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Potentially Sensitive Topic - Dealing with the Death of a Gay Character

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by ProfoundlyFadedPrincess, Apr 13, 2018.

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  1. It is probably one of the biggest no-no's in modern writing and has been rightly made so by the overuse of this trope when dealing with gay characters in a bid to be more representative, but I would like some advice on how to work with a gay character's death in my novel.

    When I outlined him, the character is called Rydal he wasn't gay. In fact, he was, at the simplest level, the first murder victim of this novel. As I began to examine why he ended up in the situation where he did die, what came out of it was that the reason is that he submits to his mother's insistence on putting his lover aside to marry and have children. Rydal is the Crown Prince of the Kingdom, but his sister who is Queen has not produced any children. Had Rydal not submitted to his mother's demands, he would not have died.

    The mother is homophobic - disgusted by her son's relationship - to be honest, as one of the Antagonists, the mother is an altogether pretty horrific character - hateful and jealous while also being a raging hypocrite. She does have some good points, but by this juncture, she is not a pleasant woman.

    But I'm still struggling with how to deal with this issue. I don't want Rydal to come across as the Red Shirt, because he isn't. His relationship isn't secret, this decision he makes brings him quite a lot of criticism for it because he does have two other brothers (one of whom is his half-brother who although illegitimate, is in succession for the crown because he is the son of the previous King) and to be honest, his murder is a horrific turn of the screw in the novel.

    In terms of attitudes towards homosexuality in the novel, it is a bit of a complex issue for the novel. Most people accept it, but the Religious outfit of the World disagrees with it as homosexuality cannot create birth, and the religion is based on the never-ending cycle of Birth, Life and Death. That said, Rydal's siblings don't want him to submit to his mother.

    For further context, Rydal is one of four murders within the novel with the other victims being straight characters.

    So all in all, I'm wondering how other people would deal with the scenario?

    Any thoughts would be appreciated.
  2. Yora

    Yora Maester

    As long as he doesn't die because he is gay, it should be fine.
    The problem really is about gay characters who die to create drama and show how hard life is for gays. If he's one of many who all get killed for a completely unrelated reason, it's totally fine.

    That's my personal queer opinion.
    TheCrystallineEntity likes this.
  3. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    What is the reason someone/people kill him?
    Is it because he is gay?
    Or for another reason?
    I can see that not-producing-an-heir can be a body blow for a Dynastic lead country, but that could be for many reasons.
    What are the reasons for which the other three [straight] characters are killed?
  4. So, there is what is going on -

    Rydal's mother demands that if Mithiéń, the Queen, can't produce a child, then he does so. Rydal is the second oldest of four siblings, after him, there is Aíwin, who is the half-brother and Pavel, who unbeknownst to all of them is also a half-brother of Mithiéń and Rydal (but not Aíwin). Mithiéń and Rydal both believe that either Aíwin or Pavel can continue the line of their father - which is what is required by the law of this Kingdom. Legitimacy doesn't matter. However, Maíreád hates Aíwin because of his father's infidelity (she arranged the murder of Aíwin's mother) while Pavel is the result of the Maíreád's affair. So, as far as she sees it, the only way forward is the force Rydal's hand, and she does so by hinting something awful will happen to his lover, Maxamillián if he doesn't comply.

    So in agreeing to marry, he attracts the attention of the killer, Eloí who is working his way up through the order of succession to become the next King - he has previously murdered his father - he arranges to kill Rydal because if he has a child, then it pushes Eloí further down the succession. But the other murder was already planned which is the death of Athvan, the Prince Consort along with his lover, an actress and their child. This murder is to isolate Mithiéń, but also to frame Aíwin to remove him from the line of succession.

    So does Rydal die because he is gay - well this is the issue, sort of but in the sense that if he chose against marrying, he would have been spared at this juncture of the overall story arc (I can't guarantee that Eloí wouldn't have come for him at another time/place within the story).
  5. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    Actually I don't see Rydal as being killed because he is gay. I think he is killed because of the chance he will produce an heir. His unwillingness to marry a woman and have children is almost irrelevant to the killer's motives...
    I read an historical whodunit where a woman was murdered and no-one could see why as she was loved by everyone. It came out later in the story that she was believed to be barren [or was at least blamed that there were no heirs] and that the Chief servant/Seneschal had done it to try and ensure the family's succession. Your situation is sort of the direct opposite... for a certain angle. o_O
  6. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

    Hey there, I think there's a really interesting discussion in here and kudos to you for being sensitive to this issue! I want to start off by saying that I don't think this is a serious problem for your story. It's nowhere close to outright offensive. What you've laid out could easily be written with no problem, just with a little tact and three-dimensional characterization. That having been said, there are some angles to consider here, and it's true that some readers could be turned off by the choice to kill a central gay character.

