Writing the Disabled Character, Part 1

Here I am using the term “disabled” loosely. This can mean anything from quadriplegia to asthma. If an illness/condition is as much a part of their character sketch as their humor, then consider them a “disabled character”.

There’s lots of things to keep in mind but right now I want to focus on medication. Some of us Real Disabled Folks take a lot of them. Currently I have eight full-time prescribed medications and two supplements, resulting in me taking seventeen pills and four puffs on an inhaler. Remembering to take them, and taking them at the right time, is a pain in the ass. Add in the Filling of the Pill Organizer Thingies? And I am so done with taking meds. But wait, we’re not done. I also have five as needed medications so I need to keep track of when I last took one and if one of them is going to interfere with something else.

Many conditions you can saddle your character with are going to require a medication. You don’t have to name it, but you can mention them taking it. The frustration of it. The “crap, did I take it this morning?” or the “is it Friday already?” (because we know what day due to the pill organizer lids). This doesn’t have to hamper your character. It can add a certain depth to her. It can display a part of her personality in unique, distinct ways. Is she OCD? There ya go! Bottles lined up, tray filled regularly, alarms on her phone, etcetera. Is she the complete opposite? Does she have alarms set up not because she is OCD but because she otherwise would never remember? And yeah, there’s apps for that. Sense of humor? She can give them all names. Or mess up the generic names.

And yet this can be done in simple little passing scenes that not only set up the character, but set up her life while a the same time carving out the shape of your character. You can have that character be mature and take her medication like a good girl. Or be a rebel and purposely miss doses. Or have them accept the things as just part of life and handle it with as little thought as what side of her toast to butter.

If you do give them a disability, even a mild one like hypothyroidism, Google is your friend. So is your own physician. Read through some forums. Understand what the condition is like with just as much expertise as you would any other part of your novel. Don’t mess it up. Because disabled readers will notice. We’re so excited to see “us” in books but don’t think we don’t ignore mistakes. If the character takes a pill one morning and bitches about how she has to take it every morning, she damn well better take it ever morning. She stay over with her new love, where’s that medication? Even if she decides it is okay to skip a day, mention it. Or don’t mention the medication at all. You can say she has a condition and just not mention medication which would be perfectly fine. We read books all the time where the characters can go six months and never go pee so we can handle a disabled character not mentioning her medication.

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