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.