Disabled Characters in Novels

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.


Disabled Characters in Novels
Image provided by
Taber Andrew Bain @ https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewbain/

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.


21 thoughts on “Disabled Characters in Novels

  1. Great post! I appreciate your further insights into this topic. 🙂 (And thanks for the shout out to my blog and Melinda’s guest post there!)

    I like how you pointed out how stories that include disabilities could be dramatic or comedic. In other words, it’s about the story. 🙂

    I tend to make the diverse elements in my stories very matter-of-fact because that’s how the character in that situation sees it: That’s just how things are, and the story isn’t *about* the diverse element. It’s part of them and affects them–and their thoughts, feelings, and motivations–but I’m not trying to make a statement about it either.

    I’ve always hoped I wasn’t being disrespectful by *not* making a bigger deal of it, so I appreciate hearing your perspective. Thank you so much for reaching out to me! I’m sharing this one! 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Glynis Jolly

      You are not being disrespectful at all, Jami. Most of us with these ‘darn challenges’ (political nonsense) want the rest of society to look at our ‘imperfections’ the same way as the ones that able-bodied people have. I, personally, like it when all of me is blended in like everyone else is. 😀

      Some of the things that happen in my life ARE comical. For instance, watching how a man behaves when trying to dance with me. He’s so afraid he’s going to hurt me just by putting his arm around my waist. I don’t break that easily but I couldn’t convince him of that fact. The scene was quite funny to me.


      1. “all of me is blended in like everyone else is”

        Yes! Just because–as you mention to Melinda above–some imperfections are more visible than others doesn’t mean *any* imperfections should *define* us. We’re all the sum (and more) of our parts–inside and out. 😉


    1. Glynis Jolly

      Bathrooms for the physically disabled are a torcher chamber. It takes us twice, if not three times as long in that room.

      I don’t mind being open about my ‘imperfections’. We all have them. Mine are just a little more pronounced than most. 😛


            1. Glynis Jolly

              I’ll try for that. Sometimes I can do it. Other times it’s impossible. Of course, who ever said writing was easy? 😀


  2. I must say, I hadn’t even considered most of what you’ve brought up. I am so appreciative of this post. I have a disabled character–missing two fingers and knees destroyed so much he limps. I allude to the difference in how he walks and runs. I briefly discuss how he adapts different activities to accommodate his disability. I have him noticing how people react to his disability, but the girl he gets in the end barely thinks about it. It has little affect on what he does.

    I didn’t plan to have him disabled, but when I got to know him, I realized he was. It took me a while to notice it, though. I had to go back and edit early parts to introduce it so the reader didn’t feel like I’d been hiding it.


  3. Terrific post, Glynis, and an important topic many writers may not spend enough time contemplating. The bulk of my fiction is geared toward MG and YA readers, so when introducing a character with a physical disability,I feel it’s important that I’m cognizant of the level of understanding and comprehension. Trying to be accurate is one challenge, but creating a sense of respect, consideration and tolerance for people young readers may not have a lot of knowledge about or interaction with is the bigger one.
    I certainly appreciate all you’ve to pointed out on the subject. It helps with the big picture, and ultimately will make everyone’s writing a little more solid.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Glynis Jolly

      Some people give out vibes of too much respect and consideration. It ends up feeling like pity. Sometimes it isn’t that bad and it feels like sympathy. My personal take on this — I don’t want either. I want to earn respect like everyone else. I want understanding when I need it, which isn’t all that often really. Most people in my life situation haven’t any problem asking for help when they really need it. When someone actually listens to what we’re requesting, it’s then that we feel equal.

      I’m so glad you are a writer of MG and YA. It’s the teenagers and young adults that need to learn what this so-call ‘unique group’ is all about. Younger people (children) usually take it all in stride, asking questions as they need to. After that, society starts messing with their heads and the problems begin. Thank you for your writing. 😀


    1. Glynis Jolly

      You’re more than welcome. I was a little surprised after trying to find other blog posts that talk about this subject. There are some but they’re few and far between — very far between. :/


  4. This is a very interesting post, Glynis. Gail Bowen in her mystery book series has her protagonist Joanne Kilbourn marry a paraplegic. As I read through the novel, every once in awhile she’ll bring up the husband’s wheelchair and I think, Oh, yes, he’s paraplegic. But he’s also a lot more. I think Bowen handles disability with a lot of respect and integrity.
    I was thinking of having a character with a disability in one of my future books so your post was most helpful. Thanks and have a joyful Christmas.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glynis Jolly

      Because of your comment here, I went over to Amazon and put 2 on her books on my wish list. 😛

      I have babysat someone who is blind, lived across the street from two friends (as a child) who are deaf, have friends who are paraplegic and quadriplegic, and my husband works with clients who are mentally challenged. My point is this, if you feel that you need some help with any of the behaviors and needs of characters with these problems, go ahead and contact me.

      Merry Christmas, Carol! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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