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

Going Over the Rainbow: There is No Fast Lane

GoingOver theRainbow (1)

After last week’s post I had some people asking me to explain the concept of aromanticism further. If after reading the post and the included links you are still feeling a bit confused or unsure, don’t worry there isn’t anything wrong with you. Unfortunately, it is a subject much like gender; you only truly ‘get it’ if you experience it. Which is why I’m writing this week’s post on a slightly different subject; knowing when a story is not yours to write.

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This post is going to frankly discuss sensitive subjects that some might find triggering. Please read with caution.

I’ve discussed many personal things on this blog in the hopes of helping others gain insight to how some of us interact with the world around us. It is my sincere hope that these posts are not only informative and entertaining, but that they help you gain a greater understanding of your characters and more importantly; people who you might meet in your life.

However, there will sometimes be things that simply cannot be explained, they must be experienced to be understood. Even as a queer individual, I know that my experience is different than others. There are some orientations and gender identities I cannot comprehend because my brain is not wired that way (I don’t understand gender itself on my best days which is why I’m nonbinary). What I’m encouraging you to do is; be willing to learn about others but if something doesn’t click, don’t get frustrated. We can still try to be understanding and open-minded. But how do we know if we are straying into someone else’s lane?

Staying in Your Lane

Writers love to learn, but some things cannot be learned they must be experienced. I could tell you about my experiences growing up as a queer and gender confused child but unless you have experienced the dissociation, frustration, loneliness, and heartbreak of feeling othered by family and friends alike, there is little I can do to fully impart the knowledge. You might be able to empathize but true comprehension isn’t something I’d actually wish on anyone. This could make writing a character with a background like mine challenging for you. We all get lonely, frustrated and heartbroken but my cause for those feelings might be something incomprehensible for you. And that’s okay.

What’s not okay is writers who assume they understand and proceed to write characters who they think I should be like. Characters ‘triumphing’ over their queerness or being miraculously cured of their mental illness when Mx. Right comes along.

Jami Gold mentioned this last year in her post Shining a Light on Diversity and also in her post One Step to Better Writing and More Diversity. In both articles she mentions not defaulting to stock characters to fill perceived quotas to make our stories seem more diverse. Though as she says in Shining a Light on Diversity; even doing our research and having diverse beta readers and other help might not be enough.

In short it might not be our story to tell at all.w20_7b_be_prepared_to_stop

But how can we know if the story we want to tell is something we can do with good indepth research and interviews or if it would be best left to an author of that particular background?  There are plenty of blogs out there telling you how to write with diversity. The push for diversity is very much needed and should be actively sought and encouraged. However unlike some other bloggers I am going to tell you right now: Not every story is yours to tell. I’m sorry for being blunt but it is the truth. We must learn to check our priviledge and to stay in our lane to avoid traffic.

What does ‘check your priviledge’ mean?

Simply put, this means that we may, unknowingly, have certain advantages over others. And this is only because there are aspects of our identity that society values over others.

When someone asks you to ‘check your priviledge,’ what they’re really asking you to do is reflect on the ways that your social status might have given you an advantage—even if you didn’t ask for it or earn it—while their social status might have given them a disadvantage. (http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/07/what-checking-privilege-means)

So how do we know if we are in the correct lane? Let’s look at a few questions we can ask ourselves.

NOTE: For this I’ll be focusing on the gender and sexual identity portion. As a white person it is not my place to comment on racial issues faced by minorities. For help with racial diversity I highly recommend Writing With Color which is maintained by several people of diverse racial backgrounds.

  • Do I have a personal understanding of what this character might be facing? Can I truly sympathize with them or do I find it difficult to understand where they are coming from.
  • Do I find myself defaulting to stereotypical actions becasue I don’t fully undersand or comprehend how they might act/react in certain situations?
  • Am I struggling with the basic definition of their orientation or gender identity? Do I find it difficult to understand their viewpoint or do I find myself making excuses to write them the way I feel their orientation/gender identity should be represented?
  • Is the major part of their character arc about their race, gender identity, sexuality or mental helath? If so, do I share their experiences or can my experiences contribute to my characterization of them? If not, will research and interviews be adequate for their chararcterization?
  • Will my writing this character ‘talk over’ a writer from a diverse background? If I am not sure, have I asked someone of that background?
  • Am I being honest with myself about why I am writing this character and have I truly put aside any preconcieved notions or assumptions?
  • Is the story’s focus on their struggle with their race, gender identity, sexual orientation or mental health? If it is, do I identify as part of that diverse group? If I don’t, why do I feel the need to write about it? Do I feel as though I need to write this character to make a point? What point am I trying to make and why?
  • Have I read similar characters written by a writer from a diverse background? If not why do I feel qualified to write this character? Has a minority writer already written a similar story? Would I better serve my readers by promoting that author?

