Writing within your limits or branching out? (Romance Particularly)

Hi! So I am in the earliest stages of planning a romance novel and I’m a bit stuck on an important aspect of romance writing, namely writing romances that appeal to different folks with different interests and identities. Really in particular I’m finding it challenging to envision how I would be able to do justice to non-binary romance. I have read my fair share of sweet and/or steamy romances with a lot of diversity regarding the love dynamics (wlw/mlm/straight, etc) but I can’t say that I’ve ever read romance that dealt directly with non-binary people, except for a few of the novels here which have that option! I of course want my novel to be as inclusive as it should be, and I definitely don’t want to skip out on writing for non-binary people, I just don’t really know how I can go about preparing myself better for writing that type of content. I do know non-binary people in my own life and I do get it, I just don’t know exactly how I can express romantic or sexual feelings in a non-binary way without it coming off that I’m clueless as hell or just generally swimming out of my depth.

So, advice? I am curious if anyone here has had has similar challenges with this or other aspects of writing inclusive romance? Are there any super good non-binary focused romance novels/ VNs that could help me wrap my head around doing it in the right way? Is there a right way?

I’m so used to the romance novels I read being full of direct references to physical traits and gendered tropes that it seems rather challenging to untangle those and apply them appropriately in this context without coming across as too contrived.

Thanks for any tips or advice!

There are a few different elements here to consider, I think. There are some links over here which may be of interest but there are some other things I will add.

Physical traits and intimacy:

First, there’s writing about nonbinary romanceable NPCs. The way you describe them depends a lot on how steamy you’re going, really. If intimate scenes are fade-to-black or relatively light, I wouldn’t think there’s a need to go into a ton of detail, or really treat them particularly differently to a male or female romanceable NPC.

It is helpful to think about characters’ individual relationships with their body or gender regardless of their gender or identity. When I was getting to know my trans and nonbinary characters in Honor Bound, I set time aside to decide details about their bodies, because I knew I wanted to write scenes that described them in more detail, and to write about how they felt about their gender and bodies and how that changed over time; it was so successful that I did the same for the cis characters too and found that it fleshed them out a lot.

This stuff isn’t necessarily something you need the character to say outright, especially if it isn’t a nonbinary character discussing their feelings with a non-cis PC - few people enjoy a Nonbinary 101 Class in the middle of their romance game. But it will inform the way you write about the character, how they feel and present themself, and will make them feel more real to you.

If you’re writing more detailed scenes, it will be more relevant to think about the character’s anatomy; you can make decisions about how you want to describe their bodies based on the character’s personality and relationship with their gender. For example: in Honor Bound there is a point where I describe the chest of a muscular/husky nonbinary transmasculine character who has not had top surgery with a phrase something like “the strong curves of their chest” - because of what I know about this character, I know it would feel odd to say “breasts” there. My goal with the description I chose is to show how the character thinks of themself and shape how the PC/reader sees them also. Ultimately, though, nonbinary characters have bodies and will enjoy them in a variety of ways depending on their preferences - which is where figuring out those preferences for all characters will help.

If you are writing a nonbinary PC - again there is not a necessity to go into huge amounts of anatomical detail, even if there are onscreen explicit scenes. I won’t go into a ton of detail about intimate scenes as we’re not in the adult reader section and it may not be helpful, but it is possible to write a very steamy scene without exactly specifying the PC’s physical setup. Including opportunities for a PC to specify their anatomy is also possible if you’re wanting to go into more detail; some games (The Midnight Saga series comes to mind) also include asking the PC to specify the exact words they prefer for their anatomy.

I would strongly recommend Heart of Battle for excellent steamy scenes involving nonbinary romanceable characters and/or nonbinary PCs.

Gendered tropes:

This is an interesting one, and again it’s applicable for a variety of characters, not just nonbinary ones. Although there are cis women who are very feminine and cis men who are very masculine, there are so many ways of expressing this as well as any number of nuances and subversions that can be done.

I think that it is worth thinking in detail what the character/MC enjoys in their romance life, rather than aspects that necessarily “match” expectations that come with their gender: cis women may want to sweep their partner off their feet (physically or otherwise) or back their partner against a wall, cis men may want to have their tears gently wiped away or be given a scarf that smells of their partner when it’s cold. Or indeed the other way round - the joy of IF is that it’s possible to lean into or subvert gendered tropes and be equally enjoyable! I would like to see options where characters can sit on each other’s laps or swing them around joyfully regardless of gender if they want to, if it’s physically possible to do such things.

Embracing all this means that romantic moments can be applicable to all in a way that feels non-limiting, and a nonbinary character or MC will get to gloriously dive into whatever romantic tropes they find the most delightful. The added bonus is that cis characters and MCs will get to enjoy tropes they like without limitations too.

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Gosh, this response is so awesome! Thank you so much for taking the time to share these wonderful ideas and examples.

It honestly might have helped me think about my own identity a bit, even! Even cis people have our own unique dynamics with our bodies, too. It is not just a default setting at all. Brilliant stuff. I’m just a flurry of ideas right now! I’ll definitely be doing some exploratory writing over the next few weeks to get to know my characters more, and how they understand themselves. I have played those games you mentioned but never focused on the non-binary options before. I’ll definitely examine them to see how they handle those dynamics!

I cannot thank you enough for your insights and the kindness to share so much. It means a lot!!!

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Oh gosh, thank you and I’m very glad! I hope the planning and writing goes well!

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