You know those characters that are constantly referred to so smart or so capable or so sensitive (etc. etc.) by other characters or in the narration? And every time it comes up you find yourself shaking your head or rolling your eyes because the character in question either is as bland as boiled potatoes or constantly acts in ways that contradict those claims without explanation?
That’s what is commonly called an “informed trait”. You’re told the character is a certain way (or has a certain ability), but there is more or less nothing in the text to back that up.
It goes the other way around, too, with informed flaws that are supposed to make a character more relatable or interesting – think almost every romantic comedy leading lady who is supposedly “shy” and “clumsy”, but in a cute, endearing way that only ever comes up when the plot asks for it.
It’s frustrating, distracting, incredibly dull and at times downright insulting to the reader to encounter a story where one or more characters have a bad case of this, but unfortunately, it’s a pretty common weakness even in otherwise strong, well-written stories with interesting and complex character concepts.
Since characters and how the reader feels about them (whether they are supposed to relate to them, look up to them or feel repulsed by them) can really make or break a story, informed traits are an easy trap to fall into and many a writer’s Achilles heel.
So, how to avoid them?
This is where the trusty old “Show, don’t tell” comes in. You have most likely been told before that it’s usually better to go for subtlety and leave something to the reader’s imagination than to spell it out, and that is true.
It’s challenging to imply something without outright saying it. You have to get creative with the details you want to put into your story to get a point across by relying on your audience’s ability to read between the lines, and while it’s absolutely worth it to go the extra mile, you also run the risk of making your narrative too stilted and contrived instead.
However, there is a fairly simple trick to make your characterization feel more natural and insert it into the story smoothly:
Stop thinking of your characters as possessing certain traits and start thinking of their personalities as a collection of habits, preferences and specific abilities.
It might not sound like that big of a difference, but it will make translating your character traits into text much, much easier and save you a lot of trouble while editing.
- A “smart” character
This can mean a lot of things. You could have a character who is booksmart, learns quickly, reads a lot, can retain information easily and access it when needed, but has trouble applying theoretical knowledge in real life, someone who entertains their friends by telling them about weird facts and trivia, someone who can still recite poems they had to learn by heart when they were ten, someone with a tendency to talk in such complex run-on sentences they frequently forget what they were talking about half-way through.
Or you could have a character who is good at problem-solving instead, who likes puzzles and riddles, who gleefully obsesses over odd problems to find even odder solutions, but thinks so far out of the box in order to remain engaged in their current task they often miss the forest for the trees.
- A “brave” character
Try to instead make a character who can never resist a challenge, who is a thrill-seeker and went bungee jumping about a dozen times already, who enjoys dragging their friends on the most dangerous looking rides in an amusement park and endlessly teases them about how pale they went afterwards. Make someone who simply cannot stand by when they see someone else get bullied, someone with a collection of scars they wear proudly and a story to tell about each one.
- A “shy” character
Forget about characters who blush prettily when spoken to and that’s it. Instead, write about a character who can’t make eye contact without forcing themselves to, who stumbles over their own words when talking to strangers, who is afraid of wearing bright colours because it might draw attention to them, someone who is humble and polite, but distant and comes across as cold or uncaring because they have tendency to hide their insecurity by retreating into themselves, even though seeming rude is the last thing on their mind.
Insert these habits into the story wherever they fit best. Be consistent in the portrayal of your character’s behaviour, even as character development kicks in. Adjust deliberately, but reasonably. After all, old habits die hard, so having your character break with one, however minor, can be a powerful moment with just as much emotional resonance as a flashy, dramatic scene meant to convey the same sentiment, and any “big” scenes will likely feel more organic if the reader has already seen traces of the necessary character changes before.
“Stop thinking of your characters as possessing certain traits and start thinking of their personalities as a collection of habits, preferences and specific abilities.”
Worldbuilding with Psychology
I haven’t mentioned this before, but I’m close to graduating with a psychology degree. As I was organizing things to move back in at university, I came across some notes from my Developmental Psych class. Psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner presented an ecological systems model of child development, which represents a dynamic model of how people develop psychologically depending on their environment. I realized this may be an interesting reference for writers as we consider worldbuilding.
