Ace Tropes: Revised Ace

This is part of a series on tropes in fiction with ace characters. To link or follow this series, please use the “ace tropes” tag on this blog.

“I’m sure you’ve seen signs though. Animals naturally relax around you. Sometimes it almost feels like you know what they’re thinking. A longing to run free. One hell of a libido. Am I getting warm?”

Isis shifted her weight and Electra did the same. Neither sister noticed the other mirroring her movement. Well that’s just plain freaky, Jade thought as she repressed a shudder.

Sere from the Green by Lauren Jankowski, old edition, Chapter Five

“I’m sure you’ve seen signs though. Animals relax around you. Sometimes it almost feels like you know what they’re thinking. A longing to run free. One hell of a libido. Am I getting warm?”

“Wrong on the libido thing. I’m on the ace spectrum, been Gray-A my whole life,” Isis stated, crossing her arms over her chest. “Very, very low libido. Pretty much non-existent.”

Sere from the Green by Lauren Jankowski, new edition, Chapter Five

Sometimes, a writer will write a novel without explicit ace content, and then say that some character in the story is ace. Later on, they re-write the novel and make the character explicitly ace, whether it is merely on-page signs of their aceness or using words such as ‘ace’ or ‘asexual’. This is what I call a ‘revised ace’.

All of the examples of this trope which I am aware of were self-published for at least one of the two editions. This makes sense. It is a lot easier to take a self-published novel, change it, and re-release it, than to work with a publisher to put out a revised edition. Furthermore, most ace fiction (that I know of) is written in English, and Anglophone publishing culture is not inclined towards putting out revised editions of previously published novels at the writer’s request.

How much has the ace content changed between the original and revised editions of these novels? Since I do not have access to all of the original editions of these stories, I cannot be entirely certain. That said, I will go through them one-by-one.

The most straightforward example is Viral Airwaves by Claudie Arseneault. I could only find one half-paragraph which explicitly describes the protagonist, Henry Schmitt, as being ace. That half-paragraph is:

Henry couldn’t help but smile as they remained locked together. In a way, he envied the ease of their relationship and the obvious attraction between the two. It had never been that simple for him, that clear-cut. Tia had told him she was the same, that she’d never experienced sexual desire or attraction, and that seemed a good enough way to describe it to Henry.

Even though this is the only point at which aceness is directly addressed in the novel, there is nothing in the novel which signals that Henry is not ace. I have not seen the original edition of this novel, but it looks like this was just a minor change to make it clear that Henry is ace without impacting the plot or flow of the novel.

I could not find any mentions of asexuality in Chameleon Moon by RoAnna Sylver, second edition, except for one scene. That scene is too long to quote in full, so here is just a tiny sample:

“Um,” his expression shifted to a near-perfect blank, though his eyes slowly widened. “I…really… this is gonna sound weird, and I swear I’m not messing with you… but… I don’t think I’m attracted to anyone. Not in the way you’re thinking.”

“Not weird,” she assured him. “Not weird at all.”

“I haven’t even thought about it,” he mumbled. “I mean, I’ve wondered, but like just in a vague ‘who am I, what was my life’ way. I haven’t really… felt anything about…Anyone.” He scowled for a moment, then let out a frustrated noise, neck frill flaring out. “But that’s not right either, because I know I have, all this means is that I don’t look at someone I don’t know or trust, like a stranger, and think they’re hot—I don’t think anyone’s hot when I first meet them! No offense,” he said hurriedly.

“None taken,” she said just as fast, then let him keep going, actually looking relieved to see him venting a little frustration.

When I read Chameleon Moon, this scene felt out of place to me. Up to this point, I could not recall seeing any clue that Regan had felt any distress because he did not have words for his aceness. Furthermore, the lead-up to this scene did not seem like it would lead to a discussion of Regan’s (a)sexuality. Both of these made this scene feel to me like it was an awkward insertion of an Asexuality Scene rather than a natural part of the story. Furthermore, even though discovering the word ‘asexual’ and that asexuals are not weird seems to be an earth-shattering revelation for Regan, after this scene, Regan’s asexuality is not addressed again.

When I later learned that this scene was not at all in the first edition, I was not at all surprised.

Finally, I have read both the old and the new edition of Sere from the Green by Lauren Jankowski. An example of the change between editions is at the top of this post. There are a few such asexuality-related changes in the new edition (as well as a lot of changes which have nothing to do with asexuality). It falls between Viral Airwaves and Chameleon Moon – it’s more than just a few sentences in just one instance, but no brand new ace scene or subplot.

