LGBT Characters in Kids’ Fiction

The release of the short film In a Heartbeat has gotten me thinking about a lot of things, namely the fact that it never would have been able to have been released to such a supportive audience a few years ago.

As the years go by, we are entering a new age of hope for many people. It isn’t remotely close to where we as a society should be, but it’s infinitely better than what it used to be. We are on an upward curve where each step means that people in the LGBT community are just a little more accepted than they were before.

This is obvious in a lot of ways: The passing of laws protecting gay rights, the public outrage against Trump’s attempt to ban transgender people from the military, and, of course, the evolution of fiction.

As I usually do, I’ll speak of my own experiences concerning this issue.
For most of my life, my experience with LGBT characters was limited to lesbian, gay, and occasionally bi individuals, and these were generally in shows and books meant for young adults and older. Even then, the characters often felt like two-dimensional caricatures that were made simply to be “the gay character.” More often than not, these characters were in anime, and were therefore only accessible to people who were specifically looking for them. Anne Rice’s vampires were a blessed exception.

The idea of having gay characters in kids’ media, obviously, was almost unheard of. There was an ongoing belief that exposing children to gay characters was a bad idea, that it might influence them to “be gay,” and that it was overall inappropriate. Hell, this attitude still prevails today, even more so when it comes to trans characters.

Things changed minutely, and I mean very minutely, when J.K. Rowling came out with the knowledge that Albus Dumbledore is, in fact, gay. There was a great deal of controversy over the issue. And…that’s it. It’s never actually addressed in the series that Dumbledore is gay. His feelings for Grindelwald are never shown in a way that makes his gayness obvious. In my opinion, there were a lot of missed opportunities with this character.

Things became a little better with the introduction of Kurt in Glee, a series that, while meant for young adults, was watched pretty religiously by the younger generation. I remember hearing about Kurt and being surprised at the fact that there was a legit gay character in mainstream media. Later on, when he actually entered a relationship, I was stunned. I was so used to the few mainstream gay characters I found being the victim of unrequited love and terrible endings. The “Kill Your Gays” trope comes to mind here.

With the creation of Adventure Time, a whole new wave of controversy hit. The implied relationship between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline evoked such a sense of outrage from so many people, the creators were forced to say that they were just platonic friends. From what I understand, that has mostly ben retconned by certain episodes and even a comic series where they are ruling the kingdom together.

The reaction to Adventure Time, as well as the limitations put on Alex Hirsch when he wanted to show a gay couple in an episode of Gravity Falls, shows that we are not anywhere close to where we should be. Still, we’re getting there.

Probably the biggest victory in the world of television for LGBT representation is Steven Universe. With the supposedly genderless, but still referred to as female Gems, Rebecca Sugar was able to explore relationships in a way that no cartoon has been able to do before. We have a canonically lesbian relationship in the form of Ruby and Sapphire. We have unrequited love in the form of Pearl. We have the potential for a beginning relationship in the form of Peridot and Lapis or Amethyst (depending on how things go there). We even have a gender nonbinary character in Stevonnie. The most recent episodes introduced us to a six-Gem fusion who is clearly meant to represent a polyamorous relationship. And all of these things are shown in a way that is totally normal and understandable for any audience.

The world of children’s books is also catching up with the times. In the Heroes of Olympus series, we have Nico di Angelo, a misunderstood son of Hades who is in love with Percy initially. In Wings of Fire, there have been references to several gay dragons, including Umber, and the lesbian couple Snowflake and Snowfox.

And now, we have In a Heartbeat, a very important short that shows that gayness is not only okay, but that it exists in people younger than high school age, and that it isn’t inherently sexual. It is a simple, cute story about a kid with a crush. That crush just happens to be another guy, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I hope that LGBT characterization in media only continues to evolve from here, and that the next step will be an increase in trans characters and characters with alternate gender identities. The way to acceptance is paved with understanding, and I firmly believe that the evolution of fiction is a reflection of the evolution of us as a society.

The evolution of kids’ fiction, in particular, is very important, as these kids are the next generation. If we keep teaching love and acceptance, each following generation will be better than the last. Every LGBT character is a chance to show that we are people, nothing more, nothing less.

Who knows? Maybe someday, we’ll live in a world without metaphorical closets, where LGBT characters are every bit as common as cis/hetero characters, and don’t cause anyone to bat an eye anymore. It’s a nice dream, isn’t it?

Peace out!

The Three Essentials of Writing

So, we’ve talked about fandom terms, titles, and descriptions. How about the actual writing of your fanfiction? Well, there’s only so much I can do to guide you in that respect. At the end of the day, what you write and how you write it is your decision. Certain things will always be important, such as grammar, good descriptions, word usage, etc. But, that’s all stuff you could learn in any writing class. The only way you can improve is by writing, listening to criticism, and taking to heart what makes sense.

That being said, I can share with you my personal opinion when it comes to reading stories. If it helps, great. If not, there are a billion other blogs, sites, and classes you can look at to learn more about the craft of writing. Heck, check those out regardless. I’m just one person, after all.

