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Tag Archives: fiction

Dealing with disability in fiction

Got this image from 'silver collection'

Got this image from ‘silver collection

One of my main characters (Justin) is disabled and I’m finding that this provides an interesting challenge for an able-bodied writer like myself. To write about a disabled person’s life, even in the third person can be tricky but one of the key issues I try to keep in mind is the difference in the capacity for movement that any individual might display from one day to the next.

Though the nature of my character’s disability is quite complex (and it would reveal a lot of the plot of my book if I discussed it here), I can at least touch on the basics. His movement is limited by degrees. I’ve purposely decided not to give him a fixed and unchanging degree of movement, this is for a number of reasons but primary among them is realism. From my experience, when I think of people with disabilities and incapacities that I’ve known, or that I currently know, I’ve seen a surprising fluctuation in both in their capacity for movement and level of discomfort from one day to the next. For example, someone with enduring back problems may have fairly fluid movement one day, only to stiffen up in pain the next.

I want my characters to feel real, I want Justin to be able to surprise himself in the heroics he can achieve, just as much as any hero I write. For this I need adrenaline to be able to help him when he needs it but I also want to point out the increased pain and discomfort which may plague him in the aftermath. If I just decided that he can only move so quickly, or that he can only endure so much then I’m putting limits on his character that I wouldn’t put on an able-bodied character. In fiction your heroes need to be able to surprise the reader in the deeds they can perform. If I were to limit any character in a fixed way it would detract from that, and worse still, it would exclude the character from the standard behaviours expected of a hero/ine.

All of my character’s difficulties are physical (in a general sense), in terms of his mental capacities they’re around average, though Justin is very wise. I imagine the formulation of their character would take a very different form for a character with a mental disability or one who suffers from mental illness. I’d be very interested to hear any other writers’ takes on this. Have you written a disabled character before? How did you deal with their limits? What form did their character development take? Are you disabled yourself, if so are there any aspects of your life/experience that you feel should be present in the characterisation of a fictional character with a disability? As always thanks for reading and I hope to hear from you either here or over on twitter, All the best, John

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Birds do it, bees do it, but should fictional teens do it?

aguttes-chastity-beltWhen writing a book for young adults, as I am, there comes a point where you have to deal with the inevitable: the truth of the matter is that teenagers have relationships, and a difficult issue when it comes to depicting modern teen relationships is sex.

So what do you do if you want to write a book for young adults, that appeals to the realities of their lives, whilst avoiding the pitfalls of making more chaste teens feel alienated? Basically, an issue I ran into a few months back, like a solid brick wall, was; should teen characters have sex?

My two characters are hardly even teens (they’re both almost twenty) but in the end I decided to take a route for them that walks a subtle line between an actual real-world physical relationship and something less overtly sexual. I definitely don’t want the two of them to be ‘just friends’ but I also have to be careful not to make things too intense for younger readers. I only recently realised that my books might appeal to a younger demographic and keeping them in mind has forced me to make some pretty hefty changes.

One of the key issues I’m having to deal with are the difficulties in plot points that are dependent on their sleeping together. When I say ‘sleeping together’ I don’t mean anything sexual, I simply mean that on a number of occasions a key plot point is dependent on them staying over at each other’s houses.

I pondered this problem for a long time. Originally my main characters had a physical relationship and back then I planned out chapters and chapters of plot based around the two of them being present at the same houses at various times of the day and, importantly, I just assumed that they would be sleeping at each-others’ homes.

However, through the course of time (and after having my wife proof-read my first few chapters) it became clear that if my characters’ sexual relationship remained as overt as it was in earlier drafts the book(s) would be unlikely to be appropriate for/appeal to the teen/pre-teen demographic I’m now hoping to reach.

This is a difficult decision and it’s meant that so many different things have had to change. Though the plot of my book is still very similar to what it was when I started, I’m still having to traipse back through old material to make sure that it doesn’t refer to what was previously a much more overtly physical relationship.

I definitely need them to be boyfriend and girlfriend, however the nature of this relationship has changed significantly. This can sometimes weigh a little heavy on me as I’m not sure if this makes me a dishonest author, pandering to preferred reader, rather than writing what I originally set out to do. That said, I have to be realistic about this. I want people to read my books and it’s no use writing a book that will only appeal to me. If my primary aim is to provide an entertaining reading experience for a wide range of readers, I have to at least avoid writing about things that are either inappropriate or unappealing for those readers.

