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.
Melinda Primrose was welcomed to Jamie’s blog discussing this subject, which drew my attention to the possibilities of characters with disability. Melinda wrote about 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.
As a person with disability, I’m sure it’s a little 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 hidden in the closet of our aunt’s bedroom anymore.
What I want to share with other writers is the general aspects about “my unique group” that will be well received by your readers. Chances are most writers are afraid to create a character who has a disability. Either the author anticipates such characters not to be received well by the reader or have serious doubts about how to portray them in the first place. I’m hoping to eliminate some of those fears.
Melinda, a fellow writer, warned her readers about the possibility the person with the disability will be offended when approached for research. Yes, there are a few like that. Per contra though, most of us want to help the writer. 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 if the person knows my name, he or she would call me that instead. Some 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 between the one with the disability and the other characters within the text of the story. 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 the writer or the readers.
Do you want to put the disabled character in a relationship? Let’s face it. Usually there is a relationship in a novel. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a romantic one, although usually that’s assumed. 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 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 the story be a drama or comedy? I don’t know. You’re the one writing it. I will tell you 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 and not designed to humiliate us. 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 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.
Writing a character into your novel who has a disability may be good for the 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 while developing the character.
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.