This raises two questions:

1) Why did the writers choose not to put any explicit ace content in the first edition?
2) Why did the writers choose to add explicit ace content in the second edition?

Claudie Arseneault has answered these questions on her blog, and Lauren Jankowski answers them here.

Over time, the ace community has become more demanding about ace representation in fiction. When there was almost no explicit ace content available in fiction, it was a big deal when a creator would put out a Word of Ace on a character, even if there was no indication in the story itself that the character was ace. Now that there are more and more stories with explicit ace content, more aces (myself included) feel that Word of Ace is an insufficient form of ace representation, and some may even call it acebaiting.

The first editions were released in: February 2015; October 2014; March 2013. The second editions were released in: November 2016; October 2016; October 2017. In my opinion, the recent flood of ace fiction (though it’s only a flood in comparison to what there was before the flood) started in mid-2015, so the first editions are pre-flood, and the new editions are part of the flood.

These revised editions, intentionally or not, reflect the changing standards of what the ace community considers to be ‘ace fiction’.

Examples:

Sere from the Green by Lauren Jankowski
Viral Airwaves by Claudie Arseneault
Chameleon Moon by RoAnna Sylver

Questions:

1) How do you feel about writers putting explicit ace content in new editions of novels which did not have explicit ace content before?
2) If J.K. Rowling were to re-write the Harry Potter series, and in the new edition Dumbledore would be clearly gay on page, Harry and Hermione would marry each other, and Charlie Weasley would at some point says “I’m asexual” among other changes, what would you think?
3) Would you generally prefer minor changes which announce that one or more characters are ace, or would you prefer a major reworking of the story so that the aceness is more of a factor in the plot?

About Sara K.

Sara K. is an aromantic asexual from California who has previously lived in Taiwan. She blogs at the notes which do not fit, has previously been a contributor at Manga Bookshelf, and has written guest posts for Hacking Chinese. She enjoys reading, travel, live theatre, learning languages, and gardening.
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13 Responses to Ace Tropes: Revised Ace

  1. Joshua Oliver says:

    …How do Lauren’s reasons for editing the 2nd edition fit into your thesis?

  2. Carmilla DeWinter says:

    As a writer who has a middle sized mistake published and not changed yet (and hates two out of three covers), I can very much get behind wishing to correct stuff, or be bolder, or closer to the truth or whatever.
    I would advise against major plot changes, though. Readers might feel cheated. And while a writer does not actually owe their audience one single thing (really, we don’t), the audience does trust us in a way. I definitely recognize that trust as a fragile thing and wouldn’t wish to go “oops, first time around was a joke, please forget what you read”. Also, where big franchises are concerned … if JKR did what you suggested, I’d guess a marketing gag/money making machine in the vein of turning the Hobbit into a nine hour thingy, and would decide not throw more money at the franchise.

    • Sara K. says:

      If JKR did that, I would also suspect that there would be a money-making incentive there. However, thinking that it’s a money-making machine would not stop me from buying the new edition; whether or not I would buy a new Harry Potter edition would depend on what the changes are.

      As I was writing this post, I was thinking a lot about how this works out in the Sinophone reading world. It’s not unusual for high profile novelists to revise their novels and put out new editions; Jin Yong is the most famous example, but there are others. It happens often enough that readers of Chinese novels know that it’s a possibility, so it is less likely to break the readers’ trust (in particular, given that Jin Yong revised his novels once and put out a 2nd edition, it was not exactly an earth-shattering surprise that he did it AGAIN and now there is a 3rd edition). Of course, Jin Yong fans aruge a lot about the changes between various editions; most fans treat the 2nd edition as canon and dislike/hate the 3rd editions. Personally, I like some of the 3rd edition changes and dislike other changes. I’ve never read any of the first editions (and most Jin Yong fans under the age of 40 haven’t either since they have been out of print for decades and there were a lot less first edition copies to begin with since back then Jin Yong’s novels were completely censored/banned in China and Taiwan, thus they were only legally published in Hong Kong and Singapore). However, based on what I’ve read about the first editions, I think the second editions are a major improvement.

      I prefer the way this is handled in the Sinophone book world than the Anglophone book world with the greater leeway for novelists to initiate revised editions of their works, but it’s complicated, and I see that the “once it has been published it is set in stone forever” approach has its advantages too.

