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avengers-in-221b asked: I have major white room syndrome. I can describe characters and emotions well enough, but I feel like adding setting markers just seems random and I can’t ever find correct places to put them. I am alpha reading for one of my friends and she has the same problem. I can SEE it, but I don’t know how to FIX it. Any suggestions?
In some cases you can describe the room when they enter. Even if you’re not doing a complete rendering of a room they’re entering for the first time, you can still call attention to details that give the room substance. For example, let’s say the first time my character walks into the lobby of an inn, this is what she describes:
The outside of the inn suggested a humble old home, so I was surprised to step into a spacious lobby with highly polished wood floors. The check-in desk was far enough back from the door that the clerk didn’t look up until the wind slammed the door behind us. She called out a greeting which echoed through the great room, dancing off antler chandeliers and antique mahogany furniture. Craig set our suitcases down beside a large velvet couch the color of summer squash, and I folded my hands and stared at the plush oriental rug beneath my feet while Craig checked us in.
In a later scene, she steps into the room again:
Not a single step creaked as I made my way into the dimly lit lobby. I wasn’t sure if there would be anyone behind the desk at this late hour, and was relieved to find the counter area dark. My slippers made a wooshing sound as I crossed the hardwood floor to the mahogany buffet that served as a drink area. I took a clean glass from the stack and filled it with water from the cooler. The impressive grandfather clock nearby ticked a steady rhythm, oblivious to the emptiness of the room around it. It was just me and the blank eyes of a few ancient game trophies, so I decided to sit in the leather wingback chair and flip through an old National Geographic while I drank my water.
So, here I’ve recalled a few earlier details, but mostly I’m adding new layers to what I’ve already laid down. Interacting with details in the room, not just seeing them but hearing them, feeling them, smelling them, and engaging with them can be another great way to bring out the details of a room.
I hope that helps!
Queer identities are gaining more and more ground in written and visual media. While this is splendid, portrayals often seem limited to gay people. Bisexuality is, in many ways, still an “invisible” queer identity. Way too often, I hear people who don’t know what it is, doubt its existence, or just plain don’t consider it when telling a story.
About the author: I am a bisexual woman in my mid-twenties who has studied gender and queer theory non-professionally for a few years. I’m by no means an expert on anything, but I do have an interest in seeing my sexuality represented well.
Let me start with a disclaimer: There is no one way to be bisexual. This doesn’t describe everyone by a longshot. The best way of learning is to go out there, listen, ask and listen some more. This article is just a starting point for knowledge and questions.
With that in mind, let’s start!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is bisexuality?
Being bisexual means you are able to be sexually, romantically and/or emotionally attracted to more than one gender. Some people make a distinction between being attracted to both genders (bisexual) or being attracted to all genders (pansexual), but for most intents and purposes, bisexual is the term you want.
For some bisexuals, gender is a factor in the attraction, some are genderblind, some fluctuate between genders, some have a preference, etc. Point is, there are many different ways to be bisexual. The one thing they all have in common is the sexual attraction to more than one gender.
Isn’t it just a phase?
While it’s true that some gay people identify as bi before coming fully out, and that some straight people identify temporarily as bi, bisexuality is a completely legitimate orientation. Bi adults tend to stay bi.
Part of the “phase” idea comes from the fact that most bisexuals indeed settle down with a person of a specific gender. This doesn’t make them non-bisexual though. It just means that their perfect match happened to be male/female/whatever.
How and when does a bisexual person know that they are bi?
That differs a lot. Some have known all their lives, some figure it out through experimenting, some only realize when BAM they’re in love with someone unexpected. Personally, up until my early twenties I just figured everyone was a little gay until I realized that hey, maybe it’s just me.
How do bisexuals choose?
The same way as everyone else. We meet someone fantastic, and we decide that we want a relationship with them.
Aren’t you just greedy?
No, no and also no. Bisexuals are not attracted to everyone. We can be attracted to anyone regardless of gender, but we still have taste and standards. The specific standards depend on the bi individual, just like libido, faithfulness, etc. - all things that have nothing to do with the orientation and everything to do with the individual.
Writing a Bisexual Character
The top 6 most important things to remember while writing a bisexual character are as follows:
“Bisexual” is not a personality trait, nor does it say anything distinctive about the character apart from their shipping potential. Sexuality informs personality, sure, but just like you can’t base a character around their hair color, you can’t base a character solely around their sexuality. Flesh ‘em out.
Bisexual people face discrimination from both straight and gay communities. Bi girls are seen as flaky teases or “drunken straight girls”. Bi guys are seen as equally flaky, unable to settle down, or as gays in denial. All bi people are seen as more promiscuous and less trustworthy. Many people will avoid serious relationships with bi people because of this.
Since bisexuals are regarded as more sexual, bi characters (especially female) can skirt the line of Mr./Ms. Fanservice. It’s not fair, but know that a same-sex couple kissing will often be seen as shocking and/or pandering.
Most (Western) bisexuals live happy, well-adjusted lives at peace with our sexuality. The media has a tendency to depict queer characters in a very dramatic and traumatised light, and there is some truth to this (e.g. the suicide rate among bisexual teens is higher than for both straight and gay teens), but the angst is currently overexposed in media. The angsty queer story needs some spotlight, but it isn’t groundbreaking or edgy anymore.
