June was pride month, and I bet you’re wondering “well, she’s late,” but today, our first official collaboration will be with Hiraeth, my writer friend and author extraordinaire. She has a lot of advice to offer when it comes to writing, especially LGBT+ characters because she features a handful of them herself. I wanted to sit her down and have a discussion about writing LGBT+ characters and answer some questions for y’all. At the end, we’ll have a list of resources and compile all our advice in one handy handy article. Stay tuned until then!
Riya: If you don’t know her already, Hiraeth is the pen name for a wonderful writer, the author of The Flying Thieves series. She’s a wonderful writer and a great friend. Something unique about her book is the time period and her characters. Crow and Abner are two gay men in the early 1900s. She’s been commended for her inclusivity and amazing ability to add diversity to her work. Because of that, I thought it’d be wonderful to have a discussion with her about writing LGBT characters in novels. Hi, Hiraeth, are there any other introductions you’d like to make before we dive in?
Hiraeth: No, you did a wonderful job with the introduction! Thanks so much for having me, it’s an honor.
Riya: No, thank you for doing this! Now, let’s dive into what everyone is dying to hear about. LGBT characters obviously need more representation in the media, especially in writing. Often, when writers want to include them, they’re horribly puzzled and force it, trying to show readers that they’re inclusive. What’s your trick to writing LGBT+ characters effortlessly?
Hiraeth: The problem with a lot of novels that feature LGBT+ characters is they don’t understand that a person is a lot more than gay, trans, etc…Characters need to be fleshed out beyond their sexuality and gender. They need to be people, first and foremost. Many characters in The Flying Thieves series are queer, but that is not their sole identifier. Just as with straight characters, LGBT+ characters have to be fleshed out.
A lot of the queer relationships in my books happened organically. I didn’t force the character of Caris to be queer. It was simply when I wrote her beside another character that sparks flew. It happens with my straight characters as well.
I suppose my trick is just letting your characters be whole. Never have them be gay because you want a “gay character”.
Riya: I totally agree with you! In my WIP, one of my MCs is gay, but a lot of readers said they appreciated that I didn’t make that his sole trait. In fact, I didn’t even mention it. I think a perfect world is one where a boy can have a boyfriend and people don’t care about it. It’s not addressed as something odd, but something that’s a part of them, something they don’t make a big deal of. One of my readers even said how happy they were that they character could be gay but strong, powerful, and brutally flawed. His sexuality barely defined him.
I also have a non-binary character, Axel, who uses the pronouns they. I didn’t explicitly state that they’re non-binary, but my exclusive use of they communicated that to the reader.
I think my key is just making it something I don’t even talk or press hard about.
A lot of people have asked how you can let readers know that a character is transgender without explicitly stating it, and that’s stumped me too. Do you have any tips to pull it off?
Hiraeth: I loved that about your book! It was done in such a smart and classy way, regarding both Akuru and Axel.
I think it comes down to playing with language and letting the character take over. If the character is strong enough, I’m sure the writer will be able to figure out how to appropriately introduce that aspect of that character.
Riya: That’s true. The coming out process is dependent on different people. Some people are comfortable with just saying it, others aren’t that confident or sure that their environment will react positively. That’s a loaded question because every person is different. If you’re having that question, figure out your character and then think about how they’d come out? I’m sure they’d tell someone, maybe they’d get social pressure, some people can be insecure, the possibilities are endless.
An issue a lot of people have is a disconnect with their LGBT+ characters because they themselves are straight. Author either completely ruin the character or feel uncomfortable writing about something they don’t know. What advice do you have to give to them?
Hiraeth: Good point. I think that’s an excellent thing to consider.
The disconnect is such nonsense. I’m not a wizard and yet, you don’t see me disconnecting from Harry Potter, do you?
If you’re worried about not understanding or connecting to queer characters, then go out and talk to queer people. Do some research. Get cultured and informed. Queer characters are queer people, not uncomfortable, mysterious forces.
Also, draw on your own experiences. Almost everyone knows what a crush feels like. If you’re writing a queer romance, for instance, think about what being in love means to you. At the end of the day, everyone and their experiences are pretty much the same, no matter your preference.
Riya: That’s a fantastic point and literally made me lol. I’m one of the straightest people ever, but I can still write realistic queer people. Yes, people write what they know, but how can you grow as a writer when you only write about yourself?
