What I look for in a LGBTQ love plot

A lot of novelists, screenplay writers and manga/anime scenarists seem to struggle with LGBTQ love plots. And yes, I am talking about the precious few brave enough to even dare tackling such a plot.

In truth, it seems that a lot of authors struggle with any kind of plot highlighting a character’s gender and sexual orientation beyond crude cliches. But I want to talk specifically about love plots, which are a very effective way to present a character’s sexual orientation as well as gender (unless of course the other party is completely gender-blind, but how many authors are brave enough for that?).

And because I’m a yuri fangirl (note: yuri is a term used for anime and manga where romantic and/or sexual relationships between females is an important theme, if not the main driving plot line), I’m going to take my examples from that genre a lot, though what I say is valid for G, B, T and Q love plots as well.

Note that if you stick to the headers in this article, what I’m saying could just as well apply to a cis-gender straight love plot. It’s a feature, not a bug. ;)

For me, a love plot is good if and only if:

A) There is some kind of obstacle for the couple to overcome, otherwise it is just character traits and backstories, not an actual plot.

Sure, queerness is easily made into an obstacle. That’s right: made into an obstacle. It’s not an obstacle in and of itself. It’s an obstacle because of society and politics and peer pressure. So don’t throw in some LGBTQ in your plot and expect everybody to instantly relate to it being an obvious ordeal.

You get free angst! And you get free angst! EVERYBODY GETS FREE ANGST!

My advice: reflect on what makes LGBTQ relationships different from (harder than?) straight relationships. If you don’t want to explore those aspects, fine. Just find another obstacle to throw in, one that would work just as well for a straight couple.

B) I want, as a reader, for the couple to overcome the obstacle and end together.

A useless klutz, a possessive control-freak and an arrogant ice queen. Take your pick.

As a yuri fangirl, I admit I tend to want the girl to get the girl. But some authors make it every bit as difficult as they can… by making one of the characters a poor excuse for a human being and/or a downright abusive partner, by sprinkling better matches around the couple or just by making the couple so utterly dysfunctional it’s near-impossible to see them together and not think “WTF?!”.

Now, why on Earth would you do that? Why make every other option (including celibacy) more appealing that the one you opted for in your plot?

My advice: if the couple only makes sense from the infatuated characters’ viewpoint, adopt that viewpoint. Show your readers what’s so awesome about that love.

C1) If the obstacle is overcome, they end together.

That’s gotta be the original sin of yuri love plots. How many times have I rooted for a couple who had overcome every obstacle thrown their way to finally… part ways? End up happily ever after with other people? Commit suicide?

And they died happily ever after.

Now there are many reasons why you, as an author, might feel uncomfortable about an LGBTQ couple ending together.

  • You might be worried about the message you would send (sidenote: better not write a story at all, since there are always messages people will see in them that you did not intentionally put there).
  • You might be worried about the light it might cast on your own gender and sexual orientation, regardless of whether they are queer in any way.
  • You might be worried about alienating part of their readers.

But no matter the reasons, one question remains: if you don’t want your characters to end up together, why bother making it a plot in the first place? If you do not commit to your characters’ relationships as much as you’re asking your readers to, you’re cheating.

My advice: do not pick a couple for a love plot if you’re not comfortable with them ending up together.

C2) If the obstacle proves too much, they are heartbroken.

Love does not always win. It is a sad truth, but a truth nonetheless. Love can be bested by all sorts of things: duty, death, hatred, guilt, distance, time… but when love is bested, it is a soul-rending heart-breaking crushingly painful outcome. If you brush it off saying “it’s not so bad”, you put the lie to the love you yourself presented. That makes you a liar and it makes your readers fools for ever buying into your lies.

Know what that red thread means? That the characters can say goodbye anytime, no reason, no problem. Cheers.

How is that especially relevant to LGBTQ plots? Too often, the readers (assumes straight by default, I presume) are expected not to care when an LGBTQ relationship breaks because “it wasn’t serious anyway”, “it wouldn’t have worked” or “it was just fooling around”. Obviously, you might well alienate your LGBTQ readers with such blatant hetero-normative intolerance, but guess who else might feel cheated: the rest of your readers, if any, since you got them invested in a couple only to tell them it was a joke.

My advice: treat the downfall of a love as seriously as you treat its build-up.

For the end word, I’d like to thank authors who include LGBTQ love plots in their stories, even if they treat them badly. I do still think it’s better than pretending like there are only straight people in the universe or putting token queer characters in a story that never get any romance in their fictional lives.

And just for the record, I love all four series I have used as sources for the images here (in chronological order Sasameki Koto, Kimi Koi Limit, Rg Veda and Canaan), even though they don’t respect the advice I give here. Because a story is not made or broken by the quality of its love sub-plots, after all.

So if you’re an author who feels like including an LGBTQ love plot in your story, don’t worry too much. Just make it interesting for the reader you have in mind and surely many other readers will agree. ;)