On Writing Characters With Physical Illnesses

So a few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about writing characters with mental illnesses. This went over surprisingly well, which compelled me to go forward with the three part series. You can read the first part here, On Writing Characters With Mental Illnesses. Today I’ll be going over physical illnesses and how to properly write them.

So first off: What’s a physical illness? A physical illness is any kind of sickness that can physically affect your body and wellbeing. The term “physical disorder” is normally used to separate other illnesses from mental disorders ((basically, they’re opposites)).

What counts as a physical illness? I’d like to reiterate that this is not an exhaustive list. It’s very brief, meant only to get the point across and provide a few examples.

  • Autoimmune disorders – “A disease in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells.”
    • Lupus
    • Type 1 diabetes
  • Chronic disorders – A disease that lasts for more than three months
    • Asthma
    • A number of eating disorders
    • Dementia

It’s important when writing a character of any sort of minority, whether it’s a certain race, sexuality, or health, to remember that accurate representation is one of the most critical parts. What’s the point of adding in diversity if you’re just going to offend people? It’s also important to remember why representation is so important to those you’re representing. How many transgender people are afraid to come out? They’re scared that people won’t understand, and it’ll cause backlash. But seeing more people like them in things that they love can not only increase their confidence, but increase other people’s understanding. So why add diversity? To create a more empathizing community.

But how do you know when you fucked up? Okay, so representation is important, you get that now. But by now you’re probably having a little bit of anxiety. While this is completely justified, it’s unneeded. There are so many different ways you can make sure you accurately represent. Make writer friends and ask them questions, have critique partners read over your work, ask for opinions. The beta reader phase is one of the most vital phases in the entire writing process. Enlist beta’s of that minority and see if what you’ve written offends them, doesn’t reside with them, or is just straight up wrong. And when they tell you this, believe them. Don’t get offended and don’t insist that you’re right. Everybody fucks up, including you.

This next step can provide a valuable backbone to your writing. Face it: Books just don’t get written without a little bit of research. Look up reputable websites, sites that end in .edu, .gov, and .org. Look at medical research- There’s tons of PDFs online. And cross check your sources! Make sure all your information is correct and reliable. Keep track of your notes and even date them- You might need to come back to them later, but how reliable would they be five years old?

Finally, talk to people. All those books and websites won’t always do the best job. Talking to people who’ve had real life experience can tremendously improve your accuracy. So conduct interviews, whether you make a Google form or hit people up on Facebook. Look through blogs on Tumblr- There’s thousands of them. And look at other first person accounts online. This might not be the same thing as talking to people, but you’re still getting a real-life person’s opinions and expertise.

So that all I’ve got for physical illnesses. You probably noticed that most of it was similar to writing characters with mental illnesses. Be sure to keep that in mind. And subscribe to my website to look at the third and final part of this little series, which will be on doing research.

If you liked this, be sure to check out my mailing list to be notified each time I make a post. You’ll also gain access to things I don’t show anyone else, like excerpts that won’t go up on social media and announcements I won’t share elsewhere.

~Max

One thought on “On Writing Characters With Physical Illnesses

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s