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.
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?
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