The individual is at the center. Each level interacts with the others and may affect them in different ways and to different degrees at different times. The individual is at the center of the model and has inherent traits which are the result of genetics. The microsystem is the individual’s most immediate surroundings. These are the places and people they come into close contact with on a daily basis, including the home and peer groups. The way microsystems treat the individual influence them, but the behavior of the individual also influences how the microsystems react to them. The mesosystem is essentially comprised of links between microsystems – between home and school, between home and church, between family and peers. Active involvement between microsystems promotes harmony and a sense of like-mindedness. The exosystem consists of linkages between systems that do not directly influence the individual, but do so indirectly by influencing a microsystem. For instance, the parents’ workplaces influences the parents’ behavior in the presence of the individual. The macrosystem consists of more distant influences that still have a significant impact on the individual. These elements often include beliefs, values, and other aspects of culture. For instance, life in a country at war will influence an individual differently than life in a country at peace. The chronosystem simply incorporates the meaningful passage of time. What is in each system, how much it affects an individual, and how can all shift in time.
What does this have to do with worldbuilding?
One can relate Bronfenbrenner’s model to creating a fictional sense of place however one likes, but I’ve drawn some parallels between each level and a corresponding element in worldbuilding. The model looks something like this.
The main character (or characters) lies at the center of your worldbuilding. It is through their eyes, or over their shoulder, that the reader experiences the world in which your story is set. A strong sense of place is vital to telling a satisfying tale, and a great deal of it comes down to your protagonists. Like in the original model, the protagonist has certain inborn traits that are a result of nature, but are also influenced by nurture – the other systems, in this case. The world is reflected in the hearts, minds, and behaviors of the people who live in it, and the people are reflected in the world they populate.
The Supporting Cast:
These are the people the protagonists interacts with most, and it’s a two-way street of influence. Their behavior influences the protagonist, but the protagonist affects them as well. You can present a great deal of information about the world through the interactions between characters. The way your protagonist interacts with parents and siblings can reveal family structure and dynamics, and interactions with friends or coworkers can shine light on social classes, pastimes, or employment. What your characters do, how they do it, and how they speak or feel about it will reveal what is normal or not.
The Immediate Surroundings:
Where are all these interactions taking place? The actual physical locales in seen in your story have an impact on the way people behave, but don’t forget the direct effect of setting the scene. One behaves differently at school, as opposed to the mall – how can you use differences like this to portray societal norms and mores in your story? Additionally, the events and values of a world leave physical reminders, which may be as simple as smog over a city unconcerned by or incapable of controlling pollution. Perhaps there is graffiti in the streets leftover from social or political unrest. The remnants of a torn-down shrine or monument may reflect changing values, war, or persecution of certain religions or other groups. Living conditions can portray class differences. Possibilities are endless.
The Social Structure and Culture:
Social structure has ramifications on who can interact with whom and what’s considered appropriate. These rules may be very strict or much more informal. If there are rigorous separations in place according to class, an interaction between members of different status will be shocking to your characters. Speaking out against an elder coworker may have severe consequences, or employees may be under forced retirement deadlines – these differences reveal if old age is revered or looked down upon. What holidays do people celebrate, and how? What manners of speech or behavior are unique to the setting? Social norms will be reflected in the behavior of your characters, but the population is capable of changing those norms.
The Physical Setting:
The setting at large still has far-reaching influence on your story. The geography itself will determine a number of things about the setting, including the landscape, weather, physical resources available, methods of transportation and more. All of these things trickle down into each of the layers beneath it and leave their fingerprints. If transportation is unfavorable, how does this affect information and cultural exchange? How about the economy? The physical setting is an umbrella of elements which may change everything under it, even in small or indirect ways.
The genre determines, amongst a few other things, how much of each of the above is needed. In essence, genre can be your guide to where you should place your focus in worldbuilding. Fantasy and science fiction often call for a greater emphasis on the physical setting and cultures, while realistic fiction set in real-life places readers are likely to be familiar with is likely to need emphasis on the protagonist and supporting cast. Some genres, such as historical fiction, may need a more evenly balanced blend of each system. The plot structure itself will also have an influence. For instance, in a ‘pursuit’ plot, the ticking clock and pursuit itself are typically considered of more import than the characters, while ‘forbidden love’ plots are all about the people and culture.
