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I'm writing a modern fantasy novel, with a female protagonist whose principal romantic interest is another girl. I want to know how I can write her without having her homosexuality being the predominant aspect of her character. The main plot resolves in such way that her sexuality barely affects it. (If anything, because her girlfriend is very plot relevant, and having her on the protagonist's side actually got their situation from "nearly impossible to solve" to "very hard to solve", but she would have helped anyway. The romance isn't used as a plot coupon to get her to the main character's side.)

So here's what I want to know, but any other tips or examples are very welcome:

  • When does my protagonist comes out for the reader? Should I do it offhanded, straight at the beginning or somewhere down the road? I planned for her to give off hints over the course of the first book, and come out in the second, right after meeting her love interest, but I'm not sure of how to handle it.
  • How do I avoid people seeing her homosexuality over the rest of her character traits? I don't want to write a lesbian romance, I wanna write a modern fantasy, that just happens to have a lesbian character.
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    "straight at the beginning" <- hidden pun :-) – Jay Dec 7 '15 at 15:30
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    How do you write a heterosexual character whose sexuality isn't the point of the story? – Shufflepants Nov 22 '17 at 1:10
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    Stories do not happen, they are written. To claim that the story just happens to have a lesbian character is to say that the character's sexuality is not the outcome of a choice you have made. But we know that this is not true; the character is a lesbian precisely because you have decided that she will be a lesbian. It sounds like you're trying to have things both ways: You want to make a certain choice, but you want everyone else to treat that choice as if it were not a choice. I am not at all sure that this is possible. – EvilSnack Aug 29 '18 at 5:18
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My advice here would be: don't think in terms of "right" and "wrong"; think in terms of structural arcs. You need to figure out what options for arcs you have, and which of those you actually want to use.

You've basically presented three possible arcs:

  • The primary arc, where in some meaningful way, the primary plot is about the protagonist's homosexuality, or profoundly connected to it. (This is a direction you're not interested in at the moment.)
  • Upfront disclosure; no arc, where we know right off the bat that the protagonist is lesbian, and it's largely treated as a minor point for the rest of the story.
  • A "gradual reveal" arc, where the character's homosexuality is initially unknown, and effectively "secret"; we get hints and clues along the way; and at some point we reach the "revelation" that the character is lesbian.

The advantage of the "upfront disclosure" arc is that it gets you closest to your goal of your protagonist's sexuality being matter-of-fact, rather than making a big deal over "OMG she's a lesbian."

The disadvantage is that her sexuality can feel like an informed attribute, where you declare her to be a lesbian but that doesn't actually seem to come into play in any way, so the declaration feels artificial, or pointless, or like bald tokenism. In general, there's a popular assumption that the "default character" is straight, and that diverging from the default should only be done if the divergence makes some significant impact on the story. (That's a big discussion which I don't have scope to go into here, but it stems both from fiction's tendency towards "conservation of details" - i.e. "significant details will prove to be important; otherwise you wouldn't put them in in the first place" - and from popular social mores, by which most people consider a character being homosexual as a "significant detail," while considering heterosexuality to be a sort of unremarkable, default expectation.)

With the "gradual reveal" arc, your advantage is that by turning the attribute into a surprise, you've created an arc around it. It's in focus. The shape of the arc will force you to substantiate your protagonist's sexuality, so it won't feel like a minor detail or an aside; placing the revelation as the culmination of an arc makes it feel important.

And the disadvantage is that you lose these sense of her being a lesbian as immediate established fact, as not exceptional or surprising. In many ways you might be undermining your protagonist's lesbian identity; if we can follow along with her for chapters or entire books without it ever coming up, then how important or significant can it be? It basically locks you into bringing in her sexuality in one very specific, fairly limited way.


If you understand the advantages and disadvantages of both, then you can choose one, and compensate. If you want to deal with the risk of "informed homosexuality," you compensate by finding other ways to make her sexuality evident and significant. If you want to deal with the disadvantages of the gradual reveal, you compensate by making the structure work and make sense, giving weight and meaning you want to your protagonist's sexuality, not just whatever fits most easily into an arc. And so on.