    As I understand it (and as a caveat, I'm not part of the LGBT community), the Bury Your Gays trope is about denying gay characters the kind of happy endings that straight characters get, particularly if they die out of nowhere, with vague explanations, because they're "not meant for this world". It's true that if your character was killed because he was gay that would be particularly egregious, and pretty shitty for gay readers to stumble across. So the inversion--he's killed because he was going to marry a woman and have heirs--is better, though it still doesn't mitigate the bad taste that comes along with this trope. Honestly, I think the most important thing here is evening out your representation. It's good that he's not the only murder victim, but is he the only gay character in the book? What about his lover, does he get at least a bittersweet ending? Maybe he should, or maybe there should be another happy gay couple with a role in the book, since this society is fairly egalitarian. ("Happy" depending on the tone and tenor of the book, obviously.) Something like that would send an unambiguous message that you're not out to bury the gay characters just because it "feels right," as far too many screenwriters do, but rather that Rydal's death comes from his specific tragic circumstances, that it is in the story because no other choice would work, not because it was the lazy choice to make.

    Another angle to think about: how much does the reader know when Rydal dies? It's one thing for you to tell us the reason why he was murdered and that there will be other victims later, but if he's the first character to die on the page and he's the only important openly gay character...that's not going to look good. Do the readers know the killer's motivations at that point? Are the readers/other characters ever led to believe he may have been murdered because of his orientation, as a red herring? How is Rydal portrayed up until that point--does he have breadth of character, is he sympathetic? You might be walking a fine line there, because if he's the most sympathetic character around and the only gay representation, it's going to hurt a whole lot when he's offed. If given weight, if this is the most dramatic moment, that could work really well. But it could also feel like a cheap shot. It's just something to be careful of.

    Again, with a little skill and thought, this plot could be very affecting, but you're right to think it deserves careful consideration. If there are other options you could take, like adding other representation or maybe making Rydal the second to die instead of the first, they may deserve a chance. Also, another thought... Wouldn't Rydal's orientation reduce his likelihood of getting murdered, since he could be written off as unlikely to produce an heir, wife or no? Maybe he only becomes a problem for the killer after his wife conceives...? Alright, that was a little unrelated, but plot suggestion, anyway.
  7. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I'm not always attuned to these issues, but I don't think you have a problem in this case. It sounds like the character is fairly well rounded, that the events happen to advance the storyline appropriately, that he had agency in his circumstance, that his death fits right in with the rest of the narrative.

    Issues can always pop up in the micro details, a passage that comes out wrong, but at this level of conversation, I would say you've got a clear green light.
  8. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

    Think I am going to cut against the grain here, but ya know.. People die all the time. Some are murdered. Some are murdered for ugly reasons. Some murdered for ugly reasons are gay. Why should we change the story for that fact? If the murder is ugly, its ugly. You gotta give the story what it deserves.

    From what I read, it does not seem the fact this dude is gay has much to do with why he ends up murdered. I think I would have to be pretty sensitive to construe that into a problem of something about what it says about gays and gay attitudes. If you want the story to include messages about attitudes towards gays, I am sure you can fit that in. Heck, if the dude was killed for other reasons, but characters assume it was because he was gay, well, that kinds of gets the discussion into the story right there. Not everything that appears as a negative is a negative.
  9. evolution_rex

    evolution_rex Inkling

    I don’t have much to add for this specific case so isn’t entirely useful information but here’s a point to think about:

    My brother, who is gay, has often talked to me about the annoying trope in TV shows of introducing a romance between two men only to kill off one of them, leaving the surviving gay character sexless and thus less controversial to the audience because they won’t show him kissing a man as often. This, to my brother, gave the illusion of being progressive without doing anything.

    So I think the lesson there is don’t avoid anything that wouldn’t be avoided with a straight character. Just write a human!
  10. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Inkling

    ProfoundlyFadedPrincessProfoundlyFadedPrincess I agree with other posters in this thread. As long as this character is as fleshed out as others destined to be snuffed in your work, I don't see it as anything specifically disparaging to the LGBT community. We live in times where people can go out of their own way to be offended sometimes, and you cannot please all people at all times... but the fact that you've taken a moment to even *ask* this question suggests you're going to write with empathy and give this character/theme some genuine dignity as you go about the grimmer details of your regicide plot.
  11. I think Nimue does a great job of summing up my worries.

    I've been away for the majority of the weekend and had some time to contemplate this without being able to get at my computer - I'm actually considering moving him as the second murder (technically the fourth) to flesh Rydal out and provide the reader with the information required to show that he isn't dying because he is gay, but dying when he gets too close to the truth. As for Rydal's lover, well, this is going to be a series of books in mind and he will get a happyish ending. I decided that the lover, Max, will be offing murderer at some point, as well as finding a new relationship.

