How To write Gay Characters In Your Mainstream Fiction: A Guide For A Friend

Having got into a dispute with a straight chap friend of mine who writes for a
living in a field which is … resistent … to progress at times, about his lack of gay or just generally queer characters in a recent story [full disclosure: everyone involved in this conversation was significantly drunk], I came to realise by the end of the conversation that he was having difficulty with the idea of what “writing gay characters” would actually involve. So I have devised a handy guide.

How To Write Gay Characters In Action Fiction:

Like straight characters, but with a love interest who is the same sex as them
instead of the opposite sex.

… That’s about it really.

Important Storylines You Absolutely Have To Include When Writing Queer Characters

Absolutely fucking none. Part of my friend’s issue with the idea of including any gay characters in his story was “I don’t have time to do a coming-out storyline”, which as myself and my co-conspirator at the time pointed out, was unnecessary anyway. Don’t make the mistake of assuming there needs to be a massive coming-out story attached to every non-straight character, any more than every bloody 1980s gay character had to have a mandatory bloody AIDS storyline; only throw in some background canoodles between two characters of the same sex and you barely need to mention it at all.

Do people really think that a big Coming Out Plot Arc is necessary for every single gay character in fiction? Because that would get remarkably tedious very quickly. In Real Life people are quite frequently – especially as adults – already out to their friends and family; they hardly need to come out to the reader as well.

Sir Ian McKellen long ago made a point of not playing in “gay suicide stories” (another epidemic that seems to afflict queer characters in fiction throughout history is their tendency to commit suicide and thus save the author or the  reader the trouble of dealing with the possibility of them having a happy ending), and I think it’s relevant that while higher levels of suicide in gay youth are an issue, and AIDS continues to be a very real issue, and coming out is a source of conflict and emotional trauma for many young men and women – that need not be the issue faced by any gay characters you choose to write.

In fact, “social issue” fiction that is self-consciously that is boring, plodding, and makes everyone feel like they’re being lectured by some well-meaning social worker with all the charisma of a moldy ham sandwich. There are as many options for conflict, storylines, and characterisation with gay or bisexual characters in fiction as there are with straight characters, for fairly obvious reasons. And especially if you’re writing enlightened, god-like beings there’s absolutely no reason why “there are some characters in this who aren’t straight” needs to be “a coming-out plot for everyone”.

Of course coming to maturity as someone who isn’t straight has an effect on your personality, but to suggest that the personality it produces isn’t going to be suitable fodder for a story without a giant flashing AND LO HE WAS A GAY sign in narrative form is just bloody silly.


5 thoughts on “How To write Gay Characters In Your Mainstream Fiction: A Guide For A Friend

  1. This. THIS. So much THIS!

    It feels like I should print out this post and show it to every single person who doesn’t want to write gay/queer characters. It’s so unfair that mainstream stories lack queer representation. I agree with you on the fact that queer character don’t need the suicide stroylines or the coming-out or AIDS storylines. I’m a big fan of characters ho are very much like straight character but happen to be queer. Then again, in mainstream characters like that often end up coded gays which I think IS hurtful to the culture and the perception of queer characters.

    I suppose we just need to be patient and at some point we’ll get proper representation in fiction?

    1. Maybe, although I’m not a huge fan of waiting for things to change when I could change them myself! Write more gay characters in fiction where it’s not their One Identifying Feature! I can do this. 🙂

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