Part 2: Stereotypes and Tired Tropes
In Part 1 of this series, we looked at ways to begin planning your characters and the importance of understanding your Main Character’s sexuality from the outset. This week we are talking about how to develop your Queer characters while avoiding stereotypes, tropes and being downright offensive. There is some information out on the web aimed at non-Queer authors who wish to write Queer characters, which explains things like ‘Remember, gay men can be masculine too!’. I’m going to make the assumption here that we all know the basics of Queer stereotypes and get stuck into specific YA tropes and ways to navigate the cultural/political/social aspects of being Queer when they overlap into ‘cliche’ territory, because lez be honest, stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason.
Things you can do:
If you are writing an Own Voices story, you can trust in yourself that you’re not completely out of touch with whichever identity/ies you are. You can look around at your friends and use parts of their/your personality to create your main character. It’s ok to include some stereotypical qualities if it makes sense. It’s so vital as Queer authors that we represent ourselves and our communities realistically. That means we shouldn’t completely erase the imagery, politics and vocabulary that defines being Queer, even if it is stereotypical.
As professional writers though, you do need to think carefully about which of these stereotypes make up your MC’s personality, and have well-thought out reasons for each. One important and often overlooked thing is to remember that your main characters are teenagers. If you are writing a contemporary novel, then your characters are teenagers in *roughly* 2017. If you are not also a teenager in 2017, then consider that the things you like/do/the way you dress may be different than Queer teens in 2017. Do some research. Lurk about on Twitter. Ask someone. I’ve read that a lot of YA readers really hate when a characters favourite band is something old, because they can’t relate to it. There are probably others who love it, but it’s something to consider carefully when constructing your characters: be Queer, but be smart.
Things you should probably not do, but I’m not the gatekeeper of AusQueerYA so do what you want:
Most of the things I would advise you not to do are because they are stale tropes of YA fiction in general, and we should be pushing for fresh, original stories. Another thing I will ask you not to do is super offensive stuff in any form when it doesn’t have a really clear ‘lesson’ connected to it. For example, don’t include racist/homophobic/sexist/etc stuff to add ‘richness’ or for ‘world building’. If your book is about racism/homophobia/sexism/etc, then address it clearly in the text. Don’t leave readers wondering if you the author are actually just racist/homophobic/sexist/etc.
Tropes that need to retire:
Queer main character dying for completely unnecessary reasons *cough*LEXA*cough*.
Love Triangles: I get it, it’s a super easy way to add hurdles and plot twists and tension to your romantic sub-plot, but the people have spoken.
Manic Pixie Dream Girls: girls who are stupidly perfect and whimsical and seem to exist solely to awaken the Main Character to their ONE TRUE PURPOSE. Can we please have love interests who are just regular people also dealing with shit? Or no love interests at all and just some awesome BFF novels?
Demanding explanations from bisexual characters: just let them do them. Stop having other characters be like ‘So what, you like THE ENTIRE HUMAN RACE WHY CAN’T YOU DECIDE?’. Just chill.
All characters having to be sexually active/wanting to be: want do we want? MORE ASEXUALS! MORE AROMANTICS! When do we want it? PRETTY MUCH ALWAYS!
We hope this has given you something to think about while creating your Queer characters. In Part 3 we will explain how to write these magical unicorn rainbow persons in to your story.
What tropes/stereotypes are you tired of reading?