On LGBTQ+ editing: Characters

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.

Society’s prejudices.

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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Published by Nick Taylor | Editor & Proofreader

Editor, proofreader and writer. Available for hire!

10 thoughts on “On LGBTQ+ editing: Characters

  1. Great article, Nick, as always.

    Having been brought up in an age where there was no “universal gay presence” in other words gay culture did not exist, I’m mindful that for every gay man who’s out and proud, there are probably another 10 who go about their lives, don’t connect with the gay culture, but just see themselves as blokes whose sexual partners are of the same gender. I can’t speak for women as I don’t have any connection with the lesbian community (can I say that? Sometimes the latest PC speak and culture awareness evades me).

    Despite getting a lot of mail encouraging me to “take a stand”, I feel there are enough writers out there waving the flag, so I tend to write about men who are not part of the community. It doesn’t stop me getting hate mail, and the dreaded one-star drop and run reviews that are universal to gay writers who write mainstream stories that aren’t romance.

    The whole point of my reply was really to reinforce your section above:

    “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.”

    Not every country stigmatised gay men in the past. The US military was the only armed force in WW2 who asked enlistees about their sexual preferences. None of the rest of the allied forces did. The UK, Australia, NZ, S.Africa, Canada didn’t give a hoot, they just wanted men to fight. Same goes with McCarthyism after the war. It was far worse in the USA than elsewhere. Too often, as a man who grew up in the 1950s, I read stories set in the period that are full of fear, persecution and men hiding in closets. It wasn’t like that. I write a series set in the 1950s, and have a blog post about the alternative version of life for the majority of gay men.

    https://garrickjones.com.au/the-circle-of-friends/

    This is not to blow my own trumpet, or to take away from your excellent article, but merely to serve as an adjunct to part of what you wrote.

    Thank you for your words, and apologies for hijacking your post.

    Cheers

    Garrick

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey!

      You’re absolutely right. Characters have to be authentic and have to have something that the reader can believe in. If that’s just “being” then that’s an important story to tell. Not every story has to be a coming out, coming of age tale!

      “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.” Everyone is unique (thank goodness, because this would be weird if we weren’t!).

      Thanks for sharing your site, too. I’m sure it’ll inspire someone to start writing stories with authentic, well researched and well developed characters.

      All the best,

      Nick

      Like

  2. I really do NOT like WordBumStupidPress. Just tried to ask Garrick a point about a point he made and then had to reset my password in order to post my comment, but my query got swallowed up and is now Lord knows where. Arrrghh!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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