Remember, as always, to mold writing advice to your work and not the other way around. They influence of one or more of these systems may be heightened or lessened, depending on the needs of your story, and they may interact differently, perhaps even from chapter to chapter. Thank you for reading, and I hope this can be a useful model for you to use as a springboard in some of your worldbuilding.
1. Demeanor Flaws (ex: rudeness, extreme shyness)
Demeanor flaws make it hard for other characters to see a character’s core personality. Sometimes a character will hurt others without meaning to because of their demeanor. It’s easy, when giving a character demeanor flaws, to portray anybody who misunderstands or is hurt by them as shallow jerks who should spend more time with the poor, lovable character. This should not be the case. People are not obligated, for example, to stick with people who are rude to them. Also, doing this makes the demeanor flaw less of a flaw.
2. Personality Flaws (ex: rigidity, hubris, insecurity)
The most common and my favorite to read about. These are generally what people think about when they think of character flaws. Trying to get over one of these flaws is the arc of many a well-written character.
3. Alignment Flaws (ex: zealotry, fighting for the bad guys)
Somebody can be a nice person with no obvious personality flaws and still, for some reason or another, choose the wrong side. Such characters are a good way to add emotional depth to your stories because they need to be out of the way for the protagonists to win, but they are not fundamentally bad people.
I definitely have some tips for you! I have a few here from before, but I’ll include some others.
1) Describe a feeling. If you start off telling us how your main character feels, we’ll be more attuned to their emotions and may care about them more off the bat. Describing the feeling and then the situation at hand, we’ll get to know about who your MC as well as the sort of world they’re living in. It likely won’t take up too much space throughout the chapter, but it’s a start and can branch off into a variety of paths.
2) Consider opening in medias res. Latin for “into the middle of things,” this literary device is most commonly known for its use in The Odyssey. With this sort of opening, you begin in the middle of an eventful scene and circle your way back later on to explain what led up to get there. It’ll make the beginning of your story eventful, and works most often in more action-based or dramatic stories.
3) Remember there’s always editing. No matter what you do write, it isn’t too important. You can always go back and change things with editing. Just take a breath, okay? If you have an idea of what to write but not how to write it, you can always make a note between bits of text that say things such as: [X action occurs and Character A responds in X way.] You can always change this later. It’s the beginning, and it’s okay to feel a little lost.
Resource Dump: Creating Characters!
- Your Hero: Top Ten Rules
- 10 Traits of a Great Protagonist
- 4 Steps to Creating a Truly Active Protagonist
- 20 Tips for Creating Relatable Protagonists
- How to Center your Story
- How to Create Unforgettable Protagonists
- 25 Things You Should Know About Protagonists
- Creating Memorable Characters
- Creating Strong Female Protagonists
- Creating Dynamic Protagonists
- How to Create Characters
- Inner Dialogue – Writing Inner Character Thoughts
- 25 Things a Great Character Needs
- 5 Ways to Create 3D Characters
- 10 Secrets to Creating Unforgettable Supporting Characters
- How to Write Effective Supporting Characters
- Question to Ask (& Strengthen) Your Minor Characters
- 5 Tips for Developing Supporting Characters
- Techniques for Creating Great Secondary Characters
- 5 Steps to Dazzling Minor Characters
- 3 Ways to Create Stupendous Supporting Characters
- Creating Memorable Secondary Characters
- 5 Archetypes for Supporting Characters
- Your Map to Creating a Memorable Minor Characters
- Top Ten Tips
- 8 Tips for Naming Characters
- 7 Rules of Naming Fictional Characters
- Name that Character!
