I first interacted with Sean Adelman when I reviewed his book Sam’s Top Secret Journal: Memorial Day . I loved that it had a main character who had Down Syndrome, and that he was true to (at least to the best of my knowledge) the disability. So, naturally when I put out feelers for guest posts from childrens’ books authors, I knew I wanted something from him about disabilities in writing. I’m very happy with the piece that he’s given me to show you all, and I hope you enjoy it, too!
Be True to Your Character
by. Dr. Sean Adelman
In a perfect story you fall in love with the characters. Sometimes you hate them or maybe just identify with them. In a great story you fall into it and lose track of time as the world around you becomes what you are reading. A huge part of becoming engrossed in a novel is the story, but it is also the characters. If you don’t like someone you are reading about you lose interest in what happens to them and thus the story. When writing a story I always strive to create people I can see, hear, almost touch. The more real they are to me the, the more thoroughly they can interact in the story. Not only is a good character crucial to the telling of the story, but a good character will help drive the story. Knowing that someone would or would not do something helps define where you go with the plot. Although plot twists are an integral part of any tale if you have someone do something that is out of character the readers will know it’s wrong and feel or act accordingly.
Much of what I write about has to do with different physical and intellectual disabilities. Although I write fiction, my mission is to raise awareness for people who have differences so that they can be seen in a light that is representative of who they really are. How people with different abilities see themselves is something that I strive to help represent. We all go through life with an image of who we think we are. Sometimes how we see ourselves isn’t obvious to those around us. How we look, act and talk can create an impression however true or untrue that says something about us. What if you were born in a way that would always make you talk a little different, or act a little different or even look a little different. Inside, you felt a certain way that only you would know, unless you got to know someone, and they got to know you. Even worse, what if no one wanted to bother even getting to know you because of those things. You would live your life in a bubble of inconsistencies that you could never overcome. Research has shown definitively that how those around us treat us can impact what we are able to accomplish. If no one thinks you can accomplish something, the chances are much greater that you will not be able to.
So, defeating preconceived notions is part of creating a great character. Allowing a reader to see inside someone in a way that they may have never had the opportunity otherwise is a gift. Through story I can allow the reader to see inside the thoughts of someone and see how they react to other around them. Being able to read what is happening to someone who is being mistreated or misjudged can be very powerful. The proverbial “walk a mile in another man’s shoes” is a superpower we, as writers, can accomplish.
The great difficulty in creating a “true” character when dealing with someone who is different or has a disability is that you want it to be honest, but not stereotypical. You can’t just throw in features or mannerisms and feel like you are representing a kid with Down Syndrome, or Autism. When writing a character that you want to critically represent you not only have to talk about the obvious things but research the details. Talk with families and caregivers who know, and have experience, text books and the internet cannot adequately represent.
Before creating the character, establish what it is you are trying to accomplish so that the character fits in the story in a way that is true to the nature of the story as well as the character themselves. Writing a fun story only to thrown in a token disabled kid is just as damaging as misrepresenting them. The best way to do this is make sure the character fits by talking with people who know. Even if you think you know, ask, never assume that because you are a father, or a mother or a friend that you know, ask.
Edit, edit, edit…. One of the hardest things about writing is the editing. This is particularly true when representing differently-abled characters. You have to do the research, on line, in the library, friends and family. Just like every other story you have to have someone else read it. When you are trying to truthfully represent a character like this you have to have someone with the different ability, if possible, or their family part of the process.
Writing a great story is a superpower and in the words of famous moms everywhere “use your powers for good, not evil”.
Sam’s Top Secret Journal – Book 1: Sam Spies by Sean Adelman. Join Sam as she embarks on her first big adventure in this middle-grade mystery full of fun, suspense…and just the right amount of spying! Sam is a middle school girl living a normal life-except when she is occasionally bullied for the differences kids perceive in her. Sam has Down syndrome. See how she and her brother John work together to find some stolen money, help a new friend and escape real danger in this exciting adventure!
(The picture links to Amazon, but I did not associate my affiliate linking with them. I make no money from the guest posts. It wouldn’t be right.)