1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

How to write a gay character

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Roc, Apr 15, 2013.

  1. Roc

    Roc Troubadour

    131
    26
    18
    Perhaps I didn't phrase the title right, so let me explain.

    I'm writing a fantasy (not a romance, or fantamance), and therein lies my goal to create a gay character where sexuality is only incidental to the character and has no impact on the story. Because of this, I don't want to explicitly say that the character is gay.

    My question is, how can I (not using romance) convey that the character is gay without making it painfully obvious and defeating the purpose of the character in the first place.

    (One of the main themes in my novel is acceptance and this seems, to me, a step in the right direction)

    Thanks guys!

    Edit: I also feel like I should add that the character is one of the main cast, so it's not like they're going to be showing up a couple times.
     
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2013
  2. As a gay man, I would say that people often discover my sexuality when they say something about a wife or girlfriend I might have and I gently but directly explain that I am not into women.

    Don't tell, show. Have your gay character talk about a past lover, or have him pick up a male character for a night. This is all dependent that the character in question is comfortable with himself and HE doesn't have an issue with his sexuality. There is a great deal of internal homophobia that goes on in the world, and a little internal conflict is always good for story purposes.
     
    Roc likes this.
  3. saellys

    saellys Inkling

    477
    107
    43
    Great question. I'm writing a male pansexual character, and I'm trying hard to balance the portrayal so reader misconceptions will be minimal. For starters, pansexual doesn't mean "attracted to everyone," in the same way gay doesn't mean "attracted to everyone of the same gender". It's potential attraction, so I'm working to make it clear that even though my character is in several relationships over the course of the story and experiences attraction to people in various places on the gender spectrum, there are quite a few people he's explicitly not attracted to. I wouldn't say his relationships have much bearing on the plot, but they're there to develop him as a character and make his orientation crystal clear, which is a priority for me.

    Without using relationships to convey that you're character is gay, I can think of two other methods that might work for you. Since acceptance is a theme in your novel, you can work attitudes about homosexuality into your worldbuilding and make that something your character responds to, internally or externally, at some point in the story. Those attitudes don't have to mirror the ones in the real world, by the way; they could even be overwhelmingly positive. Likewise, your character's response doesn't have to be a source of conflict in the story. My character, for instance, is part of a culture that embraces a religion with homophobic aspects, and those around him would (and do) misconstrue his orientation as homosexuality. Their lack of nuance irritates him, but he's not out campaigning for equal rights.

    The other is to give your character a "type" (again, not just "the same gender" but more like "blonds with battle axes" or "tall dark and noble" or some such) and give them an internal monologue when interacting with a character who falls into that type. That's skirting the line of romance and relationships, though, so I think if you want to avoid that entirely, establishing societal norms would be your best bet.

    EDIT: Ninja'd by Whitestone. I definitely agree that a lot of this will be contingent upon your character's own views about their orientation. Closeted and fearful (maybe in part because of societal norms) will result in different thoughts and actions from out and proud.
     
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2013
  4. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

    1,228
    242
    63
    I had a 'man with no name' loner/wanderer sort of character in a story I wrote two summers ago who was gay, but the only mention I made of it was him at the camp-fire giving his back story about his 'husband and two daughters being killed'. Basically just gender swapped the stereotypical 'wife and two sons'. :p

    References to past romantic interests are the easiest way, or having him flirt with an attractive beer swain or something. Quite depends on the character's personality if a more overt display of his sexuality is possible. If he's less inclined, having a straight character who is more like that comment on a lovely lady and have your gay character retort that she's not 'exactly his type' or something similar. Perhaps, as saelllys touched on, you could develop certain ideas about homosexuality within the worldbuilding and highlight how your character reacts to them. That may not mean conforming to those ideas (particularly if the stereotypes are negative), nor does it have to mean fighting against them (being an LGB activist), but stereotypes, prejudices, etc. often affect how we present ourselves, and they affect how people interact with each other. If you had another character who was a bit homophobic, then he might act differently around your gay character based on his beliefs and your culture's stereotypes.

    All of this depends on the world you have and the character's personality, though.
     
