Writing Queer characters with Stacey Malacari

Character building is hard. I’m a writer, not a math-person, but I’d say that character makes up at least 62% of your novel. So how do you create authentic, well-rounded Queer characters that aren’t simply walking stereotypes? You want your characters to be actual human beings, and not just cardboard copies of people from the L Word.

Let’s Begin: Queer-specifics

A good starting point to the basics of character building is chart like this one.

To write realistic and meaningful Queer characters, the first thing you should consider is that their sexuality should not be an afterthought.

While sexuality and/or gender is not the defining feature of a person’s identity, being Queer does shape the way in which we encounter the world. It is important to understand how Queerness informs your character’s experiences and worldview.

Queerness isn’t just about sexuality and gender – it’s can also be about culture, community and politics. Being Queer takes a lot of emotional, psychological and sometimes physical effort. Try to understand and respect this. And remember: being Queer isn’t just an ornament or accessory to someone’s identity.

What you can do

If you’re Queer:

If you are writing Queer characters from the perspective of your own experiences, you can trust that you’re starting from a good place. It’s vital as Queer authors that we represent ourselves and our communities authentically and realistically. This is the premise behind the Own Voices movement: to recognise the importance of marginalised stories being told by marginalised voices.

There are so few AusQueerYA books written in total, let alone by LGBTQ+ authors. Get YA Words Out are attempting to shine a light on Own Voices books, finding new Queer voices and encouraging the publication of more Own Voices AusQueerYA.

If you’re not Queer:

Ask a person who identifies in the same way as your character to read your work. Sensitivity readers exist as a professional resource. They are very valuable and underutilized individuals. Use them.

Read Queer YA. Watch shows and movies with Queer characters. Talk to people. Research, research, research.

Things you probably shouldn’t do (but I’m not the gatekeeper of AusQueerYA)

Don’t  include homophobic/sexist/transphobic etc stuff to add ‘richness’ or for ‘world building’. If your book is about homophobia/sexism/etc, then address it clearly in the text. Don’t leave your reader wondering if you are actually homophobic/sexist/etc.

Just don’t:

  • Let Queer characters die for completely unnecessary reasons
  • Demand explanations from bisexual characters:  let them be. Stop having other characters be like, ‘So what, you like THE ENTIRE HUMAN RACE WHY CAN’T YOU DECIDE?’. Just chill.
  • Assume all characters have to be sexually/romantically active or want to be. What do we want? More Asexuals! More Aromantics!

But how?

This goes against Writing Fiction 101, but with Queer traits I say more is more. Don’t shy away from revealing a character’s entire Queer identity, even if it’s not directly linked to the plot. Queer identities have historically been toned down – or erased entirely–in literature because of homophobia.

The time has come to be seen.

For an in-depth discussion on the role of online platforms in developing and supporting queer voices in YA, join Stacey Malacari and our other artists for their panel Get YA Words Out. Saturday October 28, 12:30pm ADST.

For your reading pleasure in the mean time, the Get YA Words Out blog can be found here