    It's just hard because within the context of the whole story I have in my mind, this couple is not the only LGBT couple but they are the first to feature and this happens. In many ways, it does make me anxious to write it for the reasons I've set out. But equally, I do agree with pmmg because murder is ugly and horrible and should we reign it in? But then I suppose, I'm not suggesting I do, more figuring out who to portray this correctly, getting the character right, the set up right...

    Maybe I should change this completely and be rid of the idea that he plans to leave his relationship to marry because of pressure and make it so he dies because he gets too close to the truth with the sexuality politics left aside. Again, I'm not sure.
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  12. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I'm only going to add one quick thing, tropes like "Bury Your Gays" are usually analyzed in the context of television and movies, which are very different than novels. Television, in particular, has far more content to fill, and often stymies character development to a snail's pace, so a character with a deceased love might go on for years of screen time in that state. Movies don't have the inner monologues that can develop even a minor, single-scene POV into a well-rounded person before they die.

    I'm not going to tell you what to write, what choices to make, or what should be important to you. But, I think you're probably okay to worry a little less in this instance.
  13. ascanius

    ascanius Inkling

    Throughout history and to this very second people kill other people for the stupidest and most terrible reasons. People kill women because they are women, men because they are men, because of beliefs, religion, politics. Tell me why is being gay off limits, we have no problem with those others. Having a character being killed because they are gay is egregious but being killed because of religion, sex, any other reason is ok? Terrible people exist in this world I see no reason to turn a blind eye to this. Having a character killed because they are gay is no different that having a character killed because they are X, what matters is context. Does it make sense within the context of the story?

    So this is all about sending messages to not seem like an asshole to oversensitive readers who cannot for themselves reach the conclusion that it's not a Bury your gays trope from the context of the story alone. Dude you need a different audience if they need you to message them that your not some asshole.

    This is ridiculous. Does anyone put this kind of effort into any other non gay character. Why the hell should anyone have to put this kind of effort for a gay character and not every other character. Does this mean I have to have two gay characters, or two characters of every identity check box, what is the representation quota that we need to achieve? So if I have a gay and a black and a white female character in what order should they be killed. If you kill the gay first your homophobic but if you kill the black character than your racist, and a misogynist if you kill the woman first. You understand the stupidity of this? Your nitpicking over the order that characters are being killed so to appease some hypothetical over sensitive offended reader that you have never even met.

    Sorry Nimue I'm trolling you a little bit but I disagree.
  14. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

    Hi there! Bi person here!

    Moderator Note: Personal Insult has been removed.

    Okay, with that out of the way, on to the original post. With things like this it's always difficult since we don't have the context that we would have if it came up while reading the entire book. Within the context provided by this thread... It's... yeah, okay to me it's pretty bad.

    Logically you've indicated why it's not prompted because he was gay and the other posters have agreed with you, but isn't the goal of writing to trigger an emotion in the audience? To make them happy, make them laugh, make them reflect on the nature of life, or make them cheer as some asshole villain gets his comeuppance?

    When I read what you've said, emotionally I see a man who has to deal with a homophobic family member, pressured into a loveless marriage... maybe he can continue his relationship with his love anyways regardless of the political marriage, but I'm presuming that he's forced to break that off as well?

    Homophobic family members? The feeling of pressure and disappointment? That's something LGBT readers can empathize with, and not in a good way. Of course it's not to the same extent, but it still applies.

    And then he gets killed.

    We're just tired.

    Did you know? There was a lawyer who performed suicide by setting himself on fire to protest the damage caused to the world by fossil fuel, but just about every story I've seen on it has described him as a "prominent LGBT rights lawyer" first and foremost. Look at the news. There's the trans ban in the military, Pence sends up all sorts of red flags for LGBT people, bathroom bills, that purge in Chechnya a year ago.

    There's so, SO much more than that. Just on this site... Well for one, look up at Ascanius' post. For another thing, oh, well it's a few years ago by this point but Shielawisz wrote a short story which a wicked witch magically gender bending people. She had the people gender bent universally kill themselves within a week of being changed and then tried to justify it by saying people in that setting, otherwise shown to be pretty standard fantasy humans, just happened to have a stronger gender identity than people in real life.

    There is so much shit that comes with being LGBT. No, no you are not killing him because he's gay, but there is so much shit that comes with being LGBT and then even more gets shoveled on top of it. We're tired.