If we go through and candidly answer these questions we might find ourselves a little uncomfortable with the answers. It’s alright. This is your conscience telling you that you might be straying out of your lane.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to write someone different from ourselves, I wholeheartedly encourage it, the caution comes when we realize we cannot fully grasp the character’s situation or that our motivations for writing the character might be misplaced.

There is nothing to be ashamed of if this is the case. It just means that we should look for other ways to write this particular character or show our writerly humility and not write the character at all. This is why I rarely write traditional heterosexual romance and erotica. I don’t understand it.

I’ll be quite honest, when I read a romance that has the heroine gladly jumping in bed with the hero a short time after meeting him, I’m very put off. I cannot comprehend being able to have sex with someone within minutes of meeting them. I find the thought repulsive, but that is for me personally and I understand other people think very differently. They might find my lack of romantic and sexual attraction equally confusing and disturbing.

The wonderful thing about writing is that we all have stories to tell. No one can write like you or from your viewpoint and world experience. Don’t feel limited by that though. Please do read, research, explore, learn, and write with diversity. Just please also remember that even though your lane might not be wide, it’s just as long as you want to make it and don’t be afraid to let it intersect with other lanes. Just make certain you stop to check your priviledge first.

Going Over the Rainbow: Crush Those Stereotypes

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

Going Over the Rainbow: Aromantic

When Romance is Not an Option

I was having a hard time deciding where to start, so I thought I’d just do this alphabetically. ^^ I personally am between pan and aro when it comes to romantic orientation. I don’t claim to understand everything about either, and my experiences will vary widely from other aromantics.

Aromanticism is:

not experiencing romantic attraction.

Aromanticism is not:  

a personal choice or lack of emotional connection.

Definition (From AVEN Wiki): An aromantic is a person who experiences lAromanticittle or no romantic attraction to others. Where romantic people have an emotional need to be with another person in a romantic relationship, aromantics are often satisfied with friendships and other non-romantic relationships. What distinguishes romantic relationships from a non-romantic relationships can vary diversely, but often includes physical connection (holding hands, cuddling, etc.) (Italics mine).The aromantic attribute is usually considered to be innate and not a personal choice, just as the lack of sexual attraction is innate to asexuals. It is important to note that aromantics do not lack emotional/personal connection, but simply have no instinctual need to develop connections of a romantic nature. Aromantics can have needs for just as much empathetic support as romantics, but these needs can be fulfilled in a platonic way.

It is possible for an aromantic individual to be involved in, and enjoy, a devoted relationship with another person, but these relations are often closer friendships, naturally reflecting the closeness of the two individuals and not a purposely initiated monogamous separation as is often found in romantic couples. Aromantics may experience squishes which are the aromantic or platonic equivalent of a romantic crush. When an aromatic get’s into a relationship that’s more than friends – but less than romantic – that is known as a queerplatonic relationship.

Like all romantic identities aromatics can be of any sexual orientation.

Writing the Aromantic Character

The first thing to remember when writing an aromantic character is that being aromantic does not mean incapable of love, affection or sexual intimacy. It simply means they do not experience romantic attraction. They have friends and other relationships but not with a goal of a romance. (http://www.buzzfeed.com/mcrosswell/5-myths-about-aromanticism-tysc#.lvwnEXPxq)

Romantic Orientation – Describes an individual’s pattern of romantic attraction based on a person’s gender(s) regardless of one’s sexual orientation. For individuals who experience sexual attraction, their sexual orientation and romantic orientation are often in alignment (i.e. they experience sexual attraction toward individuals of the same gender(s) as the individuals they are interested in forming romantic relationships with). (AVEN Wiki).

As when writing any character, you need to ask yourself several questions:

  • Have I given them other meaningful, close relationships?
  • Have I fallen into the stereotype of the aromantic asexual as an unfeeling, friendless, virginal robot who hates everyone? Not all aromantic people are asexual.
  • Do I fully understand what it means to be aromantic? Is this my story to tell?
  • Have I tried to ‘fix’ the character’s or tried to show them suddenly being romantic when they find the ‘right’ person?
  • What are my reasons for having this character be aromantic? Have I made them a whole person or is their orientation their primary characteristic? Am I trying to fill a perceived quota?
  • Have I made the character aromantic due to mental illness, trauma, personal failing or some outside factor? If so, why and how does it serve the plot?
  • Have I made this character’s orientation the comedic relief?

Now some questions for your aromantic character:

  • Do they realize they are aromantic? How do they feel about this? Do they wish they were ‘normal’ or are they content with their orientation? Do they try to force themselves into romantic relationships? What are the consequences?
  • When did they discover their orientation? Was it a gradual understanding that took years. Are they still a teen and trying to come to grips with how different they might seem from all their peers?
  • Who else knows about their orientation or have they told anyone? If so, who and why or why not? How did those they told react? How did they handle this reaction?
  • How has their orientation affected their other relationships?
  • Do they want a close platonic or even sexual relationship?
  • Does their orientation intersect with other things such as gender identity, race, physical disability, mental illness, or other factors? How do they handle this intersectionality?

