• Do think about why. Why do you want to write an arospec character? Are you questioning or have you identified as aro in the past? Do you have aro friends or acquaintances and what to do right by them? Did you accidentally create an aro character and realise something that an aro wrote resonated? Do you want to be inclusive and raise awareness and educate your readers about us? Have you read about the aromantic spectrum and thought it was interesting? Did you decide not to write a romance and then thought “well, in for a penny in for a pound”? Have you been thinking your writing’s getting a bit formulaic and that it’ll be an invigorating challenge to write an aro character? Are you collecting characters of different identities like they’re Pokémon? Do you think it’s the new craze to make you stand out amongst the crowd? Are aro readers just easy advertising and money? Do you think being aro is more palatable than other queer identities? Is there some plot block that you can only solve with an aro character?
Just like with any minority, there are better reasons and worse reasons to write an aro character. I’m not saying that if you have some particular reason then you shouldn’t, but you perhaps should think more carefully about the character and whether the reason for their existence might lead you to negative stereotypes and upsetting real life aros with this representation.
• Do open up your search engine of choice and start researching! Use search terms like aromantic spectrum, aromantic identities, aromantic terms, myths about aromanticism, aromantic stereotypes, aromantics in fiction, aromantic representation, aromantic fiction recommendations, realising you’re aromantic, might be aromantic, writing aromantic characters, aromantic resources, aromantic relationships, aromantic relationship hierarchy, relationship anarchy, what does aromantic feel like, am I aromantic…
Do extra searches for greyromanticism (grayromanticism), demiromanticism, quoiromanticism, any other ones that pop up during your reading. Read about acearos, acespec aros, allosexual aros. Read about amatonormativity, aphobia. Read about romance-repulsed, romance-averse, romance-indifferent, romance-positive aros. Read about aros who have friends and aros who don’t, aros who want and create families and aros who don’t, aros who live alone and aros who don’t. Read about non-white aros, non-cis aros, non-neurotypical aros, non-abled aros, non-Western aros, aros of different religions. Read about how aros are affected on a daily basis by amatonormativity , microaggressions, social pressures, their families and friends and co-workers, media depictions, etc.
• Do read aro #ownvoices non-fiction and fiction.
Do read about queerplatonic relationships, zucchinis, aromates, soft romo, no romo, squishes, what other relationships aros find important, aplatonic aros, aromantics in romantic relationships, aros who are sensual and aros who aren’t, limerence, what aros and non-aros think of romantic vs platonic feelings and relationships, what non-Western and non-white aros and non-aros think of romantic vs platonic feelings and relationships, how different aros feel about various types of intimacy and relationships and connections, what aros worry about, what aros want in life, what living arrangements aros have, what aros want to and don’t want to read in fiction, what aros have written about aro representation, what criticisms or praise or dialogue they’ve had of fictional aros…
Don’t just click “I’m feeling lucky”; find multiple voices, multiple opinions and discourse, about any and every thing you look up about aros. Read new opinions, read historical opinions.
Don’t read something on asexuality and assume you know about aromanticism.
Do look at AVEN posts, aro resource and ask and help tumblrs, #AroSpecAwarenessWeek and #AroAceJugheadOrBust on Twitter.
• Don’t skip the above and jump immediately to asking an aro, “How do I write an aromantic character?”!!! We’ve been writing about ourselves on the internet for a while now, okay, and a lot of it’s easy to find. Don’t make us do your emotional labour and research.
Sure, if there’s some opinion of ours that you haven’t been able to find, some particular question you haven’t been able to find answered, some personal recommendation or anecdote you’re interested in, and you know an aro who’s happy to talk then go ahead and ask! But please respect our time and energy, and do the groundwork yourself. (And don’t take that one person’s word as universal gospel for all aros!)
