Writing What You Don't Know

Characters are sneaky things. You're typing along happily, thinking you're heading in one direction, and then BAM--they totally throw you for a loop and suddenly your book becomes something else. We've all been there.

In my current WIP, my main character, Sofia, has a best girlfriend. Camilla. At some point I was writing a conversation between two of them, and it hit me that Cam was not interested in boys. In fact, she's kind of in love with Sof.

So suddenly my main supporting character is gay, and I'm a little lost.

At first I didn't think I was. I know what the obvious stereotypes are to avoid. I have gay friends. I used to live in Chelsea (a predominantly gay neighborhood in Manhattan, for those of you unfamiliar with the area). Even though I'm not gay, I was pretty certain I could do the character justice without offending anybody.

Then a friend of mine was kind enough to let me know that I shouldn't have the character die because that was a cliched and stereotypical literary convention--killing off lesbians because society views them as "bad." I'd never heard of this convention in reference to gay women specifically, although I believe this is a convention that goes beyond lesbians. In traditional literature, women who did not fall in line with society standards would often receive their comeuppance in some fashion by the novel's end. Hubsy pointed out a good example: in Last of the Mohicans, the character of Cora Munro perishes in the novel. (This plot point was rewritten in the Daniel Day-Lewis [yum] movie version for a modern audience). There are differing arguments about this, but one could read into the underlying sexuality written into the character, or the fact she was of mixed race.

So now I'm worried. What other, less-obvious stereotypes of gays in literature am I ignorant of? Guess it's time to do some research. Last week The Rejectionist linked to this 5-series post about LGBTQ stereotypes in literature, but I found the content to lean towards the blatantly obvious (and kind of sad that there are actually people/writers out there who still need to be educated on what I consider to be common human decency).

What about you guys? Do you find yourselves nervous about including a certain kind of character or content in your novel because you are afraid you can't do it justice? If so, how do you overcome that?

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