Related to this, be careful about killing off one half of a same-sex couple. It has been done. A LOT. I’m not saying it can’t be done well, but it leaves me a bad taste in the mouth to see just how many storytellers don’t believe I deserve a happy ending.
If your bisexual character is the only non-monosexual person in the story, be prepared for extra scrutiny and criticism (as this character will stand as ambassador for your view on bisexual people). Avoid this by having a broader selection of LGBT+ characters.
How to Out a Bisexual Character
It can be tricky to out bisexual characters, especially if they’re uncoupled by the time of writing. Here are some easy ways:
Casual outing. Mention same-sex partners/exes in passing. “Yeah, my ex always did so-and-so. S/he was crazy!”. Date stories are also good fuel here. This is the most casual way of coming out.
Sexy outing. Let the character join in on “that person is so hot!” conversations, or have them hit on someone of the same gender. This type of outing may be at little ambiguous, at least to the other characters, and it emphasizes the sexual aspect of the identity. But it can be a fun way.
Explicit outing. Let the character explicitly and directly out themselves. This may be in response to some bigoted speech (“whoa dude, you know it’s me you’re talking about, right?”), during a relevant conversation point (“Actually, since I’m bi, I know so-and-so”), or it might be a bigger gesture (“Since you’re my friend, you deserve to know”). There are lots of reasons one might bring it up.
Forced/accidental outing. Someone else outs the character. This might be an enemy throwing it in your character’s face, a friend who slips up and mentions it, someone who comes across old love letters, etc. Depending on setting and other characters, this can be quite the drama fuel.
In real life, most bi people are acutely aware of how we mention our dating lives. We have made active decisions about whether we’re out or not, and who we’re out to. Very few bi people are careless about this.
That said, please out your bi character to, if no one else, then at least to the reader. Representation only matters if it is, you know… represented.
Tropes and Caricatures To Avoid
There are lots of weird and harmful tropes and stereotypes regarding bisexuals. Namely:
The sex fiend. Yes, some people like sex a lot, and sometimes those sex lovers are bisexual. But there’s nothing inherently promiscuous about bisexuality, and the world doesn’t need any more sex-crazed bi characters.
The straight-then-gay. A person who has genuinely enjoyed sexual relations with the opposite gender, then starts dating someone of the same gender, is probably bi. Don’t erase their identity, and the genuineness of their previous relationships, by proclaiming them suddenly gay. Or vice versa.
Crushing on the straight person. While this can make a compelling story, and it certainly happens in real life, it has been done to death. It also tends to cast queer love as inherently more tragic than straight love. Maybe not avoid outright, but certainly tread with caution.
Too Good For This World. While it is a nice gesture, killing off your queer character to make a point about the world’s cruelty has been done. To death, if you’ll pardon the pun.
The Tease. Especially common with female characters. It’s a bisexual person, often very sexy, but her orientation is never stated outright. It’s played with, alluded to, flirted with, but she never crosses the line of plausible deniability. Almost always overlaps with the sex fiend or Ms. Fanservice. Just… just don’t.
The most important part is: It’s not hard! As long as you build an interesting, three-dimensional person not relying on stereotypes (the way all characters should be written), you can’t mess it up. And the world sorely needs good bi characters, so you will be doing both the queer and the writing community a solid by including us.
Also: Please remember that there are as many ways to be bisexual as there are bisexuals on this planet. Sexuality is fluid, and complex, and just a small part of one’s identity.
If you’re interested in reading more, here are some good starting points:
Diversity Cross-Check, a tumblr introducing writers to marginalised people that they can ask questions (find the “bisexual” tag)
I will also be delighted to answer questions through my own blog or this post’s notes.
Now go forth, and write great bisexual characters!
Anonymous said: Do you have any advice for someone trying to get a story started? I have all the characters and the plot pretty secure in my head but I'm having a difficult time starting it on paper. Are there any writing exercises you'd suggest to get creativity flowing?
- Freewrite. Sit down and write. It doesn’t have to make sense or flow or anything—just write something. You can start off describing a character and get to describing their role in the plot, how awesome their character arc is, something really fantastic you want to do with their development, and discover all kinds of things to include.
- Stream of consciousness. Ditch your sentence structure, capitalization, punctuation, all of that. Write what you’re thinking. In this exercise, you focus on getting words on the paper, no matter what words they are. You can rearrange and edit them into proper sentences later. Right now, just get them out.
- Try a mind map. Put words, ideas, plot points, characters in bubbles and branch out with details and story progression. This can help you plan out a scene, a character’s development, the entire plot, or just help you get thinking about the story.
- Write that scene. You know the one. That scene is the one you look forward to writing when you think about your plot. Start somewhere that interests you and get excited about your story. Jump around within your story and write whatever you want to write.
But we should also remember that most people have the same kinds of feelings and wants. Everyone wants to be the hero sometimes. Author Sara Farizan, “Everyone Wants To Be the Hero Sometimes” (CBC Diversity)