This is part of a series on tropes in webcomics with ace characters. To link or follow this series, please use the “ace webcomic tropes” tag on this blog.
How do you know when a character is ace? If you’re a reader who doesn’t even know what asexuality is, then you can’t. At least, not until a character gives a full explanation. Thus, the Ace Explanation is the golden standard for identifying explicitly ace characters. And when the author wants to avoid the word “asexual” for one reason or another, the Explanation becomes ever more essential to clue us in.
The Ace Explanation is an example of truth in fiction. Coming out as ace simply involves a lot of explaining to a lot of people. You explain what it is, you explain what it means to you, you explain why all the misconceptions are wrong.
Of course, the Explanation won’t be there forever. At some point, people will invent some advanced technology that instantly retrieves information to their fingertips. It feels like the Explanation is becoming less of a thing in fiction too. People will soon simply recognize asexuality when they see it in a story, without the story explaining it to them. I must admit I’m looking forward to this.
Personally, I find the Explanation to be tedious. I know it’s an important part of the ace experience, being the ace equivalent of coming out. But where coming out scenes are dramatic and tense, Explanation scenes often kill the drama with an info dump. And I mean, I already knew all that stuff! The Explanation may be good for visibility and all, but it’s just not entertaining. I especially don’t like when a character explains asexuality, and then it never comes up in the story again. It’s like playing a video game that has nothing but tutorial.
Of course, there are ways to spice up the Explanation, or to skip it entirely. Good writers can make the Explanation scene feel dynamic and dramatic, more like a proper coming out scene. You can also make the Explanation really short, spread it out over multiple scenes, or skip it entirely, trusting the audience to figure out anything they don’t already know.
Another solution is to “show” rather than “tell. The problem with “showing” is that if done poorly it feels like a step backwards. We’re back to interpreting characters as asexual merely because they never express interest in sex, at least not on screen. Or else we’re looking for asexual representation in aliens or robots again.
1. Do you like seeing Explanation scenes in fiction?
2. How might you “show” asexuality, rather than “telling” it?
3. How should writers approach explanations of demisexuality, gray-asexuality, or the aro-spectrum?