    Roc likes this.
  5. tlbodine

    tlbodine Troubadour

    140
    43
    28
    Depends a bit on his relationship to the rest of the characters in the story and the rules of the world you're in. It really depends a lot on context. Maybe the party stops off at a tavern for a night, and somebody goes to the effort of rounding up a stable boy for the character -- who may or may not see this as a favor. Maybe somebody is surprised at how strong/powerful he is and awkwardly says he doesn't really expect it from someone "like him." Maybe, as mentioned above, somebody asks about a significant other or wife. Or maybe there's just a bit of chemistry or flirtation that's never really pursued.

    It depends on the character and the importance of his sexuality to your narrative.
     
    Roc likes this.
  6. Nightender

    Nightender Minstrel

    52
    1
    8
    The lead character in my current WIP doesn't have a real love interest. She's not interested in sex or even pursuing a relationship. She's content with her life at the start of the story.

    As I wrote a scene with her and her best friend, I found that a couple of the simple actions they were going through--the way they hugged and stayed close to each other--implied a possible interest beyond basic friendship.

    Even though I'm not adding any firm romantic subplots, with that realization, I found myself with a lead who was gay and a female friend she could, maybe someday, be interested in.

    So long as the character's actions and motivations are consistent, you shouldn't have any problems.
     
    Roc likes this.
  7. I think Whitestone made a good point, how you portray it will have a lot to do with the character's sense of identity, and the attitudes to homosexuality in his society. Working around that I think there's quite a few ways it could be implied whithout being stated.

    In one of my stories there's a young man who helps the protagonists, and is saved by one of the supporting protags. Further on up the plot he goes to stay with the guy who saved him, initially for his own protection and because he needs shelter. I never actually say he is gay, but later on in their scenes I kind of imply that they are in some kind of relationship. When the main protag goes to visit the warrior he is surprised by the door being answered by the young man, as the warrior is asleep. Generally they act around each other like very close friends at least, and the younger obviously cares a lot about the warrior when he goes into the danger zone, and can be quite protective of him. So I didn't immediately work these aspects of his personality in at the start, because I wanted to establish the character before the reader stuck a label like "gay" on him.
     
    Roc likes this.
  8. Kit

    Kit Maester

    603
    97
    28
    You could simply make mention of him noticing and admiring a certain man in passing.
     
    Roc likes this.
  9. kayd_mon

    kayd_mon Sage

    262
    28
    28
    Have him be married to a woman, then kill him off, and have his wofe remarry while still claiming to be a virgin! No wait, that's been used...

    But really, you could have the character admire the attractiveness of another like-sex character, just don't be too heavy-handed about it. I went to school with a guy who was trying to do this, but he was too obvious about it, and it detracted from his story and characterization. Subtlety is key. Don'tssacrifice your story just to make a point.
     
    Roc likes this.
  10. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,120
    3,476
    413
    If you are going to present it, I think the ideas above are good. One thing I'd ask is this: if it has absolutely no bearing on the story, is it necessary to either mention it or imply it? For stories I write, if sexual orientation (whether gay or straight) has no bearing whatsoever on the story, I don't even bring it up.
     
  11. saellys

    saellys Inkling

    477
    107
    43
    It may not have bearing on the plot, but it probably has some bearing on the character.
     
    Roc likes this.
  12. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,120
    3,476
    413
    Yes. To me, the characters are part of the story. So when the OP said it had no impact on the 'story,' I took it to mean it was irrelevant as to plot, characterization, and so on. In which case, I wouldn't bring it up to begin with. If it impacts the characterization, then I think it is relevant to the story and should be mentioned.

    Honestly, there's no reason not to do it through simple exposition, explicitly. You don't have to do it that way, of course, but there's nothing wrong with it. Alternatively, the methods mentioned by various members above are also good.
     
    Roc likes this.
  13. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    3,530
    507
    113
    I agree with Sterrpike,
    Let the reader figure it out with the clues, maybe at the end of the book confirm it in some way.

    I have a secondary character that is homosexual, it isn't important, in fact I just had the main character ask the person showing her around,
    "Does he have his eye on any of the women here?"
    "No, hes not interested in women."
     
    Roc likes this.
  14. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    5,555
    3,547
    313
    This feels a lot like the perennial question of how a male writes a female character. The usual advice is: just write the character. If it turns out the person has some interaction where gender is relevant, than write that.

