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In my novel, while the main characters are building the plot and driving it forward, there is a subplot with a gay couple. One of the gay partners is best friends with the female protagonist.

At the end of the story, I plan to make the antagonist and male protagonist get into a situation where the antagonist is going to kill the main character in front of the female mc, but from the shadows, her best friend kills the antagonist and resolves the issue but ends up dying.

I plan to make it heartfelt and the novel ends from the perspective of the best friend's once partner talking about how he feels and what's to come and leaves the reader with a cliffhanger.

I suddenly thought about how many movies do the "kill the LGBTQ+" to not show representations and I wondered if people would take offense? Please note that my story includes the couple from beginning to the very end, as well that even if he were not gay, I would have killed them off to end the novel with sadness from this death, instead of the typical all things end nicely.

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    Does this answer your question: writing.stackexchange.com/questions/46576/… ? – Nai45 Jan 26 at 4:18
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    Are we focusing on whether you're doing something wrong, or whether you could be perceived as doing something wrong. The two are not always the same, and it's important to know where the focus lies. If you did nothing wrong, but people felt like you did anyway, is that a situation you want to avoid? – Flater Jan 26 at 13:43
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    Easily solution: add more LGBTQ+ characters. – Arcanist Lupus Jan 26 at 17:05
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    @ArcanistLupus, that can also be a recipe for LGBTQ+ "minions" dying en masse for no real purpose other than being cannon fodder and to try to "tug on heartstrings", which is a really bad trope. That actually makes things worse, not better. As the Answers I've read say, making the character a full person that people like is the way to prevent this death from being just another trope. – computercarguy Jan 26 at 17:39
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    Why are you focusing on your character's sexuality? Is this important to the story? – NomadMaker Jan 27 at 3:11
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Kind of yes? The big problem with Bury Your Gays in literature is that the gay characters' death mostly exists to motivate or evoke emotions other characters around them and they aren't characters in their own right. Your description of the plot makes it seem like the character's death was merely used to get an emotional reaction out of the audience, not because it did or did not make sense for the plot. Your plot says you are killing them off for big sad. Not to mention the plot as you have now sounds like a deus ex machina where the gay character is sacrificed to save the protagonist.

I have seen gay characters killed in book 1 be done well, but in those cases the characters are killed as a result of actions in the plot and their character traits beyond homosexuality (T.J. in Kitty and the Midnight Hour did this well I think). To dissect what happened further in that work...

At the climax of the story, Kitty is about to be killed by the two alpha werewolves of her pack. Her best friend and quasi-mentor figure, T.J., who is gay, jumps in to save her at the last moment. He duels the male alpha whereas Kitty duels the female, and T.J. ends up dying.
As you can see, there are a lot of similarities between this and your proposed plotline (gay character swoops in to save the day at the last minute and dies saving the heroine), but there are some pretty big factors that make it not an example of this...
1) T.J.'s reasons for risking his life for Kitty are very well established. T.J.'s most notably character feature is not that he's gay (indeed, I think his homosexuality is only established in two lines of the story), but that he's very protective of kitty as a little sister figure. T.J.'s death evolves from his established characterization. There wasn't much else he could do and still stay in character.
2) T.J. isn't a deus ex machina jumping in out of nowhere to save Kitty. Not only was it foreshadowed beforehand that he was following her to make sure she was safe, but in the actual final confrontation she does half the work. Kitty is an active instrument in her own saving.

More specifically, I think the biggest red flag in your question to me is this:

I would have killed them off to end the novel with sadness from this death, instead of the typical all things end nicely

This to me flags the fact that the gay character was killed off for emotional pathos. It isn't in there to advance the narrative, it's purpose is just to make the characters and readers feel sad. Especially given the way the question is worded highlights that what happens is the straight character is spared at the expense of the gay one.

If there are more deaths in your novel it wouldn't be a problem, but based on the context provided it does sound kind of concerning.

The broader problem with killing gay characters in general is it fits into this stereotypic narrative that gay people don't deserve a happy ending, which is tied into older views that homosexuality is an aberration of the natural order. This is kind of similar to the Undeath Always Ends trope, where undead or immortal characters usually either completely die or become normal by the end of the story because they represent aberrations in the natural order that must be rectified for alls well that ends well. Killing one gay character but not both can be perceived as "heterosexualizing" the surviving partner because although they mourn they are basically no longer engaging in openly gay behavior while they are mourning.

