perils with writing and whatnot
I’m a subscriber of a blog that offers down-to-earth advise about writing. The author, Jami, writes paranormal romance novels. I’ve learned to trust her suggestions because of what I’ve read at her blog. I emailed Jami Gold about the topic of this post before attempting to write it because I wanted to make sure that what I wanted to discuss would be worthwhile. She had a guest post on her blog that drew my attention to the possibilities of characters with disability. The guest, Melinda discussed the research involved for a writer who is putting a character in his or her story who is disabled. I wanted to take this topic one step further. Jami told me that she thought a post revolving around my idea would be of interest to writers.
As a person with disability, I’m sure it’s surprising that I don’t necessarily want a disabled character in any of my stories. My reason is I don’t want to make any political statements no matter how well disguised. As that might be, those like me with such challenges are mainstream now. Sure, we still have to do battle with the generalities that society puts on us, but we’re not hid in the closet of our aunt’s bedroom anymore.
What I want to share with you is the general stuff (for lack of a better word at the moment) about ‘my unique group’ that will be well received by your readers and the general stuff that will cause you to have tomatoes thrown at you. Chances are you’re afraid to create a character who has a disability. I’m hoping to eliminate some of those fears.
Melinda warned her readers (which did include me) about the possibility that the person with the disability will be offended when approached for research. Yes, there are a few like that. Per contra, most of us want to help you. We want people to be educated about our differences, our struggles and what all of us (including the ‘able-bodied’) have in common.
When writing about a character with disability, do be politically correct. I, personally, wouldn’t take offense at being called ‘a cripple’ but I’m not everyone. To me, all this is, is a term. I assume that if the person knows my name, he or she would call me that instead. Someone may think I take this too lightly. If I didn’t, I believe I’d be seeing a psychiatrist for being neurotic.
It’s a good idea to explain some of the differences in your story between the one with the disability and the other characters. Actually, this can become interesting. For example: I have one hand I can use fully. The other has very limited use. How do I tie my shoes? Believe it or not, I am able to do it, but I don’t do it the way an able-bodied person would do it. Another example might be: How does a person who is a paraplegic get her or his pants all the way on? Not all disabled people have an attendant. We learn to do these things ourselves. The actual process could be dramatic or comical.
Please do not go into a bathroom scene with your disabled character. The things we have to do to situate ourselves in that room and what we have to actually do in that room should only be discussed by medical personnel and family — not you, the writer or your readers.
Do you want to put the disabled character in a relationship? Let’s face it. Usually there is a relationship in a novel. If you’re writing romance, your entire story is about this. If not, often it’s a subplot. Sure, put that person in the wheelchair into a relationship. Just be sure to do some research on this though. Just because a person has a disability, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is being used, abused or even cuddled. The disabled part of society does have ‘normal’ relationships. It’s just that their extra baggage, which almost everyone has, does include the disability. Also, how intimacy is shown needs research. Some people with disability can be part of this activity in the same way as an able-bodied person. Others have to be more creative.
Do you want the disabled character to be the bad guy? Sure. Why not? There’s bad rotten apples in every bushel. I’ve only come across two ‘bad’ people with disability but then, my experience is limited.
Should your story be a drama or comedy? I don’t know. You’re the one writing it. I will tell you that people with disability do have a sense of humor. We can take a joke like anyone else — that is as long as the joke is coming from someone who truly cares about us or the joke isn’t about the disability. I have a cousin who used to call me ‘hop-along’ because my steps are severely uneven and I walk with a cane. We were young women hanging out with each other. I know that she meant it in an endearing way. I didn’t have a problem with the term. I guess the bottom line here is to just be careful like you would with anyone else.
Writing a character into your novel who has a disability may be good for your story. It may bring a few more readers willing to pay for your book. (People with disability read books too.) Just be sure to do your research and include talks (okay, interviews) with a person or with persons who have that particular disability.
If you have questions for me, fire away. I’m happy to answer them. If you’d rather ask privately, the link to the email form is in the left-hand column.
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