B2W tries to shine a light on marginalised characters wherever possible, so I’m thrilled to welcome Owen Kent to the blog today with some GREAT thoughts on writing disabled characters.
What I love about his insights is they are so simple and easy to implement in our research and writing, whether we’re writing screenplays or books. Be sure to check out Owen’s work via in the links at the end of the post. Enjoy …
Writing a character with a disability is something that anyone can do, but doing it right is another question. These are my 4 tips to consider when you’re fleshing out your disabled characters:
1) Focus on the person, not the disability
I can’t tell you how many movies there are about the disability. I know of one book where the main character is actually the person’s wheelchair (let’s look at this as an example of what not to do). Find the humanity in the person, instead. Like in THE ELEPHANT MAN: “I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am… a MAN!”
2) Acknowledge the disability
After dwelling on a disability, the next most frustrating thing is to ignore it completely. If you’re writing a character with a disability, make it authentic: people with disabilities know they have disabilities and don’t need to be sheltered from them. In the disability movement, the battle for equality has shifted spheres; no longer are the battles (mainly) legal, they are societal. MORE: 12 Character Archetypes And How To Use Them
3) Be real
Do some research. Hang out with people with disabilities. Learn what their day to day is like. Let real life influence your character. Good storytellers find the humanity in all people. People with disabilities have interesting and sometimes quirky lives. There’s an ocean of stories that have gone under the radar, it’s the job of the writer to unearth such stories. MORE: 3 Key Elements Of A Compelling Character
4) Have a disabled MAIN character
Just like in real life, people with disabilities lead full and fulfilling lives. That message can only be fully communicated by having a disabled character as the main character. Being an able body’s sidekick doesn’t show the agency of people with disabilities, being the main character does. MORE: 4 Disabled Characters Writers Can Learn From
There you have it – it really is as simple as that!
From this day forward, whenever you’re brainstorming characters, developing them – or just thinking about characters, remember to ask yourself:
“Are they disabled?”
OR make an abled character of yours disabled and see how that changes things. What significance does that make?
I think you’ll be quite surprised 😉
BIO: Owen Kent is a producer, writer and actor whose projects focus on issues of disability justice and various other social justice and educational goals. His latest project, Angels of Mercy, tells the story of a disabled hacker pitted against a gang of cultists trying to invade his home. It is one of a few films that is written, produced by and starring a person with a disability. To find out more about the project, check out our Indiegogo campaign, HERE or click on the pic at the top of the article.
Thanks for the awesome tips,there is such a wide rang of disabilities to pick from to give your character,if handled properly.and with dignity many readers will be able to relate to the character,some with sympathy,but most importantly with empathy,because a strong character doesn’t need pity unless you direct the reader to give him or her some. ALSO consider the blind,mentally.ill as well as stutterers.You have given me a lot to think about,thanks so much!