Once you’ve addressed these questions, it is important to remember that you are writing a person. A whole person not just an orientation. While a person’s orientation is integral to who they are and defines them up to a point it shouldn’t be the sole basis for their personality. This can lead to falling into the trope trap. While tropes themselves are not bad some can perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Aromantics are seldom, if ever, seen in media so there are very few tropes about them, though many of the asexual tropes can apply as well.

Don’t shy away from writing them just because they are rare. They are part of the spectrum and need to be favorably represented so that other aromantics can read their stories and see that they are not broken, ‘messed up,’ or ‘weird.’ They are normal people who just happen to not be interested in romance. This might feel like a challenge at first and if you are romantically inclined it might be difficult to comprehend. It’s okay. Their story might not be yours to write and that’s fine. But don’t let that scare you off from including their orientation in your stories. If anything the research can help you, as it has me, come to a better understanding of others and to have greater empathy.

Here are some more references I found helpful that I’d like to share with you:

Aromantic – AVENwiki

5 Myths About Aromanticism – BuzzFeed

ASK AN AROMANTIC (if asking questions please remember to be courteous and not assume things)

Anagnori : You might be aromantic if…

Resources for Aromantic Sexual People | The Thinking Aro

Asexual Romances Are Necessary

Going Over the Rainbow: Like a Moth to a Flame

Going Over the Rainbow: The Trope Trap

Going Over the Rainbow: Crush Those Stereotypes

Please share your thoughts with me. Were you aware of the aromantic orientation? Have you met an aromantic person? Would you consider including one in a story? What challenges do you think aromantics face in our society? How might this affect their portrayal in media? Do you know of any canon aromantic characters in a book, movie or game? 

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

asexual · Characters · Going Over the Rainbow · lgbt · mogai · writing · Writing FUNdamentals

Going Over the Rainbow: Like a Moth to a Flame

 

GoingOver theRainbow (1)

This week has been chaotic at best and I apologize for the lateness of this article.

As writers who write living beings at some point our characters will probably experience attraction to another being and desire a relationship. But what kind?

Romantic relationships often seem to be the default in books and movies. Hero A must get with their OoD (object of desire) by the end of Act 3 or your story is a flop. The default romance has become such a staple of mainstream media that to not have it can make it feel as though your story is missing something. So is it?

No not really. Ever watched a show with a really great partnership/friendship. Those are relation(ship)s too. Just with a different kind of attraction. Mad Max: Fury Road was a great example of this. Max and Furiosa’s relationship is not one of sexual attraction at all. Even Capable and Nux don’t have a blatantly romantic relationship. Theirs is based more on shared comfort in a society that sees both of them as disposable objects.

So what kind of relationship did they have if it wasn’t a romantic one?

Yes, you’re on the right track. There are several different forms of attraction (and love but that’s for later). Don’t forget though, romantic attraction does not equal sexual attraction for everyone. Your character can be romantically attracted to someone without wanting to engage in sex.

Let’s look at what this means.

Sexual attraction is what people feel when they look at someone and their first thought is something along the lines of “I want to jump their bones” or “How do I get in those pants.” It’s a response to finding someone physically appealing. Think lust.

 

Marketing companies bank (literally) on our being sexually titillated to sell things. Sex sells, right?

Not always.herehaveanothersexyburgerpic_4f15384461b9daf422986fc8509e164c

(Personally, I have no idea what is appealing about this picture but it came up when I looked up sex in advertising.)

So if there are other kinds of attraction, like my attraction to that burger, what are they? Why do we as writers need to be aware of them and how can we be more diverse by writing characters with different attraction orientations?

Just as there are different sexual orientations, there are different romantic orientations. Just as there are asexual persons, there are aromantic persons. I consider myself panromantic with heavy aromantic leanings. Meaning: while my romantic attraction is not defined by gender I am less likely to engage in anything traditionally romantic or be romantically attracted to anyone regardless of gender. It does not mean that I don’t—or am not capable—of love. Remember earlier? Love and romance are not the same thing. It is entirely possible to love people without being romantically attracted to them.

There are many different types of attraction, including:

Sexual attraction: attraction that makes people desire sexual contact or shows sexual interest in another person(s).

 

Romantic attraction: attraction that makes people desire romantic contact or interaction with another person or persons.

 

Aesthetic attraction: occurs when someone appreciates the appearance or beauty of another person(s), disconnected from sexual or romantic attraction.

 

Sensual attraction: the desire to interact with others in a tactile, non-sexual way, such as through hugging or cuddling.