  3. Sara K. says:

    Answering my own questions…

    1) If it improves ace representation, then I like it. I know storytellers make mistakes, or at least find ways to improve their work, and I am willing to give them a second chance.
    2) I would be really excited about having explicit ace representation, even if it’s minor, in a franchise which is as big as Harry Potter. That said, my feelings about the whole makeover would be complicated.
    3) Based on the examples of this trope I’ve read, I prefer minor changes. I suppose there may be cases where a major reworking of the plot to add an ace storyline where there wasn’t an ace storyline before, but generally, if the ace storyline isn’t going to support the plot as a whole, I think minor changes along the lines of ‘BTW, I’m ace’ tend to work better.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    1. As long as it’s good content, representation-wise, then I’m in favor of it. Although it may perhaps sometimes be better to write a companion piece, like a short story or something, where there is space to explore it more, rather than just some changed lines.

    2. Honestly, I’m done with JKR. I used to like Harry Potter a lot, but I lost confidence in her when the 6th book came out, and found the ending too predictable. Then I read a little bit of her new thing set in America, and now I’m just not willing to give her another chance. I don’t trust her to write changes in a way that would be good, positive representation. I’d prefer to see Harry Potter reimagined by someone else. And not as fanfiction, because I mostly don’t like fanfics. Maybe a TV series, since there have already been movies. Fat chance of that happening though. And yeah, if JKR actually did put out revised editions, I would suspect a marketing ploy too. I might read them (but not buy them) if they were different enough. If I wanted to read the exact same story again, I’d just do that.

    3. I guess it depends on the story and whether it could support major changes. I’m sure major changes are going to be more difficult to pull off most of the time, but I’m not sure I’d always be satisfied with changes that are just “hey btw, I’m ace” since… well, again it depends, but a lot of times there’s got to be a reason for revealing that, one that goes deep enough that it needs to be addressed. Maybe one solution that could work for some books would be adding another chapter that doesn’t change any critical plot details, but is just another event that happened during a time frame that was previously skipped over. It would have to be relevant enough to the rest of the plot to be interesting, of course, and it would have to be justifiable to add it into an already-published work instead of letting it stand on its own.

    The Sinophone culture of putting out revised editions is interesting, I think I’d like it if that were more of a thing in the Anglophone world.

    • Sara K. says:

      I agree with you that sometimes adding a companion piece may be better than a revision. For example, I think that scene from Chameleon Moon would have worked better as a short story than an insertion into the novel (though I would still dislike the use of the Allo Savior Complex trope).

  5. Rachel says:

    1. I’d be happy with it, since it would mostly be canonizing implicit and ace-coded characters and just giving it an official veneer. Basically this is exactly what happened with Jughead.

    2. I’d be fine with options 1 and 3, since they are both implicit or word-of-god examples already. I’m not at all comfortable touching the HarryxHermione vs. HarryxGinny shipping wars.

    3. I’m iffy on major reworkings of stories, but I’m fine with minor changes. As someone who engages with a lot of media that has fluid/inexact continuity and tends to be prone to re-writes/retcons (*cough* comic books *cough*)… the idea of major rewrites for the sake of *new and exciting story-telling* tends to raise my hackles. Not that it can’t be done well, but I’ve seen enough bad examples of this stuff in comics to have become suspicious of it.

    • Sara K. says:

      Though I personally do not care whether Harry marries Ginny or Hermione, I can understand wanting to stay out of that shipping war. The main reason I decided to throw that into the question is because I wanted to ask about how one might react if the ace revision were combined with something non-ace and very divisive.

      Ah yes, superhero comics. I’ve never followed the superheroes, and I appreciate you sharing your views from that perspective.

  6. Siggy says:

    1. TBH I can’t say I really feel positive about authors revising their works to have ace content, or for any other reason. I mean, authors can do what they want. But I kind of like the aesthetic of books going out there in their final form. I also feel like the more freedom authors have to revise, the more it becomes a burdensome responsibility. I don’t want authors to feel like they have to go back and fix things.

    I’m sure these authors didn’t take the revisions lightly, and in general I think it’s a good thing that authors don’t take it lightly.

    2. Without considering the large impact it would have on ace visibility, I personally would be disappointed if JKR rewrote the Harry Potter Series to include an explicit ace character. She should write new books instead. I think ace characters would actually fit really well into the Cormoran Strike series.

    • Sara K. says:

      I can understand the sentiment of wanting writers to focus on new content rather than revising old content. For that matter, JKR could also choose to write new a Harry Potter story with an explicit ace character.

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