SF and Lesbian Characters

As a generalisation SF stands for Speculative Fiction

When I first decided that I wanted to be a writer rather than write in my spare time, one of the first things I discovered was the tried and true, ‘write what you know’, and it’s stood me in good stead whenever I feel as though I’ve lost my way, or have been ambushed by my characters.

With the passage of time and the gaining of some wisdom, I’ve amended that phrase so that it now reads, ‘write what you know about’, which has made room for all sorts of research ‘n other fun stuff.

I know (and love) Science Fiction and Fantasy. I’ve read it for most of my life, certainly since I was about fifteen and skipped a science class to read Asimov and Clarke and many others of the ‘golden age of Science Fiction’ in the school library. (There wasn’t a woman SF author to be found in that small high school library)

And I know lesbians, having been one all my life. I’ve read about them my whole adult life, certainly since I skipped a phys-ed class (some years after reading Asimov and the boys) to read Radclyffe Hall and Ann Bannon  in the public library and any of the girls I could find.

It’s a challenge creating characters that in so many parts of this odd little planet of ours are seen as a marginalised and vilified  people. Thankfully, here in Canada we are one of the growing number of countries where being gay isn’t a reason, at least legally, to be on the receiving end of homophobia, abuse, and violence.

GLBTQ characters have a fundamental set of backstory challenges to overcome even before they start having their adventures in the main story. This is true of many minority based characters, (i.e. anyone not heterosexual, able-bodied, white, etc) but perhaps because of the niche market that gay and lesbian characters in fiction appeal to, they present a different (not necessarily unique) set of challenges for the writer.

I decided early on that when I created the worlds for my characters to inhabit, their gay-ness wouldn’t be the central issue. There were many authors out there who were doing this, and doing it well, but I wanted to try another way of writing lesbian characters without losing sight of the essential difference that makes them lesbian.

The good news is that my chosen genre, Science Fiction  and sub-genres; feminist SF  and lesbian SF allow me to place my characters outside the rigid structures imposed here, on this Earth, at this time, in this reality. In those other worlds, times and dimensions, they’re able to evolve within the storyline without necessarily being lesbian first.

However, hand-on-hand with a ripping good plot, the tension a good story needs to move it along and keep the reader coming back for more is generated by character relationships and specifically the passions aroused therein. (today, well written sex scenes are expected, dare I say mandatory, in lesbian novels of any genre. The trick is to keep it erotic without becoming tacky or pornographic, unless you want to throw that sub-genre into the mix as well)

Another aspect I need to keep in mind when I write is with archetypal/stereotypical roles that the reader again expects to find, in some shape or form, within the story. Butch/femme, passive/dominant, androgynous, etc, and the sub-groups within those pairings. I walk a fine line between what I believe will sell and how I need my characters to be true to themselves in order to drive the story along.

As the storyline for Mortal Instinct evolved I became aware that I was struggling to find reasons to include straight and male characters. No matter how I tried they always came across as forced and tokenistic. Finally I took a good look at why I was doing this and realised I was looking at the issue from what I thought a broad readership, and publishers expected (which wasn’t necessarily just a figment of my imagination) and not from what I wanted to write.

I had a bit of a chuckle to myself about my Self, and threw out the straight folk and the blokes. Oh, they’re there alright, but only by inference and omission. There’s not a male gender pronoun in sight.

I knew this was a risk as far as creating a publishable book, but as it turns out, it was a risk worth taking. I received the signed contracts back from my publisher this week, so it’s all systems go!

.

“Writing is far too hard work to say what someone else wants me to. Serving it as a craft, using it as a way of growing in my own understanding, seems to me to be a beautiful way to live. And if that product is shareable with other people, so much the better”Jane Rule

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8 comments on “SF and Lesbian Characters

  1. A great story always finds it market without trying. That’s what I naively believe. The idea of creating a story from seemingly thin air is such a magical/mystical process. I haven’t written fiction in a very long time, but I remember the few times when I feel like the story is writing itself. I’m just there being the implement for it.

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  2. This is a great exploration of the challenge of writing compelling and real characters while still being true to the story and your own perspective.

    After all, it’s YOU writing your story, with your voice and your imagination. All of those together make a unique and interesting escape. That’s what makes you an original, not another Asimov knock-off.

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    • Widdershins says:

      Had to have a chuckle at that. I reckon I’m about as far from Asimov as a body can get and still be in the same genre … and yep, I’m an original alright!

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  3. londonmabel says:

    The best art, and even beyond art–the best companies, ideas, products etc., are all created this way. By people taking chances and doing what they really believe in. Looking forward to reading it!

    My brother loves playing the gender-reversal game with sci fi movies. “What if all the men in Star Wars were women, and the women men…” Hee hee hee. The new Battlestar show really went the furthest with playing around in that territory, so far, and it worked out like aces.

    (The actor who played the old Starbuck has a horrible sexist rant about the new Starbuck being played by a woman. Idiot.)

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  4. jannatwrites says:

    What I saw from your experience is that a writer should (must) write the story how he/she feels it needs to be written – not how he/she feels the market expects it.

    Congrats of the finalized contracts, by the way!

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