I would like to make a personal request of every writer out there, whether of original fiction or otherwise:
In the event that you find yourself deciding to use disability¹
as a plot gimmick²
, please push back from your computer, typewriter, notebook or other writing device, take a deep breath, and punch yourself in the nose. Hard.
I can't do it, you see. Even if I were there, I have these muscle weakness issues. You might not even feel it, and certainly it wouldn't make a sufficient impact. So I need you to do it for me.
How, you may ask, can you tell if what you're doing is
a plot gimmick?
1) Replace it with something else. A badly broken leg, or even two. A brutal headache. A very bad day at work. What you could use will depend on situation your character is in, of course, but if you can replace the disability with a set of circumstances that is not a disability and the plot doesn't change, or the character arc you're working through still progresses the same way, then you don't need to have it there in the first place.
2) Ask if you're doing this just for 'dramatic tension' or 'emotional impact'. If the only reason you've just made a character disabled is to make your readers gasp, then you're being an asshole.
Oh, and if the disability in question gets fixed say, three chapters later³
, punch yourself in the nose twice
. With luck you broke it the first time. At that point, all you're doing is proving
to your audience that you never really needed to do it in the first place; you just wanted to artificially raise the stakes. And given how seldom in modern fiction any significant character becomes disabled and stays there, you're being pretty insulting to your reader's intelligence, much less anything else.¹ For the purposes of this post, assume we're talking about permanent or long-term disability. A broken hip or leg can be a short-term disability, but that involves an entirely different set of connotations, social history, and so on.
² Also known as a poorly-done plot device. Plot gimmicks may be purchased with plot coupons at participating locations.
³ This doesn't apply if you're writing something intended for largely comedic effect, of course; a quick and easy resolution is usually an essential part of the humor of the situation, and again, the cultural context is entirely different.