Disability is all around us, and yet we see relatively few disabled characters in fiction. Sure the tides do seem to be changing, with (a.o.) Brandon Sanderson writing disabled and chronically ill characters in his books – and doing so in a positive, respectful way – but we still have a long way to go.
Why I write disabled characters
Too often, if authors include characters with disabilities in their stories at all, they turn them into token-characters. Bland, boring caricatures of real people. Even worse, they may well end up killing them or curing them from their disabilities – and frankly, I don’t know which is worse.
As a full time wheelchair user, I hate it when authors do that. Being wheelchair dependent has in no way made my life miserable – and most certainly not to the point where I feel the need to kill myself. And yes, I’m looking at Miss Moyes here and the terrible message she sends with her book “me before you”. From where I stand – pun fully intended! – this book does not deserve its enormous popularity at all.
So here I am. A disabled author who chooses to write disabled protagonists, and portray them as real people. Ordinary disabled people, who have come to terms with their disabilities and do not have a death wish. And yes, I actually said ordinary disabled people there. Because we are just like everyone else. Just because I can’t walk more than just a few steps doesn’t mean I’m weird. I am weird, but the weirdness came long before the disability. And I cherish my weirdness.
My characters and their disabilities
In my upcoming novel, Night’s Reign, both protaganists are disabled. Bel, the female main character, is wheelchair dependent – and you’d better believe she kicks arse. She’s a confident, outgoing woman who knows what she wants. She lives alone, is fully independent, and has a job she loves.
Niels, the male main character doesn’t look disabled at all – but looks can be deceiving. He is autistic, and though in his world there is no word for autism, that doesn’t diminish his problems. And problems he has aplenty. He has a really hard time reading people, and is extremely sensitive to all kinds of stimuli – both external and internal.
At the end of the book, both Bel and Niels are still disabled. But they’ve both gone through a lot, and their experiences have changed them and made them grow.
That’s the kind of disabled representation I want to see in books and other media. In an upcoming post, I’ll share some tips on how to write believable disabled characters. Stay tuned.