Looking for your weekly dose of Writing Sprints? Head on over to our Wednesday post for this week’s words and resulting stories. There’s still plenty of time to play along.
As Michille mentioned in her post yesterday, the annual RWA conference is fast approaching. In going through the proposed schedule of workshops this afternoon I was amused to see that the session about “Optimizing Writers Conferences” is being offered on Friday afternoon – more than half-way through the conference. Somehow that seems less than optimal.
Every year the conference seems to have several sessions focused on a particular theme or topic. At the first conference I went to it was “self-publishing” (that was quite a while ago). Other years have addressed forensics, the military, and crime-scene processing. The last conference I was at had a number of sessions talking about how to increase diversity in writing – both from the stand point of diverse characterizations and attracting diverse writers – a topic that is still being talked about and worked on in the writing community.
There appear to be several new topics on the schedule this year and one workshop that caught my eye was “Creating Authentic Characters with Disabilities.”
“A panel of published authors (a mix of disabled and non-disabled) who have created authentic, well-loved characters with disabilities discuss their characters, why and how they developed them. Other topics include: the key elements of the character’s disability, how that changed the authors’ approach to telling the story, a brief description of their research methods, reader response to their characters, any feedback they received from the disabled community (both good and bad), and any impacts writing that character had on them personally.”
It caught my attention for a couple of reasons. First I just finished several books that featured disabled protagonists. One was a contest entry with a hero missing an arm; the others were stories with heroes that had experienced a variety of injuries that required the use of canes, including one who had also been injured (scarred) in an acid attack. Second, I have the outline for a story in my “get to it eventually file” that features a wheel-chair bound hero. The workshop session could be a great way for me to pick up some tips and knowledge about how to handle that character.
Like incorporating diverse characters, including characters with disabilities can be challenging to do well. One of the recent stories that I finished did, what I felt, was a very good job. The hero had a cane, and it was clearly shown that he was dependent on it to remain mobile. When he was attacked by a villain, his unstable footing and vulnerability were capitalized on, but the author also had him use his cane in creative ways in order to regain he advantage. His mobility issues were subtly addressed – like when he didn’t vault out of the carriage like one of the younger characters did – but it was not belabored. As a reader, I found the portrayal very realistic and the character engaging.
In contrast, the very next book I read had a character that required a cane, but it was rarely (if ever?) mentioned and it felt more like the cane was a fashion accessory rather than that the character had any real need for it. A few chapters in I just started thinking of it as a walking stick, rather than something he needed for physical reasons. The hero was also scarred, which did not bother the heroine at all (as of course it wouldn’t), but no one else seemed to react to the scars either. One would expect if someone was visibly scarred that you would see people reacting to it (ill-bred though those reactions might be). If the heroine doesn’t care about the scars and no one gives them a second thought, then why include the scars at all?
My one wheel-chair bound hero, whenever I get to his story, has already gotten me thinking. For one, logistically I need to be very specific about the layout of his house and about the places he would go to. Stairs and clutter are larger issues than they would be in another story. In one of the draft scenes where he and the heroine are getting up close and personal and she is tossing off her clothes, she makes a point to throw them on a chair rather than on the floor so he won’t get tangled up in them later – not something that a heroine typically has to think of, but relevant in this case, as are a number of other questions about what the two of them will and won’t be able to do in that situation.
Hopefully the upcoming workshop will give me a better understanding about how to effectively incorporate a disabled character and maybe even the best ways to research disabilities. After all, I still need to decide how my hero was injured, whether it is permanent or not, and just how “up close and personal” they can realistically get.
In the meantime, can you recommend any books that you felt did a good job incorporating disabled characters?