2015 Convention: Writing the Badass, Sexy Disabled Character

We’re wrapping up our convention coverage, but before we’re done we wanted to take a peek at the workshop, “Screw the Stereotypes: Everything You Need to Know About Writing Badass, Sexy, Disabled Characters.” The panel included Megan Hart, Tessa Dare, Jeffe Kennedy, Sassy Outwater, Damon Suede and Linnea Sinclair. The authors, who write across genres, discussed their relevant titles, and how the inclusion of all types of characters benefited their stories. Everyone had much to say on the subject of how ability affects intimacy. 

When asked about the most surprising revelation that came from the panel, Sassy told us: “Disabled characters are ‘the final frontier,’ and so are disabled people in reality. We use fiction as a way to highlight some of the unique challenges encountered by disabled people. People don’t often equate disability and sexual identity, or sexual awareness. Romance novels bridge that gap and allow readers to catch a glimpse of a world that they might otherwise be too scared, intimidated or unsure of to explore on their own. That makes it all the more imperative for authors writing disabled characters to go straight to the first-hand source when writing and researching. The best research comes not from third-parties, but from people with disabilities themselves, and there are enough of us out there online willing to talk that it isn’t hard or scary to ask us anything anymore.”

Damon Suede pointed out the main difficulty in writing a contemporary is, “how do you keep ’em apart?” He suggested that when writing we avoid using “sham pain” as conflict. Other no-nos include “reducing a character’s actions to a cartoon” and “trivializing real complications.” Instead, focus on creating layered characters. “All characters have a void that drivers their every action,” he advised. 

Linnea Sinclair told the audience that she has “an allergy to Mary Sues.” She noted that, “sci fi deals more with the exterior,” while Outwater urged all to avoid the trope in science fiction where, “the disabled person could save everybody else.”

Megan Hart told us what any fan of her work (like us!) knows, “I am drawn to characters who are flawed.” Outwater urged us all to consider, “how disability enters into the bedroom,” as Hart discussed her heartwrenching Broken, which stars a woman with a disabled husband. Outwater added that “the flaws are what makes a character sexy.” Suede agreed, saying, “We’re all just looking for the places where our pieces fit together.”

Readers are clamoring for more diversity in romances, and this includes disability. But many able-bodied writers are apprehensive when it comes to writing a disabled character. Sassy tells us: “Everyone with a disability is at a different level of acceptance with that disability. When you undertake writing a disabled character, do not let your fear dictate that character’s voice. We write romance novels so that we can step into another world or point of view for a while. Step in, not as a person unsure and afraid of the disability, with ableist ideas and thoughts, but as the disabled person, with knowledge and eagerness to hear what our lives are like and to respect that. It’s not as hard as you might think. People want to read disabled characters now, publishers want them, diversity is sexy, and so, believe it or not, is disability.”

Dare, whose latest stars a hero who is going blind, told us that, “disabled persons were treated differently throughout history. There was a war during the Regency, so wounded heroes became a theme.” However, the author avoids magic cures in her books, to help drive home the point that, “you can have your happy ending no matter who you are.”

So how can authors go about writing disabled characters to the best of their ability? Proper research is key, says Sassy, “Every author on the panel used different resources. Some used books, doctors, care-givers, online forums like Reddit or Twitter/Facebook or in-person interviews. Every single author stated that at some point, their research included talking with people with the disability in question. Having beta readers with the disability you are writing can also help. Whether you find interview subjects online or in person, the best thing you can do research-wise is ask us. We want our stories to be heard. We are really the last minority to be heard. You writing about disability can help to change that.”

There you have it! We hope you’re enjoying our convention coverage, which you can find here.

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