(Warning… spoilers for the romance subplot of Fractured Skies ahead.)
In the first Distant Horizon book, we don’t see much romance on behalf of the main character, Jenna. What little we do see is extremely slow burn.
It makes sense.
Having just been plunged into a world of super powers, rebellions, and a world government trying to capture her, Jenna simply isn’t interested in pursuing a romantic relationship.
There’s not enough time, and she has other things to worry about.
So the first book gets by with a few hints to Jenna and Lance possibly liking each other, but not much else.
Then, we get to Fractured Skies, and things begin to change. Not only do we see a romance subplot begin to develop, the course of that plot takes a slightly unexpected turn with the introduction of a new character.
Originally, Isaac and I planned for Jenna to go with Lance. After all, Lance is her best friend, they’ve been trying to save the world together, he likes her, and she sees him as a potentially practical partner. (And everyone else seems to think they’re already dating).
Problem is… they have rather different world views and life goals.
Lance wants to dismantle the Community and establish a world with new freedoms.
Jenna wants to keep the Community but make a few select changes… namely, no more beast transformations.
As the story proceeded in the rough draft, two things became very clear:
- Jenna likes Lance as a friend, but they have very different ideas of what they want.
- Jenna has a whole lot more chemistry with Lily, and they work really well together.
Sometimes our characters surprise us.
Either we can rewrite their goals and motivations to push them toward our original plan, or we can go with the flow and see what happens.
So, during one of the final major revision passes, I rewrote scenes between her, Lance, and Lily, with more of a push for Jenna expressing interest in Lily, while exaggerating the differences between her and Lance.
Suddenly we had a romance plot we were actually interested in, and the tension between Lance and Jenna allowed for more character development and exploration of the differences in points of view–something this series really likes to explore.
Now, as a caveat, we tried to make sure that Jenna’s interest in Lily didn’t come out of the blue. Aside from building up a slow burn interest in Fractured Skies, early on in the series we had an idea that Jenna was bi, though the first book really didn’t present many opportunities for her to show that, and we were still expecting her to show interest in Lance.
One problem with writing a bi character, especially one who isn’t particularly romance- or sex-focused, is that they don’t always make that interest clear very quickly, which can lead to readers think they’re heterosexual, gay/lesbian, or asexual, depending on what is initially presented.
For Jenna, there is a teensy-tiny hint of her bisexuality in the first book (when she first meets Lady Black), but there wasn’t really a need to bring up her preferences at that point in time.
Romance and sex isn’t at the top of her list of things that are important–especially when she thinks she’s infected with a hallucinogenic plague and a person claiming to be her grandfather just tried to abduct her.
Segment from Distant Horizon, the first hint that she’s bisexual, though her reaction could be fairly easily attributed to Lady Black’s persuasion power or that she’s simply trying to calm Jenna down after the incident:
“Relax,” Lady Black crooned, brushing my cheek with her gloved hand. “You’ll do fine.”
As much as I wanted to pull away from her touch, I closed my eyes. She was safe. I wanted her to stay with me, to protect me from the old man and theophrenia. Her touch was comforting and secure…
“Trust me,” she whispered.
I smiled and swayed, dizzy with warmth. Of course I trusted her. She was an international leader. Why wouldn’t I trust her?
Ivan shooed the other students from the scene. “Thank you, my lady. Commander. The Community is safe.” He looked to me. “Why don’t you go inside? You’ll feel better in the morning.”
I murmured affirmation. Lady Black kissed my forehead and stroked her hand through my hair. “Yes, Miss Nickleson. Come along. Perhaps I could keep you company until your nerves have settled?”
My cheeks warmed, but Commander Rick cleared his throat. The lady pouted at him, then whispered goodnight and returned to the path beside him. Together they disappeared into a cluster of Special Forces agents who walked them through the courtyard.
The cues are subtle, which was intentional since we didn’t want readers to expect a romance-heavy plot this early in the series.
But once things start going back to (relatively) normal by the time we get to Fractured Skies, the idea of dating, of finding someone to share the same life experiences and who has the same sort of mentality Jenna does… that option opens up.
And certain characters clicked.
Things to keep in mind when writing a bi character:
- Just because they’re bisexual doesn’t mean they’re going to find everyone attractive.
- Even if you’re heterosexual, do you find every man or woman attractive? No? Same thing with being bi.