- 6 Creative Ways to Name your Character
- Naming your Characters
- A Guide to Naming Characters
- Female: 1 | 2 | 3
- Male: 1 | 2 | 3
- Alien: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
- Surname: 1 | 2 | 3
- Unisex: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
- List: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9
- Developing Character Traits
- How to Create Good Personalities for your Characters
- Develop Memorable Personalities
- Give your Character Personality
- How to Create a Character’s Personality
- How to Make Sure your Character’s Personality Shines
- 5 Building Blocks of your Character’s Personality
- Appearance Generator
- Your Character’s Physical Appearance
- How to Describe a Character’s Looks
- Describing a Character’s Appearance
- Character Description Resource
- Examples of Physical Characteristics
- Describing the Physical Attributes of your Characters
- How Great Authors Describe Character Appearance
- Ultimate Guide to Nailing your Character’s Appearance
- Describing Clothing and Appearance
- Character Appearance Help
- Character Description Resource
- Describing People: A Person’s Physical Appearance
- Describing the Physical Attributes of Characters
- Talking About your Character: Speech
- Variety in Character Voices
- All your Characters Talk the Same
- How to Create Distinctive Character Voices
- How to Create Characters Who Don’t Sound like You
- The Art of Voice in Fiction
- Create Varying, Yet Realistic, Speech Patterns
- The Art and Craft of Dialogue
- Writing Character Voice
- Creating Differences in the Speech Patterns of your Characters
- Style: Person and Speech
- Dialects: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
- Building Better Backstories
- Basic Tips to Create Better Characters with Tragic Backstories
- How to Write a Backstory
- Writing Characters Using Conflict and Backstory
- Backstory Description Generator
- Questions to Create Character Backstory
- How to Weave in Backstory to Reveal Character
- Nail your Character’s Backstory
- How to Write Backstory Without Putting your Reader to Sleep
- How to Write a Killer Backstory
- How to Make Young Adult Fiction More Diverse
- Writing People of Color
- A Few Tips and Resources for Writing Characters of Colour
- Writing Characters of Colour Tastefully
- Writing With Colour
- 7 Offensive Mistakes Well-Intentioned Writers Make
- Writing Characters of Colour
- Describing Characters of Colour
- Female: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
- Male: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
- Transgender: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
- Non-Binary: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
- Main Character Sexuality
- On Writing LGBTQ Characters: 1 | 2
- Writing Gay Characters
- Guide to LGBT YA
- Avoiding LGBTQ Stereotypes
- Writing Bisexual Characters: 1 | 2
- Writing Asexual Characters: 1 | 2
- Pansexual & Demisexual Characters
- How to Write Gay, Bisexual and Pansexual Characters
- Introducing a Character
- Introducing your Main Character
- Do’s and Don’ts for Introducing your Protagonist
- First Impressions
- How to Introduce a Character
- How Not to Introduce a Main Character
- Introducing the Protagonist
- Character Development
- 9 Ingredients of Character Development
- Characterisation 1 – Character Development
- How to Develop a Character for a Story
- Character Development
- Character Development Drives Conflict
- Developing your Characters and Making them Interesting
- How to Write Strong Character Relationships
- Character Relationships
- 3 Keys to Developing Character Relationships
- The Secret Behind Great Character Relationships
- 3 Tips for Character Relationships
- Building Believable Relationships
- Sibling: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
- Platonic: 1 | 2 | 3
- Romantic: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
- Identifying your Character’s Strengths
- Character Strengths and Weaknesses
- Introducing the 24 Character Strengths
- Character Strengths and Virtues List
- Strengths and Weaknesses
- A Balance of Strengths
- 123 Ideas for Character Flaws
- DarkWorld RPG Flaws List
- Character Flaws
- Ten Ugliest Character Flaws
- The Four Types of Character Flaws
- On Giving Flaws and Weaknesses
- Character Flaw Index
- Why your Character’s Goal Needs to be 1 of these 5 Things
- Goals Define the Plot
- Goal Setting for You and your Character
- How to Explore you Character’s Motivation
- 4 Ways to Motivate Character and Plot
- Fantasy: 1 | 2 | 3
- Sci-Fi: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
- Romance: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
- Thrillers: 1 | 2
- Horror: 1 | 2 | 3
- Your Hero: Top Ten Rules
- How to Write your Own Hero Story
- What Makes a Great Hero?