 

Emotional attraction: the desire to get to know someone, often as a result of their personality instead of their physicality. This type of attraction is present in most relationships from platonic friendships to romantic and sexual relationships.

 

Intellectual attraction: the desire to engage with another in an intellectual manner, such as engaging in conversation with them, “picking their brain,” and it has more to do with what or how a person thinks instead of the person themselves.

(https://lgbtq.unc.edu/asexuality-attraction-and-romantic-orientation)

maleficent-auroraMaleficent (2014) is an excellent example of True Love™. In the movie it was not the Prince’s kiss that could break the spell. Only Maleficent herself could do that. It was the fact that Maleficent was the only person who Aurora truly loved that allowed her to break the spell. This is platonic love.

This is the kind of attraction between characters who are very close friends. I’m pretty certain you don’t have any problems writing friendships.

Sensual and sexual attraction are much more common than aesthetic attraction in books and movies. Women in close, non-sexual, relationships are often shown as being sensually attracted to each other since cuddling, snuggling, hugging and holding hands are seen as more feminine type behaviors. Don’t be afraid to break stereotypes or expectations. Men can initiate cuddling, hand holding and other forms of non-sexual intimacies.

Knowing these various types of attraction can help us as writers be more diverse with our characters and their relationships. Hero A might not find the Hero B sexually attractive, but could be aesthetically attracted to them. Or Hero B might find Sidekick C sensually attractive and want to cuddle and watch Netflix with them.

Don’t be afraid to allow your characters other close relationships even if a romance is the primary focus of the plot. This will help round out all of your characters.

Next time we’ll dive into the various types of romantic orientations and how to write them.

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

 

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Mundane Issues

you-are-not-a-duckIf anything is guaranteed in life, it’s that nothing is guaranteed. You have to eek out time to write, and time for more mundane activities like cleaning and pretending to be a functioning adult. This week has been full of irritating mundane issues for me, which is why I’m having to put off my next Going Over the Rainbow article for a bit.

I won’t bore you with the details of my circumstances but I do hope to be back as soon as possible.

Here is a fun video that’s been helping me get through this week. ^_^

The Jeweled Dagger CoverSpymaster Lafayette Goddard knows better than to trust anyone in their line of work. Now they sit in prison with information that could save the Queen yet they cannot bring themselves to trust the new Captain of the Royal Guard. Even if it means losing everything they’ve worked so hard for.

All Captain Jasper Stanton ever wanted was a chance to prove himself. Mistakenly imprisoning Lafayette isn’t how he planned on distinguishing himself. Now he must try to win the former spy’s respect if he wants cooperation investigating the conspiracy.

The secret to finding out who is plotting to kill the Queen lies with Lafayette’s mysterious informant known only as the Jeweled Dagger. The closer Jasper gets to Lafayette, the more he wonders just how much is being hidden from him.

Available now on Amazon and Smashwords.

 

How do you handle situations when finding time to write seems impossible? Do you have suggestions for allotting time for writing when you’re not at home and cannot follow your normal schedule?

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

 

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Release Day and Book Giveaway!

 

We’ll get straight to the good stuff! Just comment below with your email address  to enter the giveaway. I’ll be choosing 2 Amazon gift card winners, 2 ebook winners and 2 signed print copy winners today using random.org. There is no purchase necessary to win.

You are also welcome to join me on Facebook for the online release party. I’ll also be on Skype all day and you are welcome to come chat with me there as well (my name is sorrows fall and I’m in MO, USA).

Floors of elegance (2)

Genderfluid spy Lafayette Goddard knows better than to trust anyone in their line of work. Now they sit in prison with information that could save the Queen yet they cannot bring themselves to trust the new Captain. Even if it means losing everything they’ve worked so hard for.
All Captain Jasper Stanton ever wanted was a chance to prove himself. Mistakenly imprisoning Lafayette isn’t how he planned on distinguishing himself. Now he must try to win the former spy’s respect if he wants cooperation investigating the conspiracy.
The secret to finding out who is plotting to kill the Queen lies with Lafayette’s mysterious informant known only as the Jeweled Dagger. The closer Jasper gets to Lafayette, the more he wonders just how much is being hidden from him.
Get your copy now. Available in print and as an ebook on Amazon and on Smashwords.
If you read and enjoy (or not) please consider leaving a review! I’d love to know what I got right and what I need to work on!
Books · Characters · gay romance · Going Over the Rainbow · lgbt · mogai · Movies · writing · Writing FUNdamentals

Going Over the Rainbow: The Trope Trap

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All joking aside, accountability is something that professionals of any discipline face. Even us writers.

Yes, you read that right. You, my dear writer, are accountable to your reader. Well yes, you say, I should give them the best story I can write.

