An anon asks on Tumblr:
Do you have any advice for writing aromantic characters without explicitly using the word “aromantic?” I’m personally an aro person, but I am writing a fictional story that uses language that does not yet have words for “aromantic” (furthermore, “bisexual” or “demiboy” or other LGBTQ+ labels that have been around for a while). I have tried a few different methods of getting orientation and identity across but I’m curious about your thoughts. I want my representation to be explicit as possible.
For me, anon, it boils down to showing. Getting a good handle on the difference between showing and telling is essential in my opinion, both for good writing generally and for good writing of marginalised characters. There are times when it is appropriate to tell the reader something while never showing it, of course–factual information and scene transitions, like the passing of time or quick observations, are often best told. Identity and identity-related experiences, though, should be shown as much if not more than they are told.
Done right, folks familiar with “aromantic” as a concept will label your characters themselves without your using the word in-text. If they don’t already know the word, your showing will still contextualize that experience when they happen across it. Readers, even some alloromantic readers, will go “oh, that’s that character in X-book!” in the same way aro-specs related to Keladry of Mindelan and Jughead long before anyone got to naming them as aro. If this happens with characters who are not intentionally written as aro, I promise you it will happen with your characters, anon. Readers are smart and you know what you’re writing about. You do not have to worry about this.
Remember that an alloromantic’s inability to see an aro character is amatonormativity, not a lack in authorial depiction.
With regards telling and the use of the word “aromantic”, the idea that we have to go to extremes to explain or clarify a character’s aromanticism for an unknowing audience is in itself an amatonormative one. (Consider, for contrast, how narratives treat heterosexuality!) While it is difficult for us to let go of the need to explain, especially when aromanticism is not well understood, it’s important to recognise that need to explain and label is another shade of marginalisation. Furthermore, a culture that doesn’t have such history of marginalisation might not have any need to label at all. In a setting absent amatonormativity, telling the reader within the narrative that your character is something that doesn’t need to be identified in-universe can feel intrusive, so it may be that telling as a tool for communicating aromanticism is not in your current toolbox, anon.
How much telling you require also means considering the needs of your audience, because your intended audience will determine the amount of telling, explanation and exposition required. You’ll label and explain aromanticism for a mainstream audience very differently than for an a-spec or aro-spec one. Decide who’ll get the best from your work and target your degree of explanation and exposition at that audience. The more exposition, the reduced chance of misinterpretation, yes, but too much can alienate an aro-spec readership who just wants to see an aro knight slay dragons over another 101 tutorial.