Although this is an article about writing and storytelling, I’m probably going to end up talking about TV shows and LGBT stuff for most of this article. There’s a good reason for this and I hope that it becomes obvious. But, I should probably point out now that this article will contain some SPOILERS for seasons three to five of “Supernatural”.
Anyway, a while before I wrote this article, I was randomly looking at online articles about an excellent American horror/fantasy TV show I’ve been watching on and off on DVD over the past couple of months called “Supernatural“.
If you’ve never seen this show before, it’s a series that is initially about two brothers (Sam and Dean) who travel around America and solve various scary paranormal mysteries. However, from about the third or fourth season onwards, it gradually becomes more of a fantasy/thriller series about Sam and Dean’s attempts to prevent the apocalypse from happening.
When I was reading articles about this show, I learnt that there’s actually an academic word for situations in stories where it’s clear that there isn’t a romantic relationship between two characters (who are the same sex) and, yet, the story also keeps dropping tantalising hints that there might be something between these two characters.
“Supernatural” is absolutely crammed with this kind of stuff, partially as a result of having several extremely attractive male characters in the main cast (eg: Sam, Castiel, and Dean ).
In fact, the show itself even contains a few knowing in-jokes about people who write romantic fan fiction about Sam and Dean, despite the fact that they’re supposed to be brothers in the TV show.
Then there’s the fact that one episode from season four revolves around Sam and Dean trying to catch a siren-like creature who plays on men’s desires in order to trick them into murdering people.
This siren often appears as various beautiful women throughout most of the episode, but when the siren appears to Dean – it takes the form of a slightly good-looking male FBI agent, instead of one of the many beautiful woman Dean often tries to chat up.
But, of course, when it’s revealed that this particular character is the siren – the siren quickly points out that it took this form because it knew that Dean secretly desired a better travelling companion than Sam and that – of course – nothing romantic was involved.
I’ve read some opinion articles on the internet which argue that these kinds of storylines are a bad thing. And, I can sort of understand why some people might think this – after all, these shows are trying to attract a LGBT audience, without actually including any proper LGBT content (lest it “offend” more narrow-minded members of the audience who are horrified by the idea that they might see a romantic storyline that they can’t connect with emotionally ).
It can also be said that these kinds of stories are, in their own way, inherently unsatisfying and disappointing.
I can also see the argument that most of the shows that include these storylines usually aren’t as coy when it comes to depicting straight romances (“Supernatural” certainly isn’t), so it’s kind of a double standard.
It also kind of plays into the old-fashioned idea that gay, lesbian and bi romances are too “shocking” to show, whereas straight romance is a perfectly “normal” thing.
But, on the other hand, there’s also something wonderful – in the literal sense of the word– about these types of stories. After all, they invite the audience to use their own imaginations – and, well, any romance that takes place in the audience’s imaginations is probably far more romantic than anything that actors could depict on a screen. Plus, unlike countless boring on-screen romances, these kinds of storylines give the romantic parts of the show a frisson of mystery and intrigue.
Most importantly, whilst these kinds of storylines might annoy some gay or lesbian members of the audience, they’re an absolute godsend to bi audiences.
Since there are hardly any bi characters on TV, even the subtlest hint that a character may have an interest in both men and women can be an extremely liberating and fascinating thing.
Not only that, I’d also argue that these kinds of storylines aren’t exactly an exclusively LGBT thing – I mean, just look at “The X-Files“. Throughout the entire show, there’s a – mostly – unfulfilled romantic tension between Mulder and Scully.
Likewise, in what I’ve seen of a show called “The West Wing“, there’s a long-running unfulfilled romance between at least two of the straight characters (eg: Josh and Donna).
In a way, these kinds of storylines are “fan service” done right. There’s plenty of romantic content for members of the audience who enjoy it, but the romantic aspects of the show don’t get in the way of the actual story itself. If you aren’t interested in the romantic parts of the show, then they’re subtle enough to be easily ignored. But if you are interested in them, then they’re still very noticeable.
I guess that the trick to including these kinds of romantic subtexts in a story is to apply them in a more equal way. In other words, if you’re going to include unfulfilled LGBT romance, then include unfulfilled straight romance too. If you’re going to explicitly show straight romance, then do the same for LGBT romance too. Or, even better, actually include a few openly bi characters in your story.
But, at the same time, there’s often only usually room for one or two romantic sub-plots in a story – so, there shouldn’t really be any “rules” here. Just go for whatever works best in the context of your story.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