Yes you should, but it goes beyond that too. If you’ve written for long you’ve probably ended up having to do some research into an unfamiliar topic. We often joke about hoping the government isn’t keeping too close an eye on our internet research history. There are many resources available online to help us flesh out our characters and our setting. One Stop For Writers is a great example. However, while we might research settings, the job our character has and where they live; sometimes we forget that other things need research too.

Jami Gold had several excellent articles about writing with diversity and the research that goes along with it.

Ask if the Story Is Ours to Tell: If we don’t have direct experience with the diverse element, a story that centers on the diverse aspect might suffer from disrespectful negative stereotypes or breathless, isn’t-it-inspirational-how-they-overcame-those-obstacles “positive” stereotypes. (Note that treating a character’s diverse element as a problem to overcome isn’t actually positive.) — Jami Gold

Sometimes when we are writing a character, even when we’ve done research, we might find ourselves slipping into stereotypes or tropes. They are like clichés. They are comfortable and familiar. Unlike clichés they can be damaging and perpetuate some very harmful thinking.

We can usually spot harmful racial stereotypes. I wrote about avoiding stereotypes in a previous post. I still recommend WritingWithColor, DiversityCrossCheck and betas to help with racial/cultural sensitivity. But tropes aren’t always stereotypes, so how do we know if we are falling into the trope trap?

Trumping the Tropes

There are a LOT of tropes out there. And they are not all bad, most exist for a reason and like popular themes don’t have to be eschewed completely and can even be used to good effect. Over the course of this series I will be addressing various tropes and how they relate to the identity or orientation I’m discussing. In case you are curious as to how many there are TV Tropes Queer as Tropes page is a good place to start.

One of the most prevalent tropes is Bury Your Gays. Queer persons never get happy endings. Ever. Often they die.

Or, more recently, they are the villain.

This doesn’t mean that your queer character has to survive and not be evil. However, it does mean that you need to be very careful about how you approach each of those circumstances. Just as careful as you’d be about casting a black man as a street thug.

Tropes at their most basic are indeed stereotypes and thus need to be very carefully considered. Many common romance themes are tropes in disguise.

  • Stereotypes: Not literary. We avoid using this term to talk about classifying characters, settings, plot points, etc..
  • Archetypes: The broad, all-encompassing norms of the stories humanity tells. The same archetypes can be found in all or nearly all cultures.
  • Tropes: Culturally-specific norms in storytelling. Tropes are cultural classifications of archetypes. There can be many tropes found under the umbrella of one archetype. Literary devices are not tropes (i.e. narrators, foreshadowing, flashbacks, etc.).
  • Clichés: Overused and hackneyed phrases, characters, settings, plot points, etc.. Archetypes do not become clichéd. Tropes can become clichés if they are used too often and readers get bored of them. Clichés are defined by a loss of the meaning or as a distraction from the story.

Definition list from WriteWorld.org.

If we find ourselves falling back on common tropes a lot in our writing5 Questions to Ask Yourself (1), we might need to ask ourselves why. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using tropes but we need to make sure we are giving them our own special treatment. This is easily done by combining two or more tropes or even subverting or flipping them.

Let’s look at some examples:

All Gays Are Promiscuous trope is the stereotype that a gay man is completely driven by lust and must therefore have sex all the time.

Game of Thrones: Downplayed by Ser Loras Tyrell; he is rather easily seduced by an attractive male prostitute, and exchanges significant glances with the openly bisexual Oberyn Martell not long after his lover Renly Baratheon is killed. He mostly comes across as this in comparison to his literary incarnation, who falls into a deep depression after Renly’s death, is apparently celibate, and shows signs of being a Death Seeker.

Wallace Wells, Scott Pilgrim‘s cool gay roommate, is characterized with this trope, even going so far as to hang a lampshade it when chastising Scott for infidelity.

Scott: Double standard!
Wallace: Hey, I didn’t make the gay rules. If you don’t like it, take it up with Liberace’s ghost!
Are there gay men who like to sleep around? Yes, or course, just as there are lesbians, bi-sexuals, pansexuals and straight people who do the same. But the issue comes when we perpetuate it as a defining trait of being gay. This trope is very easily subverted by letting our gay character be in a committed relationship that is not centered on sexual gratification. After all that’s the kind of relationships many of us have and enjoy.
So, do you see how a trope can be trouble? But why should you care?

Jumping the Shark

movie-poster-jaws

The blockbuster movie Jaws launched a national campaign against the ‘man eaters’ and contributed to the drastic decline in the shark population. To this day, the stereotype against sharks persists.

The film’s key mistake was portraying great white sharks as vengeful predators that could remember specific human beings and go after them to settle a grudge. — How ‘Jaws’ Forever Changed Our View of Great White Sharks by Charles Q. Choi

This is just one example of how harmful a negative portrayal in our work can be on others. This is why I wanted to address the issue of accountability with you and how it relates to using tropes.

