Hi, I love this blog and the podcast and have really appreciated how much information you present on the craft of writing and also how it has helped me make sure that my writing isn’t unintentionally offensive or not inclusive.
My question is actually about the latter point. In an urban fantasy story that I am working on, there are two pretty prominent female supporting characters who are involved in a long-term monogamous relationship. Their relationship isn’t really a major plot point, but like any character, it is part of who they are. In the course of the story, one of them dies. That is a pretty important plot element, and the death is important to a lot of events that happen in the later part of the story.
Is there any way to have that not fall under the “bury your gays” trope? I don’t want to play into a harmful pattern in storytelling, but at the same time, this is a death that is really important to the plot.
Any answer to that would be so awesome and helpful. Thank you.
Again, you all are great.
Hey Clair, glad you’re enjoying the site!
I’m also glad you’re considering problematic tropes like burying your gays. We need more storytellers who think about this sort of thing when writing.
Full disclosure: avoiding this trope can be a little tricky, as its definition is a little blurry around the edges, even within the queer storytelling community. The only 100% sure way avoid is to not kill queer characters.
You’ve already said that this death is critical to the plot, so another option would be to change these characters’ relationship to something other than romantic love, and make some other secondary characters queer instead.
If that doesn’t work for you, there are a few things you can do to make it less likely your story will be viewed as burying its gays:
1: Make sure there are other queer characters around, particularly queer characters of the same orientation as the dead character. You’re looking at a lesbian couple here, so it likely won’t be enough to have a gay male couple in the story as well, especially since lesbian characters in particular have a cliché of not getting to be happy.
2: Give the character a heroic death. Another big factor in this trope is the image of a queer (most often lesbian) character dying tragically in her partners’ arms, with a death that didn’t really accomplish anything. If the character dies saving a planet from destruction or destroying an evil artifact, that will help a lot.
3: Just as importantly, give the character agency in her death. Just like queer deaths are often pointless, it’s very common for the character to be going about their day when suddenly they get killed by a seemingly random event outside of their control. If they choose the path that leads to their death, they feel more like characters in their own right.
4: Do everything you can to make it not look like Tara’s death in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That scene is perhaps the most famous example of a story burying its gays, and references to it can draw up unpleasant memories.
Finally, be aware that none of these recommendations are an entirely reliable solution. Even if you do everything “right,” sometimes the reaction to a queer character’s death is more about broad media trends than the specific events of a story. Something that might be fine in a vacuum can still create negative feelings if it’s part of a bigger trend.
Hope that helps answer your question!