But there's another alternative for you to consider, which could mesh well with either type of arc, or do the job on its own: consider a sideplot. You're mentioning multiple volumes, so you've got lots of room for secondary characters and sideplots. In that case, what you can do is establish a sideplot, which forms its own, more minor arc. And this arc has the same advantages that a primary arc has - it lets you put some focus on your protagonist's sexuality, it lets you make it important, and it lets you choose what's important about it, and how you bring it into play.

I don't know your character or your setting, but you can come up with lots of ideas. A community of queer friends; a male ex from when your protagonist was coming to terms with herself; an arc about the kind of family your protag would like to have someday; a queer relationship between secondary characters that your protagonist is privy to. Any one of these could be the basis for a solid, secondary plot, which wouldn't overwhelm the main story, but would come up and recur.

Another big advantage here is that a subplot lets you figure out some aspects of homosexual life that you're interested in spotlighting; being a lesbian affects a person's life far more than just "what gender is my partner", and it sounds like that one question isn't what you're interested in with this character. So consider: how is your character's life shaped or affected by her sexuality? Romance, relationships, community, worldview, social position, something else? What there interests you?

When you look at it this way, I think you'll find that the "gradual reveal" arc is a subplot - it's just a specific one, climaxing with the revelation that the protagonist's sexuality exists. But if that isn't the subplot that you want, you just need to choose a different one you like better.


Hope this helps. This can be a delicate issue, and you're swimming against some deeply-ingrained biases and expectations. So it makes sense that it be difficult, and feel unnatural and unbalanced.

One approach is to say "What the heck," and accept a balance that feels less than perfect - erring on the side of "informed homosexuality," or using a simple "revelation: lesbian" arc. These can feel unsatisfying, but they're valued by many, not least because they're pushing against that deeply-ingrained default.

If you're able to put in more effort and find something you feel really works, I think that's even better :)

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    Some adjacent advice: I find stories trying to establish non-default characters matter-of-factly, work a lot better if you have a group of them. One lesbian becomes "the lesbian"; that can be overwhelming and feel stereotypical, and you run into the whole issue of how much build-up you need just to explain that she's lesbian. But if you have several lesbians, or many, then she's no longer "the lesbian" - she's one character among several, each distinct. That also means you get to establish the group or the norm, instead of the specific sexuality of that specific character. – Standback Dec 3 '15 at 12:27
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    @MichaelB: It's definitely not a requirement, but it can be a huge help. The problem is that some character tags have a tendency to overwhelm everything else - "the woman," "the black guy," "the Mormon," what-have-you. Sometimes that's not a problem, but other times it is - readers spotting a non-default character tend to assume he's meant to reflect that group in many ways. – Standback Dec 3 '15 at 13:52
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    Heck, fantasy novels tend to have "the dwarf," "the elf," "the barbarian," and most readers can't tell the difference between Merry and Pippin. :P – Standback Dec 3 '15 at 13:54
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    Heck, if you're the only lesbian you know, you have no actual change to your behavior or actions! You don't, and can't, actually do anything that would define you as a lesbian! But if you're one of a group, you can start asking, "what does the culture of the group look like", and also "what is this character's personality independent of the group." It can be very powerful. – Standback Dec 3 '15 at 14:03
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    I think maybe this conversation is the thing the OP is looking to avoid! there is a lot of weight and baggage attached to the tag. My point here, and in my answer, is that it shouldn't need to be normalised, readers see it as reasonably normal anyway. The power of literature is to strip away that baggage, to show what the world is like without it. To simply say, here's a good story line and in the progression of that story line you find out she's gay. Without any need for fanfare, or comparison to other gay people. Its just a good story line, with good characters. – Michael B Dec 3 '15 at 14:09
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I wanna write modern fantasy that just happened to have a lesbian character.

So, do that.

When the love interest enters the scene, your protagonist is interested. That's all. That's what you'd do with a straight character. Don't overthink it, don't have her come out with fireworks or tears, just write her sexuality as one facet of her personality.

Try Ash, by Malinda Lo, as an example. It's a recasting of Cinderella which happens to have a lesbian romance along the way.

