How Do I Write a Character Who’s been Recently Paralyzed?

Oct 04, 2019

Anonymous asks, quote:

How would you go about writing a character in high school who recently became a paraplegic?

end quote.

For clarity, I’m going to assume that you are neither paralyzed or a wheelchair user.

The only way you could approach this kind of story is through a lot of first‐hand research. This means going out and finding people who were paralyzed at or around high school age and asking them about one of the most painful, heartbreaking, and life‐changing events in their entire lives. And this isn’t going to be a simple matter of sitting down and asking them how they felt in the moment. In order to create a realistic character, you’re going to need to ask them about how their body changed over time; how the accident affected their sexuality, and sense of self; The difficulties they had from going from just popping into the restroom to having to pop a finger up their own ass every time they shit. Is that the kind of conversation you want to have with multiple strangers? Is that the kind of emotional labor you want to ask someone to (presumably) volunteer to go through?

There is no possible way you could tell this story without telling your readers exactly how the character feels about being disabled and, frankly, I don’t think that’s your story to tell. Disability is not a plot device and it is not a substitute for angst. Don’t get my wrong, I understand that it’s not your intention to fetishize, belittle or turn a life‐changing event like paralysis into an emotional McGuffin. But, there’s an extremely high chance that, no matter how well researched your book is, that’s what’s going to happen.

I don’t want to read paralysis‐centric stories written by non‐paralyzed authors. I don’t think you should either. If you truly want to see this kind of story be written, you should seek out disabled authors who write disabled characters and support them so that they can continue to create the kinds of characters you want to read about.