Of course, nowadays people are starting to complain that gay characters are getting what amounts to personalized plot armor even when it would be unrealistic for them to survive because authors want to avoid these negative implications, so it may be within 5-10 years the trope has completely reversed.

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    I think if I'm following is that your objection is to what sounds like poor plot line, not so much that the character killed is gay. If so, +1. BTW I have a literal deus ex machina (an actual AI machine programmed with the personality of the goddess Artemis) at the end of my story, and it seems to work just fine ;) – DWKraus Jan 26 at 1:00
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    Deus ex machina doesn't mean someone dies to save someone else. – barbecue Jan 26 at 16:50
  • @barbecue Correct, but the way OP was describing it the protagonist was in a situation where they were going to die and the female mc's hands were tied, only for the gay character to show up and resolve the issue. Now, that may not be a deus ex machina in context (the gay character might have a good reason for being there), but the way OP was describing it made it feel like the gay character just shows up out of nowhere to resolve the issue. – user2352714 Jan 26 at 19:16
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    I think a valuable part of this answer is the point that there's already a known trope of doing this. Even if you have some good reasons for doing something, being a possible instance of a bad pattern makes it worth trying harder to avoid when possible. Because some readers could see it that way. – Peter Cordes Jan 26 at 21:40
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    @SebastiaanvandenBroek tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BuryYourGays, tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GayGuyDiesFirst. The fact that TV tropes has two different tropes on this is kind of telling. – user2352714 Jan 27 at 5:18
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This seems like you have a character who is going to die at the end of your story who happens to be gay. Objectively I see zero issues with that - the only reason there is a question is because of the history of stories killing off LGBT+ characters. I guess I would say to just be careful to make this guy a real character with his own purpose, and don't kill him just to have an emotional ending (big choices like this need to move the story forward - but if the after-effects of his death impact your other characters' emotional growth and whatnot, I would think that that totally counts, so it all depends on your story and only you would know), as user2352714 says. The fact that he ends up dying while killing the antagonist makes it seem to me like it fits in with the story well, which eliminates the chance it could have of seeming cheap/random (as long as this guy has a legit reason for sacrificing himself for the MC). As for the deus ex machina aspect, have the sacrifice mean something. Have it show how this guy was selfless and brave. It shouldn't just happen and have the ending thought be 'oh, the MC is in the clear, niceeeee'. Just have fun and write smart. As long as there isn't any homophobic intent (which there clearly is not) and you're conscientious, you're fine. Just, if you're killing more people in the future, don't have all the ones who die be LGBT+ and all the survivors be cis and hetero, right? xD Because that would be a theme, which you want to avoid.

Hope this helps a little bit. I don't claim to be super knowledgeable or experienced. :)

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A question to ask is: are your secondary characters gay just to tick an LGBTQ+ box? A test of that is how rich they are as characters in their own rights.

If they are rich deep characters, who we grow to love because of who they are, not just because of what they are, they aren't just sacrificial, and the death is clearly not just gratuitously "isn't it sad someone good died, but the main character is okay so that's fine", then you stand a much better chance of the death feeling okay to a reader.

The ending does sound very trope-like I have to say. The villain is about to kill the male main character right in front of his opposite sex female main character, but from the shadows, the secondary character arises, kills the villain just in time but tragically dies themselves. We often see that ending. And conveniently we have a (conveniently non-standard) secondary character we care about just enough to feel tragedy but not enough to give much of a damn when they get killed because the (more mainstream hetero) main characters both survived and the villain is dead. Hooray.

Put that way, can you see the problem better?

Ask people who are sensitive to this, to review your treatment more in-depth, once you have sketched a bit more. "It's going to be heartfelt" or "they died in a good cause" or "they died so my story could have an emotional bittersweet end", are not good safeguards against being a jerk in this area. That's probably how everyone who kills off a gay person like that, is likely to think about it being justified.

It's extremely easy to fool yourself about how you've handled it, and come up with a caricature/trope despite yourself.

