Writing Aro/Ace Characters

by , Friday June 9, 2017
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Writing Aro/Ace Characters

How to Write Aro/Ace Characters

A great blog on writing about different kinds of characters than the ones we often see in mainstream stories

 

 

I think we’re all agreed that diversity is great and needs to be more heavily featured in media and writing. Right? I hope so. So while you might begin to get increasingly excited about writing some new diverse characters in your stories, you have to acknowledge that diverse characters can be both beneficial and harmful. Good, well-written diverse characters are incredible and important - they’re representations to serve as models for others of the same group to look up to and identify with. But if the character is a poor or harmful representation of an identity or group, that does nothing but perpetuate stereotypes or reek of “token” characters. 

 

As lesser known and oft-invisible identities, asexual and aromantic communities have an even harder time than most finding canon representation. Therefore it’s important that these few characters are well-written to validate the emerging representation of these identities in media (*cough* not like “Aye, and Gomorrah” *cough*). Hopefully this guide will serve as a good starting point for writing asexual and aromantic-spectrum characters!

 

 

1. Research, research, research

I cannot stress this enough. As with any diverse character or group that you don’t identify with (or even some that you do), it is important to be aware of the facts, definitions, and sensitive issues surrounding each group. This helps you avoid stereotypes and remain respectful of the communities you’re writing about. Ace and aro might be a little heavy on the definitions and subsets, but consider it part of your character development phase.

 

2. Avoid stereotypes

Stereotypes are iffy at best when writing original work; you never want your characters to come of as bland or run-of-the-mill. This is even more important in diverse characters - don’t perpetuate stereotypes. These will be different for every group, but a common one for asexual and aromantic groups is that they are closed-off, innocent or prudish people incapable of recognizing when others are interested in them. While any of those might be valid for your character, be sure that it is not because they are ace or aro. If your character’s personality is guarded due to childhood issues, or they have chosen to abstain from sex for personal reasons, or they struggle with social cues, establish this independent of their ace or aro identity. They are not always correlated. 

 

3. Understand the split-attraction model

To write any ace or aro character, you have to acknowledge that there are two types of attraction: sexual and romantic. For many people, these align and aren’t a concern. For instance, if a heterosexual woman is attracted to men, she is attracted to them both romantically and sexually. However, this isn’t always true for ace or aro-spectrum people. Asexual people might not be sexually attracted to anyone yet still desire a romantic relationship. Similarly, aromantics might have no desire for a romantic relationship yet be sexually attracted to someone. While some people are both ace and aro, it is important to recognize that this isn’t necessarily the norm. 

 

4. Recognize that attraction does not equal action

Asexual people can have and seek out sex. Aromantic people can be in relationships. Attraction (or lack thereof) isn’t necessarily tied to action. There are many reasons people might engage with a person they are not attracted to romantically or sexually. Doing so does not make people more or less ace/aro. That identity is based on attraction alone, regardless of how they choose to act. While your characters might very well choose not to act as a result of their identity, it is important that you don’t write scenes or dialog that invalidates their identity if they do. This is something that many people struggle with, and some people feel less ace or less aro because of the way they choose to act, which can be psychologically harmful or alienating. Please do your best not to perpetuate these negative ideals. If your character chooses to engage in whatever action, try to make it clear that they are still ace or aro. 

 

5. Acknowledge that sexuality/attraction is a spectrum

Just as gender is a spectrum, so is sexuality. This becomes even more relevant within the ace and aro communities, for there are dozens of different sub-labels people use to help narrow down their experiences and find groups similar to them. The more common of these include demi- and gray- ace or aro. Louise McBear has an excellent series of blogs detailing some of the ace and aro terms, if you’d like to read more. For the quick version, I can offer a helpful analogy (this is geared towards asexuality, but is pretty similar for aromanticism): 

 

Imagine that sex is coffee, and accept that most people like the smell of the coffee they drink and enjoy drinking coffee. Asexuals don’t like or are indifferent to the smell of coffee, but some might still enjoy drinking it. Others may be disgusted by the thought of drinking it and choose not to. Gray-aces don’t like the smell of most coffees, but every now and then they come across one that is incredible, and they like the smell of that one - perhaps with little to no logic behind the sudden change. Demisexuals don’t like the smell of coffee, but maybe their partner makes the same brew day after day.  As the pair grow closer emotionally, one day a demisexual might find they like the smell of their partner’s coffee, but only theirs, and only after an emotional connection has been established.

 

The point here is that there are many facets of asexuality and aromanticism, and you’ll have to figure out where your character falls on the spectrum. Once you do, you’ll need a good understanding of how that impacts their relationships (or lack thereof), so you’ll need to research what those groups experience. 

 

6. Ask people things

While I hear that asexuals are 1% of the population and aromantics must be similarly few since no reliable statistics exist yet, the advent of the almighty internet has made it much easier to find someone of either identity. Tumblr blogs that are ask-friendly are a great place to start if you don’t understand something about the identity, but be respectful! Don’t invalidate their identity just because you don’t understand. Ask if they could go into a little more depth, give examples of how it might cause them to act in certain situations, or ask for further resources to read. 

 

Additionally, you have a great community of people right here at Movellas! If you’re unsure whether you’re writing a character respectfully or accurately, see if you can find someone of that identity willing to read over what you’ve written. I, as a raging asexual, am more than willing to do so. 

 

Tip: If you’re worried people don’t want to out themselves publicly on here, suggest that they contact you by commenting on some really old buried thread somewhere that only you’ll get a notification from. Then you can set up a private co-author, delete the comments, and no one will ever know but the two of you!

 

7. Realize that while aphobia exists

While it is often disregarded as inconsequential, aphobia is there and it is harmful. Please do your best to be aware in your writing. Examples of aphobia include: “You just haven’t met the right person yet!,” “You’re too young to know,” “There’s something medically wrong with you/reproduction is a basic human instinct/you need therapy,” or - the absolute worst - “I can fix that.” As with any writing on sensitive topics involving hurtful triggers or discrimination, it is true that some of your characters might say these things, just like homophobes and racists feature in books. The important part is to ensure that you’re not validating these perspectives. If a character faces such discrimination at the beginning of a journey to self-acceptance and to realizing that they are not broken, that can be an excellent book. Just be careful not to lend power to these negative attitudes, for any readers who see themselves in your characters could be harmed as well. 

 

 

In some ways, understanding a lack of attraction is harder than understanding a difference in attraction. That makes it even more important that invisible orientations like asexuality and aromanticism receive representation. The more we talk about them and give voice to their experiences, the more people can begin to understand. Hopefully this blog has provided a good starting point to develop ace and aro characters of your own, and I’m always happy to answer any questions! 

 

Thank you to Prodigy for writing this blog and creating the banner <3

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