Jenna occasionally shows attraction to Lance as well as to Lily. But she doesn’t notice everyone in terms of attractiveness or sexiness. And what she does notice about them is very relevant to her personality. When she first sees Lily, well before she realizes she likes her in a romantic way, she notices the practicality Lily displays and the things which are relevant to the Community (since Jenna is proud of the Community).
One of the first times Jenna starts showing (still subtle) interest in Lily in Fractured Skies comes during a skirmish, when they’re still fighting on opposite sides of the battle:
I glanced at her from the corner of my eye, trying to see if there was anything about her that I could use to my advantage. She couldn’t be much older than me. No make-up, no nail polish, and her hand had a light pink scar running from the knuckles to the wrist. Except for her tunic and the braid, which was longer than Community standard, she could have easily been Community.
Too bad she was a merc.
Bisexual or not, when having a character notice someone, be sure to keep in mind what that character finds important, and what they like.
Once they start warming up to them, they might start noticing other things they like about that person.
- Being bi doesn’t necessarily mean they’re only attracted to cis men and women… they may also be attracted to nonbinary or transgender people.
There are a lot of terms that surround bisexuality. Bi, bisexual, pansexual, non-monosexual, plurisexual… It’s easy to get lost in knowing what terms to use. On the technical side of things, “bi” typically means “two” and would seem to imply that someone who is bisexual is interested in two genders.
However, this is largely technical and falls a lot to personal preference. Someone who identifies as bi might not always take such a limiting approach (though some people do).
You may wish to consider if the character leans toward being attracted to one gender more often than another.
- Being romantically interested and sexually attracted are two very different things.
- This is why someone who is asexual may still be romantically inclined, or why someone who enjoys sex might not be interested in romance.
Romantic tension tends to be more emotionally related, whereas sexual tension tends to be more physical. Often, your characters will display both forms of tension, but not always.
- You don’t have to make a big deal of sexual preference.
- Caveat: a historical or contemporary piece may be very different than a story set in the far future. Different cultures have different reactions. Keep in mind context.
When writing Jenna’s character, the first time she realizes she likes Lily, she’s not surprised that she likes a woman. She’s surprised because Lily is a mercenary. She wouldn’t have thought Lily to be her type, and yet she has shown more consideration for Jenna’s feelings and been someone she enjoys being around.
Lily cleared her throat and offered a shy smile. “So… um… no hard feelings? About the teasing?”
A lump formed in my throat. Unlike Lance, she seemed to understand where I was coming from, even if she didn’t know as many details about the memory attacks and the battle.
“No hard feelings,” I agreed.
She ducked her head, trying to hide her grin, and then opened the door for me. “Thanks.”
“For what?” I asked, heading back inside.
“For being a good friend. Mercenaries don’t have many friends they can really trust. True friends. Not just acquaintances. But then, I’m not really a mercenary anymore, am I?” She scuffed the toe of her boot on the floor.
I raised an eyebrow suspiciously. “Are you?”
“No.” She grinned, waved, and jogged toward the training room. I stared after her, watching her braid swing back and forth until she was out of sight.
For the love of the Community…
Why did I get along better with a former mercenary than my best friend?
It takes her a little while to acknowledge that she likes Lily romantically, not just as a friend, but these little steps bring her closer and begin building that foundation for a relationship. (Also… it’s slow burn romance. Some romances are set to burn much faster).
Isaac and I actively chose to have Jenna’s interest in both genders be accepted by those around her, or at least not be a point of contention. Are there people in her world who wouldn’t like that? Sure. But we haven’t seen them at this point, and I’m not sure if we will. One of the nice things about writing in a science fiction or fantasy world is that we can choose to portray the world we would like to see, selecting the good things as well as the bad things that the characters are trying to fix.
Of course, as with many relationships, things don’t always go smoothly.
Distant Horizon is a world where manipulation (especially involving powers) runs rampant, and without too many spoilers, the romance and friendships that begin to develop in Fractured Skies take a major hit by the end of the book.
Like many relationships, working to build those ties back up, and hopefully into something better, will take time… which we’ll work on developing in the third book.
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I hope you found this article helpful. 🙂
Have you tried to include any romances in your stories? What did you find the most useful or hardest to write about?
This was a helpful explanation of the difference between bisexual versus pansexual: https://medium.com/@pricelindy/bi-vs-pan-whats-the-difference-6587cdadce89