This is the first in a mini-series of posts looking LGBTQ+ fiction editing. By LGBTQ+ fiction, I mean any fiction that features LGBTQ+ characters. From erotica to science fiction, stopping off at romance, fantasy and historical. No genre should now be without LGBTQ+ representation.
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You’ll find LGBTQ+ characters in all genres of fiction. Sometimes those characters may not have even be human. But regardless of the species, if you are writing characters who are LGBTQ+, it’s important to get a few things right. Readers want to empathise with genuine characters, identify with some aspect of their lives and feel that they can connect with the emotion and the experiences of that character.
The LGBTQ+ experience is not universal. My struggles as a cisgendered, gay man will not be the next person’s struggles, as it is for all people and, therefore, for all characters. That being said, it’s important to recognise a few key themes for LGBTQ+ characters and identify how they may affect your character or characters.
The feeling of otherness, or difference within.
A lot of LGBTQ+ people will identify with feeling “otherness” from, perhaps, an early age, typically during puberty. This can cause feelings of confusion, conflict and uncertainty which may manifest itself in a variety of ways later on in life.
How a character deals with that “otherness” is going to be influenced by a lot of things and what the sense of otherness is telling that person. It is important, therefore, for the author to consider how this has played a part in the character’s backstory, or maybe it is playing out within the story, but to have a character portrayed without some sense of difference is denying a fundamental experience that a lot of LGBTQ+ people have.
The sense of otherness is often magnified by society and the wider world. There are plenty of layers to unpick here and you need to recognise that within your story. As I write this, in the UK, legally we have equality. But that is not the experience of everyone and might not be the experience your characters should be having.
Friends, neighbours, family, strangers, all will have different views and will see LGBTQ+ people differently. To make your characters as relatable as possible, make sure you take the time to appreciate how the cast of characters are going to react to.
And remember history. If your writing is set in the 1950s, make society’s reactions real to the time – it’s not always negative in the past! Research is crucial to getting it right. Because, if you get the facts right, and the characters reacting believably, readers are going to be drawn in.
Dealing with homophobia.
It’s not nice but, given the above point, you might have to deal with homophobia. Here you have an incredibly difficult line to tread and it’s terribly easy to stray into offence. As long as it is the character who is homophobic and not you, you should be okay.
Many people will argue for sensitivity readers to avoid anything too nasty. I would argue (maybe I’m biased) that a good editor will help you avoid anything offensive and will ensure that your characters are genuine, believable and relatable.
A developmental edit of your manuscript will look at your characters and will ensure that they are responding to things in a believable way. Remember, when I say believable, it could be a realistic human reaction or recognisable trait that we find within an alien character! Editing will look at when and where your story is set and will identify ways for you to use that within your characters and your narrative.
Remember, readers are looking for that connection with the characters. It’s why we read. We see ourselves reflected back in the characters of novels and learn more about ourselves and the world around us.
LGBTQ+ characters are essential for helping with that struggle of “otherness” that so many feel. Your story, with great characters, will be doing more than just entertaining. You’ll be changing the world.
Next time, we’ll look at language and how it’s important to get that right when editing LGBTQ+ fiction. Do make sure you subscribe to get all the latest blog posts direct to your inbox.
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