- Creating Heroes and Heroines
- Write a Story about a Hero
- How to Create an Antihero that Readers Love
- Heroes vs. Anti-Heroes
- Create a Super Hero
- How to Create a Brand New Iconic Hero or Villain
- What Makes a Hero
- How to Create a Credible Villain in Fiction
- How to Make a Purely Evil Villain Interesting
- 9 Evil Examples of the Villain Archetype
- How Not to Create a Villain
- Creating Villains People Love to Hate
- 3 Techniques for Crafting a Better Villain
- Basic Tips to Write Better & More Despicable Villains
- Writing Tips for Creating a Complex Villain
- How to Create a Great Villain
Do’s & Don’ts
- Do’s and Dont’s of Writing a Good Character
- How to Create a Character
- Characterisation Dos and Dont’s
- Female Characters of Do’s and Dont’s
- Do’s and Dont’s of Dialect
Helpful Writing Blogs
- aquestionofcharacter *
- Characters and Cliches
- Top 10 Character Cliches
- 7 Lazy Character Cliches
- 10 Most Cliched Characters in Sci-Fi
- Four Worst Character Cliches
- Female Character Cliches
- Character Cliches to Avoid
- The Cliche Character Test
- How Cliches Can Help You Make Great Characters
- How to Create a Character Profile
- Writing Character Bios
- Character Sheets and Character Creation
- Gender/Sexuality Generator
- Extremely Detailed Character Template
- Writer’s Resource: Character Template
- Character Description
Adverb Start – You can set the tone and atmosphere by just simply describing how the verb is being completed
Suddenly, he lunged for the knife.
Preposition Start – Draws out the sentence to keep the reader waiting and follows a trail of settings or objects and makes the reader wonder what’s at the end.
Behind the front brick terrace houses, over the deep, murky trench of a river, lay the vast skeletal remains of the “temporary accommodations” where he was supposed to be.
Short Sentences – Speeds up the pace and creates a sense of urgency and panic.
Not here. Not near me. Why does he want me? Why is he following me?
Long, flowing sentences – It can draw out the scene so the reader has to wait, can suggest that events are happening in quick succession and contrast well with short sentences.
Another sweeping glance to the window revealed that his stalker was still present, striding along in large steps as if not comfortable in his present bone structure with a hunched back – not quite bent double but well on its way like the snivelling, snarling wolf that he knew his stalker was under that false face.
Non-Sentence – Speed up the pace and action and can sometimes reveal critical details in a scene but MUST NOT BE OVERUSED because they are not grammatically correct and you might give the impression of not knowing how to write with grammar.
The pocket watch. Covered in blood there and covered in fine silks here; somebody was going to die.
The more… the more – Conveys a particular detail in a scene and its effect.
The more he fought, the more the eye drained his power.
If, if, if, then – Emphasises the small probability of an event happening.
If only she had been born a boy, if only she had been born second or third, if only she had been born ugly, then she would not have been sent to live in such a dismal manor caring for a the vile beast which she knew would not remain faithful.
Adjective, adjective – Emphasised a certain idea about a situation and the characters within it.
Carved lit jack-o-lanterns warned them away, lit to warn them away from the land of the living.
Fronted adverbial phrases – Builds tension by prolonging the wait to find out what’s happening and describes the setting.
Heartbeat fading and breath slowing, he slumped down onto the decaying railings. (double)
Heartbeat fading and breath slowing, light fading from his eyes, he slumped down onto the decaying railings. (triple)
Repetition – Creates atmosphere and builds tension by reminding the reader of a particular idea or object.
Emptiness resided in his eye sockets, emptiness resided in the chest cavity and emptiness resided in his coat pocket where the empty box was found.
Dash – Can replace the comma, tag on extra information and speed up the pace.
It was not the particular vision of what now seemed to “live” in his home but rather who had recently decided to move back in after 17 and a half years, all bright, fresh and young – his dead wife.
Colon – The reader has to wait for the sentence to end to get an answer and the emphasis put on by the colon exacerbates the effect of what is after the colon.
Nobody should have to live like that: lonely.
