Difficult Subject: Writing My Deaf Character

This is going to be a difficult post to write in a lot of ways, but it is important.

It involves Beggar Magic which is due out this December, and one of my major characters, Brick.

Now I like Brick and most of my  readers (betas, critique trading partners) also seem to like Brick. 
If anything Brick's a little too perfect because  he's the love interest to one of my two MCs and I go all mom when writing a boyfriend for a teenage girl and write the kind of person I'd want my daughters to  date, but anyway, Brick is also deaf.

I'm honestly not sure where in the planning stages Brick became deaf. In the original conception, he was simply part of a group  that refused to or couldn't use the magic system that is central to my story. However, as the idea for  my magic system became more advanced and I hit upon the idea of magic as sound, the idea of exploring how such a world, where your worth is weighed by your ability to use audible magic, would treat those who cannot hear at all came to me. The more I played with it, the more I realized that I had to have a major character facing this issue, and from that came Brick.

Now, I'm not deaf, so I did a lot of online research and opened some threads in my writer's group looking for people who had experience with deaf individuals. I spoke to a teacher who had worked with deaf children and had her read a few chapters. I still wanted another opinion though from someone within the community.

But I made a few mistakes. The biggest was not having a relationship or pre-discussion with person on goodreads who agreed to read my piece. The second was agreeing to let her read excerpts rather than the whole. She just wanted the parts relating to the one character (who isn't even introduced until about a third of the way in).

Anyway, to cut a long story short, she misinterpreted several things I'd said to a severe degree because of the lack of context. I mean, the reason that I asked for help was because I knew it probably would need some adjustments for realism and sensitivity, but she got mad at  me and there were some things in her response that I was like, 'But wait, I didn't say that. . ." She also said somethings I just couldn't accept which I think were based on her personal experience. She told me I shouldn't write a love story between a deaf man and a hearing woman because it was somehow insulting and definitely not realistic, for instance. Well, I  drop that and there goes about 50% of my plot. I basically wouldn't have a book any more. A lot of her other comments seemed to come down to "you have a lot of nerve writing this."

My biggest issue I had with her response was how personal she made it. She accused me of writing it to  try and get pats on the back from the deaf community or thinking it was a favor to them. I think this comment is what led me to break off the communication. That assumption actually made me a little mad. I don't like people telling me what I'm supposedly thinking or ascribing motive to my actions.

Now, I've had people dislike my writing. I trade crits, so people see rougher stages  of it. It is also just not everyone's cup of tea; however, I've never had anyone get mad about it. Because I was shaken, I ended up sharing the letter with my online writers group basically asking, "Can anyone help me? Apparently  I've really messed this one up."

I got a ton of responses there and a lot  more advice and input. A few actually helped me sort out some usable advice from the rant letter as well because there were somethings I could use to improve the piece apart from just junking it and choosing not to write a deaf character because I might offend someone.

I also managed to find a second person through a Christian writers group I am in who agreed to read the whole thing. She gave me some input I could use. Apparently, I was relying on lip reading too much, for instance. I did do some research on lipreading to see if it was "real", but this person's opinion was it wouldn't go over well and the  way it was being used in my book was unrealistic and impractical. I ended up giving Brick a notepad and having the characters writing notes to each other a good deal. She also helped me tweak a few other things that she thought might be trigger words.

Now I know my character isn't going to make everyone happy. For one thing, he's not in a modern situation. The society he is in is more 1814 than 2014, so his experience is going to differ from that of someone born into our modern world. However, you often see complaints because too many books focus on characters who are average white kids or don't focus on minorities or people with disabilities. With my current experience, I half think that is because writers are terrified on stepping on some sort of landmine of hurt feelings or offense from that group. No one is going to throw stones at me if I stick to my basic "this girl is sort of like me" prototype for my main characters. Also, if you do try to write it, you end up facing a wall of "rules" of things to  say and not say which are restrictive and frankly a little bit terrifying and have you second guessing every little thing you write.

I will say, I've definitely prayed more about Brick than any other writing issue. I don't want him to be polarizing or offensive. I just want  him to be Brick (confident, friendly, maybe a little bit cocky but  there for my MC when she needs him).

But anyway, here's hoping I've achieved that.

Linked here


  1. I know there have been a number of articles and twitter campaigns dealing with the diversity issue. I know the prevailing advice is write what you know, but sometimes we need to write what is in our hearts. I am trying to write an MG novel where my mc is of Iroquois descent. Now, my oldest is Metis and I taught in the NWT. I have a need tow rite this story. So my advice I guess is only you know what you must write. And all we can do is make it as authentic as we can. And as for that lady - dropping her was the best. Can't wait to read your novel!

    1. Thanks and good luck with your MG novel. Yeah, stories have to come organically and be what you are driven to write or they lose their power.


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