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05-19 Sarah Raplee – Riff on 7 yrs. Of SPAM & a Giveaway

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Unique Strength of Damaged Heroes

I learned a lot from Brander Hansen.

I first decided to write a deaf hero after reading an article that said women are attracted to men who stare at them like they are the only thing in the room. I thought, who would stare at a woman like that? A deaf man.

I have friends who work in the deaf community, plus I have some limited experience with American Sign Language, so I had a foundation to work with. But I write historical novels and ASL doesn't exist in Europe now, much less in the 1700s. When I began to describe Brander's gestures, I had to forget everything I knew and create motions that would make sense to a seven-year-old.

I also needed to give him a realistic trade, one that a deaf man would not only be able to do, but do well. As a private investigator, Brander can use his deafness and lip-reading as some of his tools. After all, he says, when people find out I'm deaf, they forget I'm in the room.

Here is what I learned/realized along the way:

For the purpose of brevity in this discussion, I'll use the term "physical disability" (PD) to refer to part of a person's body being damaged or missing.

There are two kinds of people who write characters with disabilities. Those who have disabilities, and those who don't. And both kinds tend to make errors which keep their characters from being whole people.

Authors with disabilities who write fiction need to guard against letting their need to educate overshadow their story. There is a difference between realistic and realism. The reader only needs the story to be realistic, to know enough to "get" the character and no more. The PD is only a part of that character's literary development.

If education is the goal, then the author might consider writing non-fiction realism instead. In fiction the plot and characters rule, and information dumps are deadly, no matter who is writing the story.

As for authors without a PD, the tendency can be to go sappy and glorify the PD characters. Make them such angelic martyrs that no one can believe they exist. Because they don't. The other extreme would be the character so overwhelmed with bitterness (based in the PD) that no one wants to be around them - or read about them, honestly.

Another mistake that authors without a PD make is assuming the character would always want the broken or missing part "fixed." That assumption is offensive to a real person with a real PD.

Consider Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius: if he wasn't the "Blade Runner" none of us would know who he was. And he made the semi-finals in the 2012 Summer Olympics by running against men without amputated limbs. I'm pretty sure he feels whole.

I have a scene in the second book, "A Discreet Gentleman of Matrimony" (now available) when a doctor asks to look into Brander's ears. My discreet gentleman experiences a moment of shock and wonders if he could regain his hearing.

He cannot. And when he thinks about it, Brander realizes that he is a better man because he is deaf. To regain his hearing at this stage of his life would be a detriment to his career.

That is a very realistic response. Not heroic. Not bitter. No pounding anyone with a politically correct agenda. Just real.

Others agree, according to this very complimentary reviewer of books & movies with characters with PD: *smiling*

Of course, the hearing people he encounters are as insensitive and ignorant as humans can be. To write the story otherwise would be a mistake as well.

As I was typing along, I occasionally made those mistakes. When I did, I tried to work them into the narrative. Like this line: "Regin lowered her voice… Oops. Well, go on with the thought: …before she remembered she didn't have to." The hearing spouse is making an adjustment, too.

I even had a line of dialog where Regin points her finger at her deaf and mute husband and shouts, "Don't you ever say that to me again, do you hear me?" Who wouldn’t use words they were accustomed to in the heat of an argument?

Brander looks at her like she's crazy and asks: Do you realize what you just said?

"You know what I mean!" she retorts.

Realistic. Real. And a little humorous, to be honest.

And did I mention sexy? That intense stare, quick intelligence, and the ability to see things others cannot make for a uniquely strong character. I confess: I'm thoroughly smitten.

For more information about all 5 of the Discreet Gentleman books (so far) please go to:


Judith Ashley said...

Hi Kris, Thoughtful post. I do think it makes a difference when the person's PD happens. My son is legally blind (was in his early to mid-40's when diagnosed) and it is a struggle for him. If the disease could be reversed, he'd be there in a heart beat! However, I do agree that there are people who have created a fulfilling life for themselves and do not see themselves as 'broken'.

Sarah Raplee said...

Wonderful post, Kris! Your observations are spot-on.

Another thing writers without a PD sometimes do is to add a sort of 'magical thinking' to their stories. People with PDs aren't compensated by the Universe with other super-senses. For example, stories where the hero gets bashed in the head and loses his sight, but also develops paranormal abilities, are offensive to many blind people. They feel these stories trivialize the challenges they face every day. Of course, stories where the hero loses his sight and loses all his other heroic qualities are also offensive.

Thank you for a thoughtful post!

Judy said...

Great post, Kris. I appreciated the perspective of not making the PD heroic but the man himself because of the choices he made. I also love that the heroine doesn't pity him or mother him. She wants and needs for him to be a man, an equal. Loved book 1 and looking forward to reading book 2 next.

Diana Mcc. said...

Interesting and thought provoking post. Your book sounds wonderful.

Paty Jager said...

Kris, Doing the research always gives a better way to understand a character. What a great job you did with this one. I had a blind hero in one of my Halsey books. It made me have to dig deeper in his POV to "show" things through him without sight. I had a blind older relative who stayed with us in the summers that I used for my "eyes" on how to portray someone blind.