(This post assumes these characters are banded together in at least one large group and must work toward a similar goal.)
Let’s look at the main components that are important in large cast stories:
Teams and Sub-groups
The larger the cast, the more teams and sub-groups there are (or at least, the more there should be). These characters can find themselves in groups through a number of ways: similar backgrounds, random circumstances, matching beliefs/moral compass, etc etc.
Sometimes you can group them into categories that work well with tension, humorous effect, and character development. Some categories include:
- the selfish lone wolves that are forced to work together
- nerds who don’t communicate well
- the hero-types that can’t agree on anything
- long-term friends and their ragtag bunch of new allies
- honestly, just think about teams from the MCU
Sub-groups are typically a must for stories with a large cast, as it expands the plot, individual characterization/development, conflict, and clarification. It staggers introductions of each character, giving them proper significance within the story right off the bat.
This is a tricky thing to carry out. Multiple points of view are necessary unless you are absolutely sure you only want to follow ONE character the entire story, which is a feat in itself and probably ill-advised (but you do you). However, if you decide to use multiple POVs, you then also have to choose whether you want to carry that out through alternating first-person narratives or use third-person. First-person is going to require a more in-depth understanding of the characters’ voice and more decisions of who within each sub-group gets to narrate (as well as how reliable and involved they are). Both can be used in different ways to interconnect each group’s storyline. All personal choice.
Communication, within any large group, sucks. So now imagine there has to be communication between individuals, sub-groups, and the overall group. Everyone is going to have their own style of communication (or lack thereof) and each subgroup is going to have a different dynamic for it as well. Learning how (mis)communication, lying, personal details, and rumors circulate through individuals, sub-groups, and the overall group is important to the realism and storyline. It sounds daunting, but just watch Guardians of the Galaxy or any Avengers movie with this in mind and you’ll understand how to do it easily in no time.
Loyalty and Relationships
Two things easily complicate a large group’s dynamic: loyalty and relationships.
These things can strain or strengthen sub-groups and/or the team as a whole. It depends on who is involved, what they could be jeopardizing, and a bunch of other factors.
They’re good things to consider the repercussions and effects of especially if you have love triangles, brokens hearts, lost friendships, secret histories, and trust issues floating around the team.
Loyalty also directly corresponds with teamwork, another factor to consider.
How to use all this
- the members
- teams and sub-groups
- relationships within the group
- teamwork and overall dynamic of the group
- etc etc
No matter what the main conflict is, having a large group that must work together provides an endless amount of other conflicts.
- question of authority/leadership
- conflicting personal interest
- opposing beliefs
- etc etc.
In the end, having a large cast of characters that work together is a daunting task, but hopefully this post broke down some of the trickier aspects in planning the story. Best of luck on your writing journey!
Morally grey: A character who does too much bad to be a good person, but does too much good to be a bad person.
Sympathetic villain: A character who is a bad person, but whose backstory/character arc makes you feel sorry for or sympathetic towards them.
Anti-hero: A character who does bad things to achieve a good goal.
Anti-villain: A character who does bad things to achieve a goal that they believe to be good, but is actually messed up.
Just plain annoying: A character who does bad things to achieve a bad goal but has one throwaway line about a hard childhood that is expected to put them into one of the aforementioned categories when in reality it just makes them annoying
I’ve had a rough morning and I’m riled up so here’s my two cents. Repeat: my two cents. I do not claim to speak for or represent the beliefs of everyone with a disability.
INCLUDE CHARACTERS WITH DISABILITIES
[Can’t believe I’m still saying this but here we are]
No, not “disabled characters”, put your character before their disability but include it nonetheless. People with disabilities exist in real life, out in the world, living and breathing and going about their days in the same spaces as able-bodied people. No their disability does not have to further the plot because that’s not how life works. If you want realism, include characters with disabilities. We’re all around you. I guarantee you know several people with disabilities even if you don’t think of them that way.
“But a disabled person can’t be a soldier/mercenary/other badass fighty character which is apparently all I include in my story!”
