Thursday, August 9, 2012

LGBTQ in Fiction

I had the honor of being a special guest at the LGBTQ Q&A at the SCBWI’s 41st annual LA conference last week. While there is a fabulous review of the whole meeting, I wanted to highlight a few things that I took away.

There was quite a heated debate going on about the fears some people hold in regards to including LGBTQ characters in their fiction. Does it make it less marketable? Does it make it a harder sell? How does a non-LGBTQ author authentically create an LGBTQ character without offending anyone? 

There was really only one answer to all of the above: write authentically, not stereo-typically.

A good story is a good story, regardless of the main character’s sexual preference. I’m driven to a hook; a fresh, unique voice with a story that wows me. I look for LGBTQ submissions that stand up to the same, sweep-me-away standards of non-LGBTQ submissions. It is a major turn off for me if a story with LGBTQ themes starts turning issue-driven or preachy and stereotypically wooden and loses sight of what made me want to read it in the first place: the plot. The characters’ identities will shape how the characters act, live and breathe within the narrative, but they should not be the driving force of the story; the story should drive the story.

And, as Arthur Levine said: love is love. Regardless of whether you’re lusting after a man or a woman, the butterflies, the hunger, the yearning – the human experience of it won’t change. The fear of coming out is still fear; the pain of rejection and bullying is still pain and loss and frustration and anger. And as writers, that human experience is what you should seek to capture. It is that human experience that will create authentic characters, who, regardless of sexual preference, coupled with fabulous writing and a hook, will sell.

Now, are there some editors, agents, and readers who will disagree: yes.

But, are there editors, agents and readers who will disagree with any of my tastes: yes!

The bottom line is this: there’s no guarantee a book will sell regardless of whether it has LGBTQ themes or not. But you definitely are going to make your journey harder by writing inauthentic, wooden characters for the sake of a message or token diversity. So don’t try and fit your characters into any kind of little box or situation you think accurately portrays them. Write people, not types, and focus on getting the heart of your story right – that’s hard enough! Don’t feel a need to prove yourself or your writing to anyone (regardless of topic); reach into the humanity behind your characters’ actions and emotions and knock some socks off.


  1. That panel was a great way to spend an evening! Lots of love in that room. And it was great to meet you in person and thank you for helping Pens for Paws!

  2. I don't write YA but I've also noticed this same fear when talking to authors/editors/agents for adult fiction (I primarily write fantasy). The whole LGBTQ subject is such a hot topic for anyone, especially with the current political clime. I agree with the statement that love is love. If the story is good, I don't care who the main character is romantically interested in.

  3. As far as I'm concerned, people are people. We all have our problems, our conflicts, our hopes and aspirations. It doesn't matter what your sexual preference is.

    A person's sexual preference is merely one aspect of their entire personality, not the definition of it. People are multi-dimensional. I know a gay guy and the biggest issue in his life right now isn't that he's gay, it's that he doesn't like his job because it forces him to travel and the hours are way too long. Everyone has can have problems in all aspects of their lives.

  4. Thanks for this validating post, Natalie. When I was early in the process of outlining my YA book, I realized that one of my MCs (a 17 y/o male dancer) was gay. He was taking shape based on two very close friends I used to have (one of whom I lost to AIDS back in the 1990s). It did not occur to me until I had a draft that there might be any issue with LGBT characters in YA until I stumbled upon a few articles about it. Yours is about the best advise out there: "write authentically, not stereo-typically."

  5. This post makes me smile. I'm an openly lesbian teen who sends LGBT-related books to schools and youth homeless shelters through my organization, The Make It Safe Project, and I've found that it's really hard to find LGBT-related YA books that aren't stereotypical. I made the same mistake with my YA novel.

    Natalie is right: it shouldn't be about what the sexual orientation of the character is. It should be about the person beneath the label.

  6. There is no issue about sexuality here. The most important thing is the character itself, it's manhood. Natalie, thank you for this one. I enjoyed reading.