As authors we enjoy the privilege of having readers accept our words at face value (for the most part). People trust us. What we show them in our fiction, no matter what we write— paranormal, romance, thriller, mystery, literary, et cetera—has an impact on their thinking and their perception of the world around them. This is why we have to be so careful about stereotypical or negatively portrayed characters from marginalized identities/orientations/races/cultures.

This is why I say we are accountable. Our words have power. The power to create understanding and empathy or further the divide. This is why research from valid sources is so important and why we must recognize our own tendency toward common tropes and stereotypes when writing.


 

Now that I’ve got most of the preliminary issues out of the way, it’s time to start delving into the various gender identities and sexual orientations. As we move forward, I’d like to encourage you to refer back to these posts and keep these things in mind.

What are your thoughts on author accountability? Have you ever come across a negative portrayal that affected you personally? Have you read any books where certain characters were walking stereotypes? Do you have any other comments or questions for me?

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

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

Going Over the Rainbow: Show and Tell

I recently ran across a post on Tumblr where the OP was rather distraught. They’d been told that using the word asexual to describe their character’s orientation was historically inaccurate for their setting.

This brought up the issue of explicitly stating a character’s orientation within the prose and when and how this should be done. Some writers might feel that they’d rather not label their characters and let their readers decide the character’s orientation. However, I caution against this.

El at Just Love Romance recently brought out how many romance novels feature asexual and demisexual characters yet this is rarely explicitly stated for the reader. Often in movies and television a character’s sexuality is left vague and for the viewer to guess. This can lead to what is called queer-baiting and is a huge source of frustration within the community.

I’m here to help you avoid this problem no matter what genre you write.

Transparency in Prose

The best way to let your reader know a character’s orientation is to tell them. Let your character state their identity. Be explicit. If your character is questioning or unsure, let them talk about it to other (hopefully queer) characters. Don’t be afraid to show them being unsure or looking for answers. You don’t have to be writing a coming-out story to allow a character to realize who they are.

Okay … don’t look at me like that. I know what you are thinking. It doesn’t fit in the narrative, they are a secondary character, the terms are too modern for my setting, I’m afraid of reader backlash, I don’t even know how they identify, blah, blah, blah.  Sorry, I’m not letting you off the hook on this one. No excuses.

Subtext is not enough. Readers want context. Which means you, my dear writer, have to be transparent when it comes to your character’s sexuality. It must be stated and shown for the reader.

But how?

Please allow me to show you.

Show and Tell

This is one of those times you can throw aside the advice to ‘show don’t tell.’ However, there are ways to show your character’s orientation. The graphic below lists the main ways to do this. As with any other characterization details there are a number of ways to get the information across to your reader.

Dialog

This is one of the easier ways to show the reader a character’s orientation. It doesn’t have to be a pages of discussion, it can be just a line or two of dialog. As long as it is clearly stated by someone. Here is an example:

Maggie stared at the curvy young woman behind the counter. A bump to her hip jolted her to the side. She glanced over to see her friend grinning at her.

“Come on Maggie, either ask her out or stop leering.”Ways to Show and Tell A character's Orientation

“I … uh,” Maggie blinked rapidly as her brain went on autopilot. “She’s probably not even interested in women.”

Okay let’s stop right there. ‘Interested in women’ could mean lesbian, bisexual, or pansexual. So let’s try this:

“I … uh,” Maggie blinked rapidly as her brain went on autopilot. “She’s probably not even a lesbian.”

“Actually I’m pan,” The woman smiled showing two cute dimples.

Simple, right?

Action

Another way to show it is by your character’s actions around those they find attractive. This works nicely if it’s difficult to work the terms into dialog or you want to add extra reassurance for the reader. This is like any other scene that shows characterization, it just deals with your character’s sexual orientation. Again there is no reason to spend multiple paragraphs, get the information out there and let the reader do the rest. If you’re unsure how to show attraction check out One Stop For Writers Emotion Thesaurus. There are several entries to help you show emotional attachment. And don’t forget there are plenty of non-sexual intimacies that can show your character being attracted to or in love with someone.

Internal Dialog

This is an often under-utilized tool for characterization. You are allowed to let your character think about things, dwell on them, process them. This helps your reader too. If you feel dialog or action isn’t appropriate for your character to express their orientation then this might be a good alternative. Of course balance is needed as with all plot and characterization tools.

External Circumstances

What I mean by external circumstances is that it is not the character in question who tells/shows the reader what their orientation is. It could be anther character discussing them or something that happens in the larger world around them. Something as simple as another character stating “X is asexual, they might be uncomfortable watching this movie” or you can even tell your reader as the following paragraph demostrates.