I myself was a little closed off to the community a couple years back. I was so worried that I wouldn’t get it right or that people would yell at me. Then, I made a lot of friends in the LGBT community. Once you do that, you’ll realize that they’re just like everyone else. That’s the real key to writing LGBT+ characters.
Now, here’s something that’s been bothering me for a while. On Wattpad, if you have LGBT+ themes in your novel, you have to flag it as such. Some contests will even reject you because of it. How do you feel about that?
Hiraeth: That bothers me tremendously. I think that it is very closed minded and small of those contests. It honestly breaks my heart that in 2019 there are still so many closed doors to LGBT+, more so than silly Wattpad contests.
The tagging, too. I think it’s a good thing for people who are looking for LGBT+ content, but something about it just feels a little off.
Riya: Yea, it’s something that’s a little discouraging, and it also blocks off your potential audience. This is a reason a lot of writers stray away from LGBT+ characters.
So, one of my favorite book series is A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. In the last book, she sprung on us that one of the characters is lesbian, which made sense, but nevertheless felt quite forced and fabricated last minute. I assume this is because people noticed that diversity was nonexistent in her books. Every character is pretty much white or straight.
Oops! I haven’t included a LGBT+ character in my novel yet but I need to be inclusive! Should I add a character or change their sexuality last minute or let it go and wait for the next book? Do you think every book should have some representation?
Hiraeth: I felt the exact same way! Mor is a great character, Maas is a fantastic author, but it definitely felt forced.
An author should never, ever force a sexuality or preference on their character. It is a cheap move.
In regards to representation is every book, I think about it like this. The world we live in is extremely diverse. Everybody knows someone who is LGBT+, whether they are aware of it or not. If you want your book to be realistic (even if it’s fantasy), then…just consider how people actually are.
I’ve gotten this question before, since my series takes place in 1903. People have asked if a relationship between two men is realistic, for that time period. If you are writing historical fiction or something of the sort, remember that queer people are not an invention of the 21st century.
Riya: Yes!! I completely agree that it should be natural and they aren’t an invention of the twenty first century.
I saw someone asking “how do I add in a LGBT+ cast without seeming politically correct.” What’s your response to that?
Hiraeth: I think it goes back to the whole “forcing” it thing. If you are honestly that worried about it, then maybe you aren’t in the right headspace to write appropriate, healthy, fleshed out LGBT+ characters.
Riya: I do too. Do you have any other questions or tips that you’d like to share with everyone?
Hiraeth: Read as much as you can. Find good authors who have excellent LGBT+ voices and narratives. Educate yourself.
Riya: That’s some really good advice. Well, thank you for the wonderful discussion, Hiraeth! If you all want to check out her work on Wattpad, follow her on insta @simply_hiraeth and @Simply_Hiraeth on Wattpad. She has amazing works and she’s one of the great authors who have excellent LGBT+ narratives.
Hiraeth: This was fantastic, thank you so much!
Your master guide to writing wonderful LGBT+ characters.
If you’re not LGBT+, writing characters that are part of that community might seem daunting. I know it did to me when I first started. Fear not. Inclusivity does not mean you have to jump in clueless to things you don’t have experience with. Hiraeth and I created a mastersheet of how to get comfortable and realistic with your LGBT+ characters…and it’s not as hard as it seems.
- First, understand the acronym. Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender aren’t the only communities within there. If you want to branch out of the norm of representation, I’d recommend you look through websites that specialize in that. Nevertheless, using my research, this is the acronym and what it stands for.
-When a female has an attraction to another female.
-People: Ellen Degenerous, Ellen Page, Kate McKinnon
Novels: We Set the Dark on Fire, The Meaning of Birds, The Miseducation of Cameron Post.
– When a male has an attraction to another male
People: Troye Sivan, Colton Haynes, Lil Nas X
Stories: Simon vs. the Homosapien Agenda. The Shadowhunter series.
-When a person has attraction to both genders.
People: Halsey, Lauren Jauregui, Carrie Brownstein, Alan Cumming.
-When a person changes their gender to match their identity
People: Chaz Bono, Caitlynn Jenner, Jazz Jennings: all in different age groups.
Similar but more intense form of transgenderism, often reliant on physical appearance.
Queer is an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities who are not heterosexual and/or are not cisgender.
