Importance to the Plot

25 Jun

So I just went through to edit a post I’d planned to put up today about my (non-)experience writing asexual characters, when a thought occurred to me that completely threw my thesis into question. Don’t you love it when that happens?

A brief summary of the other post is that in it, I’m talking about how I haven’t written many ace characters, and how the biggest barrier for me is that I don’t know how to introduce their asexuality and make it important to a story. Built on the assumption that asexuality has to be important to the story.

During editing, I started wondering why that bothered me so much in the first place. And I felt like I had to explore that in order to make my other post workable. Does asexuality have to be important to the story? Wouldn’t it be nice to just have an asexual character who got to be in the story without making their asexuality an issue?

The answer to both those questions, I think, is yes.

A note before this post rolls onwards: this is all personal. Despite sometimes using the second person in this post, I’m not saying every writer would have to write this way, or should want to write this way, or (every reader, as well) feels this way about representation. This is how I feel about my own writing, as I set out to try to increase the amount of asexual continuum characters I write (because it’s basically 1% of my character set). I literally have a specific story in mind as I write this post. And I’m pretty sure that I could find some stories I’ve read that break all the conclusions I come to that I still love.

Anyway, onwards.

To a certain extent, asexuality has to be important to the story. In my other post, I call asexuality an invisible orientation — invisible because no one knows about us, there’s a very limited amount of information out there on us. Invisible because unlike other orientations, you can’t easily demonstrate a lack of sexual attraction. Just writing a person who lacks sexual attraction won’t make your point. Lacking is invisible, and likely to go unnoticed, unless it’s something like a hazmat suit in a toxic spill cleanup.

I suppose an equivalent would be an asexual character on a crowded beach, where they don’t notice anyone’s sexual attractiveness. But writing that is not going to convince anyone that the character’s asexual. It’s going to be read as the person being distracted, concentrating on other things, secretly gay, repressed, etc. Or they’ll just assume that the character is heterosexual. Most likely, people aren’t going to even notice, because it’s not that weird to have a character not commenting on the attractiveness of passersby.

An equivalent could also be an asexual within the context of a romantic relationship, but… I’d argue that this is a point where it’s basically impossible to just imply asexuality. Everyone is going to assume that the character is having sex, or plans to have sex, or wants to have sex.

Unless you’re viewing the relationship from the outside, at some point asexuality is going to be integral to how you write that relationship, because it’s going to affect how the characters relate to each other. Could you just skip sex scenes and having the asexual character(s) comment about sexual attractiveness? Yes. But it’s the beach all over again. Everyone is going to assume that there are times the characters have sex off-screen, and that they’re sexually attracted to each other. If you don’t make asexuality important, it’s going to be invisible. Even if all of the involved characters are asexual.

And romantic relationships can’t be the only way to present asexuality. Dating while asexual is difficult and the source of a lot of questions and speculation in asexual communities. There are concerns, questions, ideas that asexuals have when it comes to dating that sexuals don’t have, before dating ever takes place. Asexuality doesn’t only become important within the context of romantic relationships, either, and it doesn’t stop being important outside of them.

Plus, there’s a good chunk of asexuals who don’t want to be in romantic relationships at all — and representing aromanticism only with the character turning down requests to date is not going to cut it. Aromantics have to deal with being in a society that says the only really worthy relationship in life is a romantic one. Representing them by writing an aromantic just not dating is not writing an aromantic character. There are lots of other concerns. Sciatrix speculated on some of those here.

Representing demiromantics and grey-romantics (or demisexuals and grey-asexuals) only in romantic relationships infrequently, or only in relationships with longtime friends, is likewise not real representation. It’s going to be read as pining, or the characters not being aware of their feelings, or being picky, or being too busy to date frequently, or being repressed, or being reserved, or a hundred other things.

Unless a reader is in the asexual continuum and hyperaware of how little representation there is, and grabbing at characters to find someone, anyone like them, or maybe if they know asexual people and want to see their friends or partners represented — I’d say it’s almost a given that they’re not going to read implications of asexuality as asexuality. Personally, I’d like to be represented, not implied.

So, yes, asexuality has to be important to a story. I don’t think the story has to be about being asexual, but I think I have to make sure that a character’s asexuality is important to actually be representing them.

The other question, wouldn’t be nice if you could have an asexual character in a story without making asexuality an issue, is also answered with a yes. I’ve written that. I’d also say that these stories didn’t really represent the character to the audience, and was more a personal fulfillment thing. Was it nice to write them? Oh, yes. It was nice to have all the back story in my head, the off-screen moments, the personality and relationship things that I built to be able to write the character on-screen.

But if I’d been reading those stories, I would’ve been left wanting to know more (or, my fanfic-inclined self, I would’ve gone off and speculated on the story for a few days).

Asexuality just doesn’t fit into the societal script of how people are supposed to behave. I’m not talking heteronormativity, either. I’m talking about how people are supposed to approach relationships, what they’re supposed to think of romantic relationships, what emphasis they’re allowed to put on friendships, what it means if they’re uncomfortable or repulsed by the idea of having sex — I could probably go on for a few thousand more words just listing examples from all over the asexual continuum.

Asexuality doesn’t fit into the script, and to represent it in writing, you can’t follow the conventional script for writing characters. The conventional script doesn’t make room for the concerns people on the asexual continuum. The conventional script would prefer implication, and sometimes balks at any measure of explicitness.

I feel awkward trying to make room for those concerns as I plot out a new story with an asexual character, but I’m starting to think that’s some more internalized invisibility. Because since when do I question the importance of representation?


5 Responses to “Importance to the Plot”


  1. Wednesday Linkspam « Writing From Factor X - June 29, 2011

    […] An Asexual Space: Importance to the Plot Does asexuality have to be important to the story? Wouldn’t it be nice to just have an asexual […]

  2. Writing Experience « an asexual space - July 10, 2011

    […] Jul (This is a follow-up to Importance to the Plot, in which I meanderingly decided that in my own personal writing, representing asexuality […]

  3. Carnival of Aces Call for Submissions « an asexual space - August 2, 2011

    […] and troubles you have when writing ace continuum characters (ex. my posts on being concerned about how to talk about asexuality and my own experience in writing) – Fanfic and fanart – Original stories or artwork – Why media […]

  4. Issues when writing an ace character « Der Torheit Herberge - August 18, 2011

    […] is, as ace eccentric noted here, hard to do. Novel characters only think about sex and attracting potential partners when […]

  5. Schwierigkeiten beim Schreiben einer asexuellen Figur « Der Torheit Herberge - August 18, 2011

    […] ist, wie schon ace eccentric hier angemerkt hat, kompliziert. Romanfiguren denken nur dann über Sex oder darüber nach, wie sie […]

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