Alice talked to Bert about her feelings for Charlie. Bert informed her that Charlie’s asexual, so whilst he might be open to a romantic relationship, he’d not be likely to respond to sexual flirting. Maybe she should try another tactic to get Charlie’s attention.

Not fantastic but you get the idea. But what if you write historical fiction, fantasy or science fiction? Can you still use the modern terms?

Absolutely.

Here are a few quick, easy ways to do so.

Bran Lindy Ayres (1)

 

What are your thoughts on this? How would you approach revealing a character’s orientation? Have you read any books where you weren’t sure of a character’s orientation? 

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Characters · Going Over the Rainbow · writing

Going Over the Rainbow: Pronouns and Cons

On January 8, 2016 the American Dialect Society voted singular they as the word of the year.

The use of singular they builds on centuries of usage, appearing in the work of writers such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen. In 2015, singular they was embraced by the Washington Post style guide. Bill Walsh, copy editor for the Post, described it as “the only sensible solution to English’s lack of a gender-neutral third-person singular personal pronoun.” – http://www.americandialect.org/2015-word-of-the-year-is-singular-they

This is a big deal. Especially for people like me who are not comfortable with gendered pronouns. It means that people cannot tell me that it is improper grammar to use they as my pronoun. It might take some time for people to get used to the idea of singular they, but it’s not the first time English as a language as changed and it most certainly won’t be the last.

Even the argument that it will be awkward to say things such as: “I saw Bran today, they were working on a new project.” doesn’t fly with me. It might sound off to an English major but for the general populace it won’t matter.

However, it will matter a great deal to non-binary, trans and genderfluid people who are not comfortable with gendered pronouns.

I understand this might be a hard concept for cis-gendered persons to grasp and truly there is no way for them to sympathize. They simply do not have the mental framework for it.

When someone calls me by female pronouns, it really unravels all the daily work (mentally, physically and emotionally) that I have done for years in order to find a gender that feels comfortable to me. I do not see anything wrong with being a woman or feminine (if anything, I often wish I could identify as this because it would be easier in some ways), but I simply do not feel like a female-bodied person. I can hardly remember a moment in my life when I did. -Janke Seltsam (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-nichols/misidentification-and-transphobia-one-musicians-experiences-touring-america_b_3362069.html)

 

With that being said, this does not mean that cis-gendered persons cannot and should not try to understand other genders. It involves being open and sensitive to the knowledge that not everyone goes by he or she.

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Identity Crisis

I’m a big Transformers fan. The cool thing about them is they are robots. They do not have gender or gender binaries. Some choose to identify as male or female and use the appropriate pronouns. But what if you are writing a character who is trans, non-binary or gender-queer? What do you do then?

You, my dear writer, use their correct pronouns.

But, you say, what if they are a trans woman and the reader needs to know they are trans and were assigned male at birth?

A valid question; you want your readers to know how your character identifies but you also don’t want run the risk of turning your character into a walking stereotype, or make readers feel as though your character is wearing a sign that says ‘Hi I’m trans.’

transgender

That does not mean that the subject should not be addressed. It absolutely should. Below is a list of ways you can show, and tell, your readers which gender—if any—your character identifies with.

  • If a character’s gender is in question, have other characters comment on or think about it. This is perfectly alright. Here is an example from Masquerade, my upcoming short story prequel to The Jeweled Dagger:

He turned back to find Sivil staring at him with a strange expression. “I … apologize, from your dress and demeanor I thought you were a man. I should have realized, with the long hair and pretty face—”

“Sivil, does the Steward need a footman or a housemaid because I can do either.”

“A footman.” Sivil nodded, his gaze darting around the room, only settling briefly on Lafayette. “Is it true what they say about Kedonians then? That you don’t have genders?”

Lafayette stared at Sivil a strange cold knot tightening in his gut. He’d heard a lot of idiotic rumors about Kedonians but this one was new. He took a step closer to Sivil, “My gender is my own business. Not yours. If the Steward needs a footman, he will get a footman.”

  • If the character is a viewpoint character it is just fine to let them think about it, our gender identities and expression are a large part of how we socialize.
  • Let your character come right out and confirm their gender. This is best done in dialog with other characters, though depending on the story there are other ways to approach this as well.
  • Have other characters comment on their gender expression. Non-binary, trans and gender queer persons are beset with misunderstanding and misgendering on a daily basis, so it’s likely they will encounter this in your narrative.*
  • They can ask to be called by their correct pronouns or inform other characters of their correct pronouns.
  • Use description to show their gender expression. This one is a bit trickier and can come off as being transphobic and othering. Here is a good example of how to handle it without going overboard:

I was living in Vancouver’s West End, still wet behind the ears, having just arrived from the Yukon in a Volkswagen van. It was only the second apartment I ever rented, and the first time I laid eyes on Rosie it was raining, and there she was, skinny, wiry, restless-eyed Rosie right behind me on the sidewalk that led to our building’s front door with bother her arms burdened down with grocery bags. So I held the door open for her, just like my gran had taught me to.

