The Victorian hero of my 2012 Golden Heart finaling novel, A HERO TO HOLD, is disabled. I admit the Registered Nurse part of me played out a secret agenda when I put David Scott in a wheelchair. I wanted to present a character whose disability was dealt with matter-of-factly. It’s part of him but doesn’t define him. It’s something he deals with, but it’s not a huge part of the story. He’s a complete, complex person—who happens to have a disability.
I wanted every woman reader to fall in love with David and find him utterly sexy and desirable and forget he couldn’t stand or walk. I realized I’d achieved my goal when I wrote a scene that had David stalking across the room. I’d forgotten he couldn’t walk!
When I started writing AHTH, I decided to read all the books I could find that featured disabled protagonists—especially those in a wheelchair—to see how other authors had handled such challenging characters. I already had a vision for David, so wasn’t looking for a template. I was just curious.
I didn’t find many, but most I found, I read. The last three years I’ve noticed a huge increase in romances featuring disabled military veterans. I attribute this to the War on Terror and our growing number of veterans left dealing with physical, emotional and spiritual challenges.
In preparing this post, I discovered a really interesting 2012 blog on Dear Author: http://dearauthor.com/need-a-rec/if-you-like-misc/if-you-like-books-about-characters-with-disabilities/. Ridley’s blog post starts with recommendations for books she liked that feature disabled characters. (What I’d originally planned for this post.) Then her post expands, getting into why many authors who write about a disabled character get it wrong, citing oft-recurring themes of what one commenter calls “super-crips and poor unfortunates.”
When I sought out disabled characters, I didn’t spend much time analyzing the themes of the books I read. Ridley’s post presents opinions I wish I’d been privy to earlier. It becomes a vetting on how disabled characters are often portrayed— and concludes they’re too often shown either as people who’ve overcome every physical obstacle and are fairly impervious, or as those emotionally crippled by their disability. Many of the commenters reveal they have disabilities, and so feel they’re particularly astute regarding how the disabled are portrayed.
The post made me wonder how good a job I’d done with David. I showed how some of David’s traits helped him successfully deal with his disability. Other personality traits left him vulnerable and sometimes coping with anger and depression. One thing I know I got right. The story is about David, not his disability.
I made David physically disabled because I wanted to change the view of a person who looked at a man in a wheelchair and saw a wheelchair first and a man second—a disabled man. After reading my book, I hope that person sees a man—and, oh yeah, he’s in a wheelchair.
To be honest, I’m not sure why I wanted to do this, but I suspect authors often have personal reasons for the themes and characters they choose to write about. They might be driven by a need to teach, explain or help. They might want their readers to care about something that’s important to the author. Or maybe, perhaps without even realizing it, they want to explore something inside themselves.
Have you read a novel that changed your opinion or your view of something? Did you have a personal reason for writing about a particular theme or character? I’d be interested to hear.
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