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    I do this all the time in my stories. Sometimes my characters are straight, sometimes they are gay, sometimes they are pansexual. It's never the point of the story, it just happens to be whoever they are into. – Kit Z. Fox Dec 3 '15 at 13:53
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    I agree. If it isn't important for the story, it isn't necessary for the writer to explain. Just show the characters interacting the way they normally do. No commentary or explanation is needed. – Ville Niemi Dec 3 '15 at 17:17
  • @KitZ.Fox Out of curiosity, do you differentiate between pansexual and bisexual? Pansexual is kind of a new term and not as clearly self-defining as bisexual. – Lauren Ipsum Dec 3 '15 at 20:25
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    I differentiate in the sense that pansexual defers to the idea that gender identity is a spectrum whereas bisexual implies that gender identity is binary. – Kit Z. Fox Dec 3 '15 at 21:14
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    I like the love v. sex dichotomy. It's gender-neutral. Are the characters taking clothes off hedonisticly? Are there feelings of guilt before, during, or after? Is there an issue of tenderness? Family and marriage? In an urban fantasy, does the relationship contribute to survival? Are there issues of jealousy because one character tends towards pansexual or extra-relationship affairs? Does religion come in to play? – Stu W Dec 7 '15 at 0:34
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When I read the title of this, my brain converted it to (in lieu of a reply)

How to write a female character whose gender isn't the point of the story

Imagine writing a story based in this world, where you spend a considerable amount of time explaining the reasons your character is female. (hmm there seems like there might be a parody in that idea!)

The point being that people are perfectly comfortable and accepting that there are males and females in the world as they are accepting that there are a number of sexual orientations.

If Beth says she's got a date with Meredith then that is all you need to do to tell the reader that the character is homosexual. If it isn't the point of the story, then don't make it the point of the story, state the facts and move along.

ETA (something that has rattled around in my head since I wrote this bit)

What you choose to raise issues with in a story says a lot about the universe that you are creating, equally to what you choose to ignore.

If you create a universe where walking around naked is the norm, then within that universe there would be very little said about that fact. If someone in that universe has issues with the idea, or even simply starts to explain why they do it. Then that would reflect on how the universe as a whole has an underlying issue with it and it becomes a discussion point in the story.

Give the reader some information in your story, and then decide if it is going to be either a fact or a discussion point.

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Regarding the "homosexuality," just barely mention it. Maybe show one kissing scene, one love scene or one discussion, just to show who the characters are.

Then have them go about their business in the novel as if the above isn't an issue at all.

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This is a really good question! A great guideline for writing homosexual romance into a story without having it be a plot point or having the sexuality be a big deal is to write it much the same as you would any other romance. There really isn't a need to make it a point to say anything about the gay-ness at all, honestly. Casually mentioning the gender of the person the main character has feelings for can be enough on its own, and the readers can make the connection themselves almost instantly (which is a good use if the characters are already in a relationship when the story begins). In some cases, you may want to write things about how the main character is afraid the girl won't even like girls, let alone her, or something along those lines. This can also be done very simply, through text that compliments a scene or thought pattern rather than being the focus of it.

With that being said, there isn't necessarily reason to keep it simple if you don't want to. Having a main character question whether actions are friendly or romantic a few times, maybe even including romantic thoughts and having them be pushed away for fear of rejection, things like this can still add to a story without it being the focus. Take note of all the heterosexual romances written pointlessly into so many stories that romance had nothing to do with, and don't be afraid to use it as a guideline for how casually (or not) certain things should be mentioned. Gay crushes and romances face many of the same problems that heterosexual ones do.

I'm not the most experienced because the only gay romances I've written into things has been the entire point of the story, but hopefully this still helps!

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Although this presents as a writing question, it's really a question of cultural context. For example, in most parts of America, until quite recently, it would have been nearly impossible for someone's homosexuality to be an unremarkable aspect of her identity, because homosexuality was so heavily problematized culturally. On the other hand, in many parts of today's America, a wide range of sexualities, including what we call homosexuality, are unremarkable and unproblematic, particularly among a younger age-cohort.

Since you are creating the world your character exists in, your real question is what kind of culture does it have, a culture where homosexuality is necessarily problematic, or one where it is unremarkable? (Or perhaps one where it is assumed, or even mandated?) Your worldbuilding choices about the cultural context the character exists within will then go on to inform how you write your story.

In other words, if you want to make a story where a character's homosexuality is incidental, then you first need to create a world in which incidental homosexuality is the norm. If you first establish this for the world, then it will not be shocking for the character (or the reader).

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