In my experience, there are three things that draw me into a story, whether it’s an original work or a fic: Plot, World, and Characters. My rule of thumb is that I will keep reading if I like at least two of these things. If I like two of these things enough, I can excuse or ignore flaws in the third. Let me go into a bit more detail.

-Plot: Plot, obviously, is the actual story. What happens in your fic? What do the characters do? If this is a response to a canon event, what do you think would happen next?

Obviously, plot is the aspect in fanfiction that a writer has the most control over, since the characters and world are already made (unless you’re doing an AU, which I’ll talk about later). Therefore, it’s up to you to put in as much effort as you can. If you’re writing a simple oneshot, put the characters in a scenario that your readers will want to read about. Have exciting things happen. If you’re doing a chapter fic, leave off on cliffhangers on occasion. Come up with something that speaks to your readers and keeps them coming back for more.

One thing you should avoid at all costs is retelling canon events. I’ve read (and, in my early days, written) so many fanfictions that were mostly summaries of canon events told through a character’s point of view with a few thoughts added in. Or, a writer summarizes canon events with a few changes. These often include direct dialogue and descriptions from the work itself.

People, you don’t need to rewrite exactly what happened in canon word-for-word! The author already did that, and probably did a much better job of it. If a person is reading your fanfiction, you can assume that they are already familiar with the canon work it’s based on. Just briefly describe the setting. If the story takes place at a certain point in canon, either say so briefly or mention it in the author notes.

Remember, people read fanfictions to get something different from the canon. Give them something different that was created by you!

-World: If you’re writing a story in the canon-verse, this part is easy. Just accurately describe and represent the world as it was written by the author. If you’re new to the work in question and aren’t completely caught up, that can be difficult. Personally, I like to wait until I’m completely caught up with a work before I start writing fics for it. If you want to start writing fics for a work before that point, just say in the authors notes where you are in the series, and try to represent the world as you know it as well as you can.

If you’re writing an AU fic, this part becomes both harder and much more fun. When you’re making an AU, even for the purpose of a short oneshot, you are creating a whole new world for the characters to exist in. Many things need to be taken into account. Who would the characters be in this different world? How would they act? What is this world? What are the rules?

If you make an AU, you need to take the time to show us the setting and let us get used to seeing the characters in these new surroundings. Therefore, you’ll have to devote more time to descriptions and world building. Even if you’re doing a simple Modern Day AU, make sure you give the reader a sense of time and place. That will make the world and your fic seem more real to your audience.

Readers like to have a sense of place when reading a story. Make sure to give them that, regardless of where that place happens to be.

-Character: “But, Solora. The characters are already there. I have no control over them.” Wrong! You have a lot of control. As a writer, you have all the control.

The most important thing that I cannot emphasize enough is this: Keep everyone IN CHARACTER. You are a consumer of the original work in question (or, so I hope if you’re writing fics about it). You know the characters. Go into their minds and think about how they would act and react in the situations you’re putting them in. Don’t have a silent, emo character openly gush over his love interest like a schoolgirl. Don’t make a chipper, happy-go-lucky character act depressed for no reason. Don’t create relationship drama between characters who are sensible enough to talk things out before the idiocy even starts.

If you are going to make anyone act out of character, make sure there is a cause. Whether they get hit with a mind ray, eat some weird drugs, or walk into a cloud of aphrodisiacs, make sure there’s a reason as well as a reasonable reaction.
That being said, you are allowed to take some liberties. As long as you keep the base personality and mannerisms of the characters, you can still do things to make them your own, especially if you’re using characters that haven’t had as much limelight.

For example, in my Generator Rex fic “Mending the Breach,” I expanded on the few things I knew about a minor character in the canon series named Breach. She was mentally-unstable, confused, liked shiny things, and loved Rex. Using what I knew, I drew on those traits to make her my own character. I had her judge people based on the kind of “shine” she saw in them. I made it so that she broke down and became temporarily insane when she thought Rex had betrayed her in one of the earlier chapters. I took her instability and used it to form a character who was able to slowly heal over the course of the story.

The great thing about the human mind is that there are many possible ways for one person to act in a situation. Take what you know about them into account, and roll with it. If you aren’t sure whether or not you’re doing a good job of keeping someone in character, stop and think. Imagine the scenario you’re typing playing out in an episode or chapter of the canon work. Are the character’s mannerisms believable? Do their actions line up with how they would regularly act? What about how they interact with other characters? Are they acting like the characters you’re supposed to be writing about, or are they your own characters wearing the metaphorical skins of someone else’s characters? If the answer is the latter, put the plot you were working on into an original piece. Who knows? People may be writing fanfics about that story someday.
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So, those are my three essentials. As an experienced reader and writer of fiction, I hope this helped at least set up the base guidelines concerning how you should start writing your stories. Remember, I’m just one person. Keep listening to advice as you are given it. Some of it will suck, while some will help immensely. Just keep your chin up and your fingers on the keyboard.

Peace out!