I was able to get a lot of writing done today—not actually on paper, but in my brain. And I have Jay to thank for that.
Fridays are my writing days and I often talk to Jay about what my characters are up to and what they said to the other characters and oh, wasn’t that such a funny way to write that!? Then I usually add something like aren’t you sick of hearing about the silly antics of my characters? And he usually says something like no, of course he loves hearing about how a fictional 16-year old girl is falling in love with a boy and what she ordered at the coffee shop. (The funny thing is that he really does love hearing about that stuff!)
So today I was writing about my character interacting with a developmentally disabled character. I used to be a social worker for disabled adults and teenagers and have always wanted to include them in my books for kids so that I could show regular children having positive interactions with disabled children. Personally, I find many books include special children, but they often have an overly sympathetic tone.
My plan for today was to write about her observing a developmentally disabled person enjoy life and finding joy in the common moments. My character would miraculously learn that if someone with such a disadvantage could enjoy life so much, then she could too.
Jay listened patiently and finally said, “But isn’t that the easy way? Aren’t you just taking a disabled person and using them to cram a message down the reader’s throat?”
I realized that, yes, that is the easy way. And it’s not the best way. When I was a social worker, we were trained that the most important aspect of our job was showing respect and to treat our clients just like any other person. It’s the same in books. Singling out a disabled person just so that my character could learn a lesson from them, was, in effect, disrespectful.
I decided instead to still include the disabled character, but to have my character learn next to them, not because of them.
It’s not the easy way. But it’s the better way.