A) Yes they can. If you’re only aware of physical disabilities that completely limit a person’s mobility, you’re not aware of the diversity of disabilities or the mobility aid options and it’s time to do some research. Peg leg, bionic eyes, arm made of gears and pneumatics-based imitation tendons for each individual finger, magic potions or holistic treatments for chronic pain management, mental disabilities, someone who has a disability but is in remission. Get. Creative. These people exist and function in the same spaces as your perfectly able-bodied soldiers/mercenaries/various badasses.
B) Let’s say they can’t. Let’s say, for whatever reason, your badasses must only be completely physically and mentally abled. Do you not have medics? Blacksmiths? Ammunition and weapons experts/providers? Pilots? Family members back home that your badasses fight for and return to once a month? What about the bar/tavern/club/restaurant/dining tent your badasses regularly visit – are there no servers or cooks or bartenders that they talk to? Hell, a prostitute with a missing arm or severe ADHD. Are you really telling me you don’t think it’d be fun, and beyond handy, to have a magic healer who happens to be paralyzed from the waist down in your crew who’s constantly cracking jokes and shutting down shitty behaviour? Sure they may not fight because your fighters are only perfectly abled, but damn are they good at the fix-up after.
“But I don’t want to write a sob story”
Yikes. Well, good news, you don’t have to. People with disabilities can be ridiculous and funny and fun in general and it doesn’t always revolve around their condition. However, they will make jokes about their condition and, given the right people, can be joked with about it. “The right people” varies person to person, but I find for the most part it’s close friends and family members who act as strong supports and will also joke about things outside of the person’s disability. For this, you may want to talk to real life people with disabilities. Seriously, we’re everywhere. If you built rapport, many of us would be happy to tell you if a joke/situation is offensive even within the context of goofing around with a friend. Hell, some of us (ex. me) would be willing to answer questions from a total stranger if it’s in the name of providing education and support on writing a character with a disability.
[in which my best friend is a gift and figured out reassuring me I wasn’t a burden wasn’t working so she settled on calling me her favourite burden]
“But I don’t always want to be talking about their disability”
You. Don’t Have. To. It’s almost like, with all character traits/quirks/identifiers, it happens occasionally and within context.
She bowed her head low and bent her elbows at funny angles, tying her hair up quickly so she didn’t have to hold her arms up for long.
“Bad shoulder day?”
“Yeah, kept me up all night.” She dropped her hands, straightened up, and stretched her neck, rolling her head side to side. “Alright. Let’s do this.”
Washing bitter pills down with even more bitter coffee, he went over his tasks for the day. Dry cleaning, groceries, bank, assassination. Easy enough.
“They can’t take the stairs. We’re leaving them behind.”
“Or, you inconsiderate rat bastard, we could find an alternate route. You’re not getting through security without them. They’re coming.”
TL;DR, it’s not hard to throw in the realities of living with a disability every few chapters, or whenever relevant.
Lastly, the topic of using the word(s) “disabled/disability” and naming a diagnosis.
This, for me, isn’t really a big thing. I can understand how it is for some people, and I’m a fan of it but I don’t consider it a necessity. Some people want to see the word ‘disability’ used in order to take away its stigma. Some people want to see diagnoses named for the sake of completely being able to purely relate to a character. I understand that. I’m not bashing that. This is just my opinion. Personally, I don’t see the need, especially in fantasy settings or scifi or general other-world where conditions may not have the same names or treatments as they do in real life. If you make it clear that your character has a disability, show the symptoms and the ways in which they cope/manage/adjust to carry on with their lives, show their ups and downs and condition management, that’s enough for me.
This might be the area that you upset and offend some people. Someone might get mad that you used the word ‘disabled’, some might get mad that you didn’t. Some might get upset that you ‘made up’ your own condition, some might get upset that you named a diagnosis and didn’t portray it in a way they felt was accurate. Unfortunately, that’s the reality and your choice to make which group you want to potentially upset. Do your research, do your best to be sensitive, make an informed decision. Ultimately, I don’t think I’m alone in saying I’d rather see characters with unnamed disabilities portrayed in a positive way than not portrayed at all.
Please, include characters with disabilities. It can actually contribute to the realism of your stories and you might be surprised how fun it can be to write.