• Do think about which character you’re making aro. Is it the robot, the alien, the vampire, the hideous monster, the serial killer, the sociopath, the immortal trapped in the body of a child, the weird loner, the old mentor who’s past their prime, the only disabled or mentally ill or chronically ill character, the only autistic character, the only character of colour, the only lower class character, the only trans character, the only character of any other marginalisation, the victim of childhood abuse, the friendless loner with no family, the evil villain? Do think, if your aro character sounds like any of those, quite carefully about why you want that character to be aro. Do read up on hurtful stereotypes and aros talking about how only seeing ourselves reflected in certain characters growing up was damaging to our psyches. Do read up on prejudices against non-whites, disabled and autistic people (and not just how they interact with aromanticism, but also asexuality), think about what you’re saying in your work if only that character does not find romance.
• Don’t assume that aros written by allos are positive examples.
• Do think about whether the character is aromantic or on the spectrum, whether they are ace or not. Do consider their gender identity; aros are not automatically agender (but agender aros certainly do exist). Do think about whether their romantic and sexual orientations (and/or gender identity) are part-and-parcel for that character, influenced by one another, clearly separate. Do think about how serious each aspect is to that character: does being aro affect them more on a daily basis than their sexual orientation does, are they involved in an aro community or does it not come up much for them?
• Don’t present your aro character’s experiences, identities, ideas and desires as universal. Do take care that your aromantic character doesn’t erase arospec people, or that your arospec character doesn’t erase aromantic people, or that your ace arospec character doesn’t erase allo arospec people.
• Don’t automatically have an allo character explain aromanticism to an aro character, know more about the aro’s orientation than the aro does.
• Do think about including multiple arospec characters. This removes the stress of universal narratives! Do think about what communities the character(s) are in, whether they know other aros (or aces or other queers), online or offline; if they don’t, why not?
• Don’t make a character aro because they’re a villain, monstrous, inhuman or non-human. Don’t make a character a villain, monstrous, inhuman or non-human because they’re aro. Don’t give the aro character the only unhappy ending.
• Do show aros being happy, finding happiness, being accepted, overcoming adversities, growing old, leading fulfilling lives. Don’t focus on how shit our adolescences were, on how lonely and unhappy we might be trying to navigate an amatonormative world. Don’t make aromanticism something to pity, an orientation of suffering. Don’t treat aro characters who don’t t fall in love as boring.
• Do think about what your story’s societies’ relationship hierarchies are, how romantic/sexual/platonic/queerplatonic/etc are usually differentiated. And then think about what your aro character’s relationship hierarchies are, how they differentiate romantic/sexual/platonic/queerplatonic/etc.
• Do think about whether it should be a coming out story. Arospec representation is thin enough on the ground that aro coming out stories are still needed, but like with any queer representation it shouldn’t be the only aro story.
• Don’t feel that you must avoid negative reactions to the character’s aroness, but do think about whether they’re necessary, what they add to the society, aro and other characters, the story. Do refute negative reactions and stereotypes in text, don’t just leave it up to the readers to know that they’re incorrect and cruel.
• Do think about using labels and the amount of work you should put in to ensure the orientation’s clear if you choose not to use labels.
• Don’t assume you must include a queerplatonic relationship. Don’t treat a queerplatonic relationship as romantic or romantic-lite, or as less important than a romantic relationship.
• Do realise that you’ll probably not notice all the potential anti-aro microaggressions, stereotypes, phrasings etc that you might encounter in life, in published work, and in your work. (Did you know asexuality is often paired with death? What don’t you know about aromanticism?)
Do consider getting a sensitivity reader whose aro orientation matches your character’s.
• Do boost aro voices. Do boost #ownvoices aro fiction.
• Don’t speak for us. Don’t speak over us. Don’t think you know better than us. Don’t ignore if we criticise your characters.
• Do know you won’t make every arospec reader happy. Some of us prefer Aro Issues-Centric stories, some of us prefer Aros Having Adventures stories. Some of us prefer aro stories with no romo, some of us prefer lots of romo.
• Do do better next time. 🙂