-V.E. Scwab, Mara Wilson
A person questioning their sexuality
Intersex people are individuals born with any of several variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals that, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies”.
People: Pidgen Pagonis, Hida Viloria
A person feeling no sexual attraction.
Stories: Let’s talk about love
A person who is attracted to all kinds of people, regardless of their gender or sexuality.
People: Brendon Urie, Bella Thorne, Janelle Monáe
People who do not fit in a binary of gender.
People: Jonathan Van Ness, Amandla Stenburg.
1. THEY DESERVE TO BE AS DEVELOPED AS A STRAIGHT CHARACTER
I don’t mean that they should have the same mannerisms or actions as a straight person, but put as much effort into their character as a straight character. Invest time in their positives, their flaws, their struggles, their backstories, their interests and hates. Sexual orientation and gender identity is not a personality trait. When you write your LGBT+ character for the sole purpose of diversity, you diminish their value and cause more harm than good.
2. IT SHOULD FEEL NATURAL
Do not force sexual orientation of your characters. Your readers shouldn’t say “oh, that was fast.” Who you are is natural, it is embedded in who you are, so it shouldn’t be jarring to your characters. When it’s jarring, it’s forced and people will criticize you for it. For example, when Sarah J. Maas sprung the sexuality of a character onto readers, she recieved a mix response–pleased fans who felt something off about the reveal. It didn’t feel natural, but instead came off as a last effort attempt at adding diversity.
To make it natural, let readers in on hints. Maybe your character has always enjoyed the way the same sex looks. Their mannerisms, personal conflicts, and overall vibe make it natural to the reader.
Also, often times when writers sprawl for diversity, they make a big deal out of their sexual orientation. This is fine if the character thinks it’s a big deal, if it’s an internal conflict or if they’re an extravagant person, but in my WIP, my main character is just gay…no big deal, no piece or narrative dedicated it to it because in his world, it’s completely natural and people don’t care.
That being said, if you’re character is in an enviormnet where their sexuality puts them in danger or in oppressed situations, let your character go wild. The key is on the enviornment. Just as striaght people react and develop based on their enviornment, so do members of the LGBTQ+ community, so have them react to the world around them, not your personal desires.
3. READ, UNDERSTAND, AND EXPERIENCE
It’s hard to write about something you’re not familiar about. Though the comparision about not understanding how it feels to be a wizard, yet writing about it makes sense, it also has a critical dissociation. Wizards aren’t real, but people with varying sexualities and identies are. Researching, understanding, and experiencing real life topics are very important to nailing them in books and avoiding misrepresenting them. It’s as if you’re writing about a law case. You can’t just write a crime story knowing nothing about law. Real life things can be bent, but not made up, so reading, understanding, and experiencing is very important.
Read books and watch movies featuring LGBT+ characters. I listed some good examples that you should check out below. They’re effective and they give a good feel on what works and what doesn’t. You must also understand your character. This is a common for all characters in fiction, but if you aren’t familiar with the subject, you need to familiarize yourself. Here’s a list of works that are good for research.
Stonewall Forever: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjRv7dJTync
Transgender Kids: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Z4J7iR8nVI
What Does Queer Really Mean: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58od0RlBIjY
Living nonbinary in a binary world: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pvLDHFCEWk
Do all transgender people think the same: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpipLfMiaYU
Things Not To Say To Gay People: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujxl5WZJHL4
LGBTQ+ Stereotypes that Need to Die: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pv6rMKjBrf0
Love, Simon (Simon and the homeosapien’s agenda)
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
There are a plethora of resources that you can use. The internet is a vast and informative place, one which you need to utilize.
Practice and ask friends if things are working. Beta readers and critique partners are your lifesavers in this situation. If you feel like you’re doing something wrong, ask someone, and most importantly-
Experience. Experience, you have to. You might think that as a writer, you’re expected to stay cooped up in your house and write, but I hate that advice. You need to meet people, make friends, experience the world around you. As Hiraeth said, LGBT+ people aren’t sparse in the world, they’re not an out of this world phenomenon.
And this is for ANY topic you’re unsure about. I’ve never been in a relationship, so I have to research and ask for feedback on my love stories all the time to make sure their accurate.
And it’s really that easy. Read, understand, practice, experience, treat them like any other character, let it happen organically. Well, that’s the masterguide!
COMMENT SECTION DISCUSSION
Do you think every book should include LGBT+ representation?