“Chivalry lives,” she snorted as she clunked in past me in her skin-tight Levi’s and low-cut blouse and kitten heels. Of course I did not know the words for kitten heels. Yet.

Except her voice was low, like an eighteen-wheeler gearing down with its engine brakes grinding on a long steep hill down from the summit, and her bare skin above her black bra was covered in five o’clock shadow and painted with now bleeding-edged and sailor-flash faded tattoos.

I had never met any other woman quite like Rosie before.

Gender Failure

As the example shows, the description of Rosie is vivid but there is no mistaking that the narrator sees her as a woman. A little later in the story the narrator makes the mistake of calling her, he. Rosie is quick to correct them. Other than that, the fact that Rosie is trans is never really discussed. She is Rosie.

I see you squinting at the screen as you think … but the only pronouns I am aware of are he and she. Am I supposed to make up something?

Nope. As I mentioned above singular they is perfectly acceptable. My genderfluid character Lafayette, mentioned in the above excerpt, goes by he/she/they depending on the circumstances and who they are with. There are also several accepted gender-less pronouns. The only issue with the list below is that they are not very well known outside the genderqueer community and can draw your reader out of the story as they try to parse the new words. Personally, I like Spivak (ey,em, eir) as it is the least visually jarring but it is entirely up to you.

Please do not be afraid to let your character use these pronouns. They’ll never enter wider use if we don’t actually use them.

pronoun-cards-2
Image from the University of Wisconsin LGBT Resource Center

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Contrary

You will likely get some irate readers asking why you decided to use ‘made-up’ pronouns. Be brave. Your desire to be inclusive of all genders is more important that their momentary discomfort.

Everyone deserves to be respected, even fictional characters. You cannot please everyone, but you could make a huge difference in someone’s life by showing them they have the right to be respected and treated as human no matter what gender they identify as.

As with all orientations and identities we must keep in mind that we are writing people. Which pronouns they prefer is a good clue to who they are and how they see themselves, but we must remember not to beat our reader over the head with this detail. It’s just another facet of who your character is as a person.

Ideally, your character’s gender should not be a major source of characterization. Relying on gender expression and society’s gender expectations to show character perpetuates and reinforces stereotypes. It is just fine to let gender be addressed, but a light hand usually works best. Treat it like backstory: leave it to a sentence or two here and there. The reader will do the rest.

*Sadly, in many instances (especially for non-white trans women) this situation is deadly. Please be careful how you approach this so that you’re not accidentally promoting transphobia. The only exception would be if you are writing a transphobic character.

Is there anything you feel I’ve left out? How would you handle writing a non-binary, trans or gender-queer character? Have you ever written one? If you haven’t, would you consider it?

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Books · lgbt · mogai

The Jeweled Dagger Pre-Order News and Book Release Party

It’s been just over a year since I started working on The Jeweled Dagger. It all started from a NaNoWriMo boot camp in 2013 and a little righteous indignation at an editor over being told to take out Lafayette’s ‘cross dressing.’ I quit the boot camp when it became obvious I wasn’t going to get any support writing a non-traditional romance. I’ve never once regretted my decision.

Over the past year I’ve had amazing support from my friends, both online and off, and the lovely staff at my local comic book store who let me come haunt their premises.

This book would not have been possible without the help of the exceptional Jean Mabbs and the amazing Eleonore Eder and my lovely sprinting partner Joana Maia. You all are invaluable and this book would not exist without you.

The Jeweled Dagger Cover

Genderfluid spy Lafayette Goddard knows better than to trust anyone in their line of work. Now they sit in prison with information that could save the Queen yet they cannot bring themselves to trust the new Captain of the Royal Guard. Even if it means losing everything they’ve worked so hard for.

All Captain Jasper Stanton ever wanted was a chance to prove himself. Mistakenly imprisoning Lafayette isn’t how he planned on distinguishing himself. Now he must try to win the former spy’s respect if he wants cooperation investigating the conspiracy.

The secret to finding out who is plotting to kill the Queen lies with Lafayette’s mysterious informant known only as the Jeweled Dagger. The closer Jasper gets to Lafayette, the more he wonders just how much is being hidden from him.

The Jeweled Dagger is currently available for pre-order  and will be available Feb 1st.

I’m inviting anyone who can attend, to the book release party on Feb 13th from 11am till 8pm at Collectomaniacs here in Ozark. If you cannot make it in person, don’t worry I’ll be hosting an online party as well (I’ll post details once they are finalized). You will find your personal invitation here. I look forward to seeing or hearing from you and hope you’ll join me in celebrating this unique novel.

Book Release Party Flyer