    There's no magic answer here. The others are right. It makes sense. It's something that could happen regardless of his sexuality, and you will never be able to make anyone happy. You just got to write you, but don't take it the wrong way if someone reads that part of your book and ends up putting it down.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 17, 2018
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  15. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

    I like that Max gets a happy ending later! That moment when you’re reading a series and the secondary characters get their arc...yess. Making Rydal’s murder the second one does sound better to me, but I don’t know the story as well as you do. Could be something to try. For myself, I always try to challenge the idea that the first way a story occurs to me is the way it must be—a story is made by our choices as writers, not by the fictional characters or an even more fictional muse. If you look at a plot point and come away believing there’s no better, more effective way it could be done, then write it that way! If you come up with other possibilities, maybe it’s time to follow them into the woods. I’ve stumbled across a lot of good ideas just by wondering whether there was a better way to approach a plot point.

    I do want to reinforce something Quesh said here: writing a man who is about to sacrifice his own identity and enter into a (romantically) loveless marriage because of the pressure of society and/or what he believes is his duty...and then is murdered because he made that incredibly difficult choice, and he could’ve lived if he hadn’t made it? That is an incredibly tragic character arc. I genuinely wonder if it might eclipse whatever else is going on in the plot. Again, if that fits the tone, if this is a dark story, it could be incredibly effective. It comes down to the experience you want to give your readers, knowing that for some people it could be very off-putting. There really isn’t any way to know for certain besides writing it, and getting beta/sensitivity readers. If there’s one thing you can take away from this conversation, it’s that an idea itself can’t be stamped “bad” or “good”—we can only guess. So whatever you do, I hope you go write through these scenes in the way that you feel is best. Whatever gets words on paper—it can always be edited.
  16. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

    As an LGBT person, I have to admit I am also tired of this. That being said, I also don't think that gay characters should be sacred cows, to be preserved at all costs. What I would like to see is more representation, so that when, for plot reasons, the gay character, (or black character, or trans character, or disabled character) is killed, they are simply one of a well-represented cast so that we have others like them to carry on the torch.
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  17. Tom

    Tom Istar

    ascaniusascanius why would you reply to an LGBT person talking about harmful tropes that effect them with "a lot of people have it worse than you gays and not everyone agrees with your political opinions". This isn't about political opinions, this is about LGBT people seeing characters like themselves killed, tortured, and cast out while the same things are happening to members of our community in real life.

    The "lol u mad?" response is weak and dismissive of other people's problems. Have some common decency, man.
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  18. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator


    1) discuss contemporary political issues only when pertinent to fantasy writing;
    2) be respectful of differing views; and
    3) watch the name-calling and foul language.

    Warnings have been sent. Mild warnings. If this continues, the next actions won't be as mild, so please knock it off.
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2018
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  19. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

    Hello everyone!

    I always try to keep some distance between the Writing Discussions forum and myself, and I was not going to participate in this thread but my name was mentioned and I was portrayed in a pretty bad light. So, here I am just to clarify some things.

    Well, I see that it's very easy to emit judgement about a story without actually having read the entire book. My novel El Camino de Gracia is actually a story about a super courageous Trans person that fights against all odds and overcomes near-unsurmountable obstacles on her spiritual adventure towards success and happiness.

    Now, that brings me to saying this: No matter what you do as author, the readers will always imagine and interpret stories in their own personal ways.

    Some people were disgusted by what happens in the first few chapters of my novel El Camino de Gracia at the same time that other readers liked and enjoyed those scenes. As authors, worrying too much about the people that are going to be offended by something in our stories is a bad idea. If people are reading your work, you will always find some readers that will criticize or even hate it for one reason or another.

    We have to just tell the stories that we have to tell.
  20. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

    Thank you Mods.

    I am not sure if there is much play left in this thread or not. Mostly, I think threads like this kind of lead to 'lets all just throw our cards on the table and show which camp we are in'. Some want to write in a way that is sensitive to their particular issues, some ask why they should change how they write to cater to the sensitivites of others. Both are fair positions, and success can be had either way.

    The OP is clearly looking to write in a way that is sensitive to gay readers. I dont think I will ever find myself falling into that camp. I ask why would I want to do that? That type writing to me does not reflect realities of the worlds I am trying to depict. But I said so already and the OPer read it, so, I am sure whatever weight that carries she has already considered. I think she has no interest in that POV, and so I dont see much reason to belabor it.

    Her question is how can I write this in a sensitive way. My strong suspicion is that will not be a problem. She seems tuned into it already, and the story she has explained does not leave much room for this to be misconstrued. There will always be some who find reason to take issue with whatever, and so to some degree that is to be expected.

    I would argue against changing it completely, as she says she wants to do, but if you are feeling that something needs to change, well, you gotta use your own best judgement. And, if you were to start the story off with a body...well, that would make him something other than number one, and blood on the floor is not a bad way to go.

    I would say, I doubt the mother would think of herself as homophobic. The word itself is just another word used as a prejorative to discount the opinions of others. I doubt she would seek to discount herself. I hope you give her due depth.
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