To be honest I’m actually pretty comfortable with my characters the way they are now. This change in how I define their relationship means I can concentrate more on the day-to-day aspects, rather than trying to pay too much attention to the nature and language of their physical encounters (I have to confess, I’m not the best at writing sex scenes, I’m just going to have to leave that to Anne Rice). Changing their physical encounters, from being overtly described to simply existing as subtle hints, actually seems to have allowed me to explore a more realistic and believable relationship for my two main characters.

Despite this, I’m still concerned that there may be something less ‘literarily honest’ about the way I’ve written my redraft. Of those of you who do write I’m very interested to see what you have done (if anything) to alter your characters, and/or plot, to make it more readable for your target demographic. Am I alone in doing this or do other authors think (even occasionally) about their target readers when sitting down to write? As always thanks for reading and I welcome any comments you have in the comments section below, Cheers, John

 
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Posted by on 6 October, 2014 in writing hints and tips

 

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‘Chasing Humanity’ (fiction): Character profile: Tobias

The world is different, human beings have changed and in a last ditch effort to hold on to what was once ‘normal’ human civilisation, an exodus of like-minded people has occurred. In the beginning only the wealthy few made the trek but eventually the new colonies were substantial enough to enable thousands more to leave their home countries and head to the only landmass on Earth still untouched by human hands: Antarctica.

Our story begins with Tobias, a young man who has spent the past few years of his life (and all of his savings) gaining invaluable skills for tending the habitat that keeps the elements at bay and allows the people of the domed city of Loam to live something approaching a normal life.

The Antarctic winter has set in and the lighting employed to battle the endless dark is limited to just a few hours a day. UV lamps pour out just enough to keep plants alive and the dome’s environmental controls are straining just to keep the temperature inside above freezing.

Icy winds of -50°C howl through the endless night outside the dome, and yet at times Tobius would rather take his chances outside if it meant he could get away from his dad’s relentless lecturing.

Cabin fever is setting in but the only way to get out the house is to go to ‘Mike’s Place’; an entertainment center near Tobias’s home, and that costs credits that Tobias just doesn’t have. Blagging his way through free coffees one repair job at a time Tobias longs for something different, a break from the monotony.

His wish is about to be granted in a way he never would have expected, Tobias’s time in Loam is running to an end and he has no idea. For now he’ll settle for a cup of coffee with the girl who makes his days worthwhile: Anyanka.

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Let me know what you think in the comments below, as promised there is much more to come (though I’ll do all I can to keep spoilers to a minimum). ‘Chasing Humanity’ should be ready sometime after Christmas, but if I get a bit of extra free time who knows it could be sooner. Please subscribe to find out more about this book or to see my hints and tips about writing.

Today’s tip: don’t take the easy route now, you’ll just give yourself more work later. Before running on to the next chapter of writing, review what you just wrote, make sure it’s formatted correctly, reads easily, and is as free from grammatical errors and spelling mistakes as you can manage. Also if you intend to publish on kindle don’t bother about page run over, in fact save your writing in html format and when writing view as ‘web page’ that way you remove the temptation to move paragraphs to a new page etc.

Thanks for reading, I welcome any comments and I’ll have some more content from ‘Chasing Humanity’ to share very soon. Cheers, John

 
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Posted by on 27 August, 2013 in Chasing Humanity

 

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‘Chasing humanity’ (fiction) sample

As promised here’s a sample of the book I’m writing right now. It’s still slow going but I’m setting aside time each week now to ‘work’ and I feel as though I’m finally making progress again.

” This is more like it; as I walk into ‘Mike’s place’ the mature scents of roast coffee mix with the hot buttered popcorn at the cinema stand and the faintest hint of chlorine from the pool downstairs. It makes me feel like I’m ten years old again whilst standing as a reminder that I’m not. Tempting as a matinee and swim would be about now I really can’t afford it, I’ll just have to settle for a couple of coffees and, hopefully, some good company.”

The story is set in the not too distant future, where human society is very different yet where human relationships still follow very familiar patterns. I’ll pop more samples up once I’ve figured out how much I can share without leaving ‘spoilers’.

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Writing Tip: For anyone who is interested, I’ve set aside 2 or 3 2 hour blocks of writing each week and it’s already paying off. More importantly it feels maintainable. At this rate I could be finished the full novel sometime after Christmas.

Any comments, hints, or tips are more than welcome, thanks for reading, cheers, John

 
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Posted by on 23 August, 2013 in Chasing Humanity

 

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