Sunday, November 11, 2012

Power and Disability

Ever get the feeling you're worrying about something that most people wouldn't even consider an issue?  Yeah, me too.  Hence, this.

I'm working on character and plot for a book.  In this book, thanks to a major event I haven't fully worked out yet, people gain access to magic.  And in this story, human use of magic tends toward them getting a power they want, whether they knew they wanted it or not.  One of the characters is a girl who's mute - not deaf, she hears just fine, but can't speak.  She learns to manipulate sound, and eventually is able to do so well enough to talk for the first time.

And I'm starting to wonder if this is okay.

Earlier this year, I read a series of stories with a cast made up almost entirely of disabled people.  From reading it, I learned a lot about how to write people with disabilities.  The disability is part of what makes the person who they are; it affects their life in unavoidable ways, but it doesn't define them.  Like all characters, someone who's disabled needs to be fully fleshed-out, not just 'the deaf person' or 'the blind person' or so on.

The character I'm working on, I'm doing my best to do this.  I know who she is and how being mute has affected her.  I know why she loves music but why she's reluctant to pursue it as a career.  I know why school has become hellish for her.  I know the last thing she said to her parents before the world sort-of ended.  I know why she never uses her full first name.  And I know how she reacts when she realizes she can use her newfound abilities to speak.

What I don't know is if this is a good idea.

I talked about this with a co-worker, and he brought up the character Geordi from "Star Trek: the Next Generation".  For anyone who doesn't know, Geordi is blind, but has cybernetics that allow him to see everything standard human eyes do and beyond.  My co-worker told me how Geordi's improved vision was a plot point in several episodes, something essential to the story.  It wasn't just an example of "Okay, this guy's blind, but not anymore, thanks to technology."  And that got me thinking.

There is a right way to do this, I'm sure of it.  My character's ability to manipulate sound is an important part of the plot on several occasions, and her gaining a voice is an essential part of her character arc - not that it should be any other way.  I think that's how I need to approach it.  It's not that an issue she's dealt with all her life will suddenly go away.  It's that something has changed, and now she has to deal with it.  Because whether she realizes it or not, it's what she wanted.

With any luck, writing this book will go better than my last one, so someday I'll be able to talk about how it worked.

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