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?
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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?
Also, btw, my birthday is coming up and I'm planning on asking for your book Witchcraft and Monsters for my birthday. It looks really good!
Oh I'm glad! I hope you have a wonderful birthday!
I definitely agree that it's ok to add magic.
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.
That's a great idea, Scott!
Please would you let me know any books with characters with disabilities that I could get my 6 year old granddaughter.
Thank you! I'm sorry I didn't see this before.