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    Totally agree. And just to fill this out, Bury Your Gays is also a function of questioning why the other minor characters who do survive happen to be straight. (It's also worth questioning why the protagonists should be straight, but that is more likely to hit issues with how to write characters from unfamiliar backgrounds, and it's less common to see this. Charles Stross for the win here, by the way.) – Graham Jan 26 at 17:51
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    To rather unfairly pick on a possibly accidental choice of words in the question, a good sign that your character is a token defined around one attribute is frequently thinking of them in terms like "gay couple". That might even be fine if their entire character arc is about coming to terms with their sexuality - but in that case, you shouldn't turn around and say "oh, they're also the character that gets killed off at the end in an act of tragic heroism", you can give that arc to someone else. – IMSoP Jan 26 at 18:11
  • What @IMSoP says. I like that succinct summary. – Stilez Jan 26 at 18:20
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I think this quite an interesting question.

If we treat people of all sexual preferences equally, then the sexual preference of the characters is irrelevant.

But, we live in a world where there has historically been much prejudice and bigotry towards people who are not heterosexual. As such, we need to be aware of the societal context in which we write.

For this reason, we must "hold both": We must hold that we want to treat all people equally, while simultaneously holding that historically there has been much prejudice.

Hopefully, by thoughtfully reflecting on this honest situation, you will be able to come to a good conclusion.

In summary, I don't think there is a "right" or "wrong" here, but being mindful and thoughtful of how you handle your characters will lead to writing that you are proud to call your own.

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As far as I know, there are generas of fiction where it is very unusual for any characters or animals to be killed, such as many types of children's stories.

And there are probabily many generas where it is common for most of the characters to die, often by violence, such as Elizabethan tragedies.

And there are other generas where the number or precentage of characters who die may vary from zero persons and zero percent of characters to one hundred percent of characters. For example, there are many science ficiton stories where nobody gets killed, and other science ficiton stories where a natural disaster exterminates the entire human species. Except for some sub generas of science fiction, such as military science fiction, science fiction readers tend to start a story without any preconceptions about what percentage, if any, of the characters will die during the story.

So if your novel is, for example, a serious drama, readers would not have a preconceived idea of how many of the characters will die. Some serious dramas have no character fatalities, others have many. If your novel is a lurid melodrama, readers may expect that a lot of characters will die, many violently.

And the more serious and "respectable" you want your novel to be, the stronger the story reason and justification for each act of violence or accidential death should be. And the more subtile foreshadowing there should be.

As a general rule, the more characters who die in a story, the less the emotional impact of one death will be, and the less unusual each death will seem. Thus in a story which is a bloodbath, the readers will not question why a particular character is killed off so much as question why the few surviving characters survived and did it make sense for them to survive.

So if only the villian and the gay character die in the story, the readers may think about both of the deaths, and how much they may have been the just fates of the characters and how much not, and the more critical readers may wonder why the author decided to kill those characters off and how much senses those deaths made in the logic of the story. So in such a situation you may be considered homophobic.

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  • I remember a book ending with the protagonist finding a list of 1,700 worse-than-criminals that need killing. And he considers that this will be an awful lot of work. – gnasher729 Jan 28 at 0:16
  • When I was younger most of my friends thought that if a book was dark, it was deep. My opinion, which I've mostly kept to, is that if I spend $5 on book or movie, I want to feel better after reading it. If the first book in a series ends up being sad, I don't buy book two. – NomadMaker Jan 28 at 5:12
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Hmm. From a general standpoint, no.

I mean, people die, all the time. Anyone could have died and it just happened that the gay character was one of them. So as long as it's well executed so it won't feel like a deus ex machina, it should be fine.

But of course, there are people that are going to say you are contributing to the "bury your gays" trope... And maybe they are right. Then you should ask yourself, are the gay character and the villains the only ones that died? Is that the only LGBTQ+ character in the story?

Because if from a huge cast of characters, you only killed a couple and that included the ONLY gay character in the story, then it's inevitable that it will offend some people.

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  • This. There are only two gay characters in the story, they are a couple, one of them dies. That means 50% of gay characters end up dead. Villain also dies, but he is not gay and there are multiple straight characters. So, say 5% - 10% of straight characters die. Kind of extra deadly for part of the population here. – jo1storm Jan 27 at 14:24
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(Expanding this from a comment on another answer, because realised I had more to say.)

