start, like a sudden drop, makes me dizzy, nauseated and confused. That’s usually when I have to stop and forcefully talk to myself to prevent a full episode. I have to remind myself that people look at me and see a certain gender.

You probably have a mental image of yourself. The way you see yourself when you’re imagining doing things, or even dreaming. This is very normal, yet I don’t have a mental image of myself. I *know* what I look like, yet my mental image is just a shadowy figure. I’m never ‘myself’ in dreams. If I am it’s probably a nightmare. From what I’ve read many trans persons experience similar things, their mental image of themselves doesn’t match the external. And I don’t mean just that you think your looks aren’t what you want. This goes a whole lot deeper.

Sometimes, for some people, just having to look at or feel parts of their anatomy that don’t fit their gender can result in an episode. Others actually feel as though they are missing breasts or a penis, it’s been likened to phantom limb syndrome. This has lead to speculation that while the brain is wired to have those parts of the anatomy, they aren’t physically present. As you can imagine this can be terribly disorienting. You never feel whole, or normal no matter how hard you try.

Lafayette doesn’t have the luxury of staying home. As many of us don’t. We have to deal with the dysphoria and hope we don’t break down in public. I personally felt it was important to explore this aspect of being gender non-conforming though I know Lafe’s experience won’t be exactly the same as other people who experience gender dysphoria. Their dysphoria is different even from my own.

It’s my sincere hope that writing about this helps educate people and provides a basis for understanding.

Here are some links that might help too and I’m always happy to talk. ^_^

What does gender dysphoria feel like?

How does gender dysphoria feel?