    To put it another way, the only question to me is: how does this character react to this situation?

    To put it yet another way, how often do you ask yourself how to write a heterosexual male character? What makes you think you're innately fitted to do that? For myself, I'm more than capable of botching a male's reaction to a situation; being male myself doesn't seem to help a whit.

    To put it still another way, why is it not a question how to write an elf? Or a talking dragon? Or even the eternal farm-boy-on-a-quest?

    We just write the story. We put our characters in situations. They react. If we've done our job well, they react in believable ways and the reader buys it.

    And yet, such questions seem to come up all the time. Am I missing something?
     
    Penpilot and Steerpike like this.
  15. saellys

    saellys Inkling

    477
    107
    43
    Some writers want to write a character with particular traits or aspects on purpose. When those traits are foreign to the writer, and there are real-world analogues, the writer has the opportunity to ask for advice. Someone who has similar traits to the character, or who has struggled with the same issues in their own writing, might chime in with useful insight. I hope that answers your question.
     
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2013
  16. Roc

    Roc Troubadour

    131
    26
    18
    Yeah, you completely misunderstood the question. I feel like you only read the title.

    I was seeking advice on how to convey his sexuality without stating it. I got some fantastic ideas already. I'm thinking something along the lines of one of my societies having public executions, where the main character in question finds out some of the people being executed are gay, and has to react to that.

    Steerpike, I said that one of my themes was acceptance, and that's partly the reason why I want to portray this character as someone who is exactly like everyone else, except for he's gay. I think that using someone's homosexuality as the defining factor of their character seems to be a stigma, and I'm attempting to break that.

    No, I'm also not insinuating that everyone does that.

    Thanks to everyone who read the entire question and sorry for any misunderstandings. This is exactly the stuff I was looking for.
     
    tlbodine and saellys like this.
  17. saellys

    saellys Inkling

    477
    107
    43
    Have you read The Steel Remains? The main character's history was told in flashbacks, and it's full of incidents where his orientation comes into violent conflict with society. At times I felt Morgan actually went a little overboard and crossed the line into blatantly preachy, but you might find some inspiration there. For the first book, Ringil is just about the most positive and least caricature-ized example of an "out" gay character I've found in fantasy literature, for the very reason that his orientation was not his defining feature, and at no time did it eclipse the fact that he's a giant badass. ;)
     
  18. tlbodine

    tlbodine Troubadour

    140
    43
    28
    This here is a really important point, and one I think that gets overlooked often when people are writing women/minorities/gays/whatever. On the one hand, yes, you write the character as a person first, identifying info second. On the other hand, it would be completely stupid to assume that all people have the same life experiences and there are no differences between them. It's not doing anybody any favors to write about characters in a way that doesn't ring true to life and doesn't celebrate the differences between people (instead of pretending that those differences aren't there).

    In the WIP I'm working on right now, the narrator's sexual orientation is never explicitly stated, and the whole issue is kind of muddy. He has a romantic relationship with a woman and is clearly sexually attracted to her, but he also has a relationship with his male best friend that seems not-entirely-platonic. The friend isn't called "gay" outright, but it's pretty obvious.

    At one point, the two of them get into some trouble, and the gay friend gets injured. The MC notices he's bleeding through his clothes, which leads to this exchange:
    "Take off your shirt."
    "What? You're not even going to buy me dinner first?"

    (The MC is not amused. He's kind of a wet blanket anyway, though.)
     
  19. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    1,908
    578
    113
    I'd like to give a caution by example:

    I'm not religious at all, but for one story, I decided to use a deeply religious protagonist. I didn't think I needed to get into it much--I'd just occasionally depict her praying. But her primary motivation for staying loyal to her husband after a sudden revelation was religious in nature, and by not discussing that in depth, I greatly hurt my story. In order to make her actions understandable, I needed to explain the commandments she followed and how she interpreted them.

    You may not need to do more than hint that your character is gay, but if you get an opportunity for greater characterization, don't hesitate to capitalize on it. It may count for more than you initially realize.
     
    Roc, Ophiucha and tlbodine like this.
  20. Roc

    Roc Troubadour

    131
    26
    18
    This is great advice. Thank you.
     
Loading...

Share This Page