On the face of it, there seem to be two unrelated facts about this character:

  • They're gay
  • They sacrifice themselves heroically at the end of the story

Having both of these things be true of the same character isn't necessarily a problem, but having them be the two central things about the character is.

To rather unfairly pick on a possibly accidental choice of words in the question, if you frequently think of this pair as "the gay couple", that's a reasonable sign that you're designing the character around that attribute, rather than it being one among many of the details that make them feel well-rounded. That might mean they're just a "token" to tick the LGBT box; but it might just mean that their character arc is about their sexuality - maybe they or those around them need to come to terms with it.

Similarly, "the best friend who sacrifices themselves at the end" can either feel like a convenient way of tying up loose ends, or be a valid character arc, depending on how well you write the story.

The problem comes when you give the same character both of those character arcs, because it has the awkward implication that there's some connection between them: that the resolution to "coming to terms with being gay" is "dying heroically". Hopefully it's obvious why gay readers might not like that implication.

Unfortunately, this combination of character roles (LGBT + ends up dead) seems to be rather common, which means that readers are more likely to notice it and say "oh, here we go, Bury Your Gays!" Through no fault of yours, that means it's a good idea to be extra careful to avoid fitting that trope - maybe if you keep the character as outlined, make sure they are a well-rounded character and have some happy LGBT characters as well as tragic ones.

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A novel is a work of art, and this one is your work of art. Art can suffer when we create it with fears of how it will be taken. If you're concerned more with marketability, and if you think that such a thing will negatively affect marketability, then make your choice based on that. For what it's worth, for each person that might be put off by such a thing as what you're asking about, there could be an equal (or lesser, or greater) number of readers who are put off by trying to be too non-offensive instead of just telling the story the way you want it to be.

In other words, if you are more concerned about being safe, marketable, and working within the confines of some specific sub-society's rules-du-jour, then locate your audience and ask them what they think. If you just want to write your novel, do what seems right, and ignore any opinions from strangers or anyone whose opinion you don't have a good reason to consider. Further still, reserve the right to reject the opinions of even your most trusted associates. The history of great creative works is filled with examples that never would've existed, had their creators taken the opinions of friends, families, and others.

Also, it is worth pointing out that plenty of creative works have become well regarded after aging out of an era when they were found to be objectionable or incomprehensible.

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  • While I like some of the points this answer makes, such as noting that potentially offensive material can make a book less marketable, I'm not sure I like some of the others, such as the suggestion in the final paragraph that we will someday "age out of an era" in which LGBT-phobia is "objectionable". – F1Krazy Jan 28 at 15:07
  • @F1Krazy - I can't tell you what to like, but your inference is your own. The fact is, we have no control over how future generations will categorize our thoughts and actions. As time progresses, human societies display new characteristics, and adopt new attitudes. These new things might have been judged as good, bad or neutral by previous generations. They may go on (and have gone on) to be judged in those same ways by future generations. Even in calling the matter at hand "LGBT-phobia," you are binding yourself to your time, place and sensibilities. (cont.) – bubbleking Jan 28 at 16:31
  • @F1Krazy - (continued from previous comment) Future generations might not even know what that means, or they may not describe it as such. We tend to believe that we are righteous in our beliefs, and that future generations will only become more enlightened and righteous in ways that we would describe as such. In reality, this is likely naïve. There are only roughly 200 generations of human activity in recorded history (and recorded history is hardly a complete picture). That's not a very impressive sample size by which to judge the future. – bubbleking Jan 28 at 16:32
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As long as you offer the character the same dignified death as any other, then there shouldn't be any problems. You said it yourself, that them being gay has no influence on them dying. If you're suddenly afraid to kill off gay characters (or any n type of character), then the audience no longer has to worry about that kind of character dying, lowering dramatic stakes, while also hampering what you can and can't do as a writer.

So, make your gay corpse a good character in life, ticking all the boxes for any good character - well-defined motivations, an arc (unless they're a pinnacle character, but then they wouldn't be dying so easily), backstory, relationships with other characters outside of their love interest, interactions and descriptions not immediately relevant to the main plot, etc., and congratulations! You have made a well-written, fleshed-out character sacrificing themselves for the greater good, and they happen to be gay.

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