6 Tips on Writing Queer Fiction
- If you’re describing a same sex relationship or one involving someone who is trans or intersex or in any way non-binary, you will risk confusing your reader if you then pursue a modishly anonymised path. “She couldn’t believe how much she wanted her…” etc. You might well want to give your characters names, even if they’re ungendered ones. Confusion is great, apt even in this context, but you want it to be something you intended and which will enrich the reader’s experience rather than something that might simply alienate them into stopping reading.
- Don’t assume the LGBTIQ characters have to be fine, upstanding people. There’s a fine tradition, typified by Hollinghurst (see almost any chapter of The Swimming Pool Library) and Highsmith (ditto The Talented Mr Ripley), of queer characters behaving badly. In a funny way it’s all part and parcel of the queer pride of your creative act: why the hell shouldn’t they be as morally ambivalent as the straight characters? It’s their right!
- Even more than in straight-eyed fiction, the risk in queer fiction is that the character most like you, or the character with whom you most closely identify, will end up underwritten. Quite simply you know them so well that you’ll neglect to put them fully on the page. A good trick for this is also one of the oldest in the canon and one I often use: just flip their gender or sexual tastes. At once they’re you and yet not you, and the change will energise your writing about them to the good.
- The same is true of your assumptions of your reader. Don’t assume your reader is of your mind. One of the great buzzes to be had from exploring queer fiction is that it presents the emotional, sexual and political equivalent of an airport. You open the door and suddenly there is such rich variety and so many possible directions to take. One of the strongest ways of challenging a reader’s assumptions is to challenge your own. Dare to make yourself enter the head of the homophobe or the uptight straight woman or the cis teen. Try to understand them. Try to be faithful to their way of thinking. And in the process you may find you’re shedding light on your central story in far more interesting and less preachy ways than if you told it in terms of moral black and white. Black and white, after all, is not so different from straight and gay, and you need to shake these labels up or rip them off altogether.
- You’re writing about desire and desire is unpredictable and frequently destructive. Leave all political correctness at the door along with cliché and secondhand opinions. All that matters is emotional truth and psychological realism. Get those right and the power of simple recognition will ensure that most readers will follow you most of the way.
- The same rules apply for avoid a bad sex award when the sex you’re describing is queer. Maintain your POV. Don’t lapse into godess honouring gibberish. Beware the weird and, quite often, beware the overspecific, which can all too easily make the scene so hot in your head read like a home-assembly manual. If in doubt, take a leaf out of old Hollywood’s book, and concentrate on the before and after. Scenes people remember as incredibly sexy are often, on re-examination, not sex scenes at all but seduction scenes.
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