Just Add Magic: Writing Disabled Characters in Fiction

Just Add Magic: Writing Disabled Characters in Fiction

I’m a writer.

I recently finished the first draft of a 47,000-word novel by hand because I can still write manually — and if you don’t use it, you lose it.

And now I’m writing another book. By hand, again. In this new book, I want the main character to have SMA but I’m facing a dilemma. This novel is a paranormal fantasy containing action, adventure, and danger.

Part of me wants to be as realistic as possible when explaining my disability. But while I want to represent it accurately, another part of me wants to have fun.

If I’m basing this character on myself and my current stage in my SMA progression, I couldn’t do all of the things that my character needs to do to advance the story.

I can’t do action or danger. And my idea of adventure is an unplanned road trip rather than an exploration of abandoned castles and crypts. Those things aren’t wheelchair-accessible.

So if the character is like me, they won’t be able to do that stuff, either.

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It’s a fantasy book, Kala. Just add magic.

Yes, I could do that. I can add whatever I want to the story because it’s mine. But when I write I’m also considering publishing and my readers’ responses. Backlash is happening lately, especially when writers are perceived to be misrepresenting people with disabilities.

Disability can be a touchy topic. Some believe that adding magic to assist a disabled character defeats the purpose of including the disability in the first place. It’s a concept that I understand — to a degree.

But I don’t concur entirely with this view. When it comes to science fiction and fantasy, the point is that it is not supposed to be real life.

Fiction is a form of escapism; it should be imaginative and fun. And accessible.

In theory, if I had the ability to use magic in my day-to-day life, I would. My life would be a heck of a lot more interesting. Making a wheelchair hover to avoid taking the elevator? Yes, please.

So I have a question. If a disabled character in a book, film, or other medium can use magic or a sci-fi treatment to get around their disability, does it put you off from consuming that media? Why — or why not?


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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  1. Crystal says:

    I actually love the idea of someone with our disease having SMA and magic! I would totally read it! If writers can make a “normal” person have magic, why can’t writers make disabled people have magic?

  2. Scott Koch says:

    If it is in the current time you could add a little technology. Castles aren’t accessible true, but what if you add a helper? You could load the helper with video and sound so the character with SMA can see, hear, and advise from somewhere else. It would add in a big chunk of realism and also educate the readers about people with SMA need help from time to time. That was always the biggest issue I had when educating others about why I was in a wheelchair.

    If you don’t go that route, adding magic would be great I know I would use magic if I could and it wouldn’t take away from the story at all.

  3. Liz west says:

    Please would you let me know any books with characters with disabilities that I could get my 6 year old granddaughter.

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