Monday, March 2, 2015

How to Write a Blind Character In One Easy Step

by J.S. Bangs

Writers are always told to "write what they know." I think this is terrible advice, unless I interpret it like Ursula K. LeGuin did:

As for “Write what you know,” I was regularly told this as a beginner. I think it’s a very good rule and have always obeyed it. I write about imaginary countries, alien societies on other planets, dragons, wizards, the Napa Valley in 22002. I know these things. I know them better than anybody else possibly could, so it’s my duty to testify about them.
There are two primary characters in Storm Bride, and both of them differ from me in important ways. For example, Saotse is an old blind woman. I am neither old, nor blind, nor a woman. Fortunately I was able to find the following guide on the internet:

How to Write a Blind Character In One Easy Step

1) Close your eyes. Now you're blind! Write about what it's like.

2) What do you mean, step #1 wasn't enough for you?

3) Well, you could do some reading about writing blind characters. Then do some more reading. Look at these techniques for helping a blind friend around. Talk to someone who's blind.

4) Get some helpful friends who will look over your manuscript and let you know every time you've had the blind character do something improbable or impossible for a blind person.

5) Finally, close your eyes. Now you're blind! Write about what it's like. But this time, you have a little more context and a little deeper understanding of what's going on. You'll probably still get some things wrong, but you'll have to live with that.

The other primary character in my book is Uya, a young pregnant mother. This was a somewhat different matter, because I just can't go out and get pregnant for the purposes of writing research. In the first place, this would make for an awkward conversation when my child grew up and asked me where babies come from ("from brainstorming, sweetie"), but more importantly, I'm not actually a woman. Mother Nature is a totally sexist about this and does not make any exceptions to the "no pregnancies for men" rule. However, I do have some advantages:

1) My wife has been pregnant twice. I can ask her lots of questions.

2) I have some writer friends who have also been pregnant, who were willing to look over my manuscript.

My wife, bless her heart, gave me lots of reference points for how pregnant women look, walk, pee, think, complain, pee, hurt, and pee. My wife was very adamant about the pee. According to her, in the last stages of pregnancy you never really get to where you don't have to pee, you just hold it for varying lengths of time. From some of my female writer friends, I learned about how a nursing mother is actually much hungrier than a pregnant mother, and learned a variety of ways to describe the way a very pregnant woman walks. And, again, I got another mother-writer to read my manuscript and comment on it.

Once again, I probably got some things wrong, but I have to live with that.

I also had a front-row seat to see both of my kids get born. Hoo, boy. Those experiences also got their way into the book, but you'll have to read it to find out more about that.


When Saotse rode across the treacherous ocean on an orca at the bidding of Oarsa, Power of the Sea, the blind maiden believed she had been chosen for a great destiny. But she hasn’t heard Oarsa’s voice in decades. Aged now, she has found her place among a peaceful, long-lived people, though her adoptive sister, Uya, still blossoms with youth. Then, pregnant Uya is kidnapped, and the rest of her family is slaughtered when an army of mounted warriors strikes the defenseless capital, leaving Saotse grief stricken and alone.

After Saotse finds refuge with strangers in a distant village, a new Power makes contact. Saotse embraces the opportunity to bury her bloodthirsty enemies in vengeance, but wielding the Power’s bitter magic could cost her everything she is.

As war escalates and allies flock to her side, Saotse believes she finally understands Oarsa’s purpose for her. But the Powers may have set events in motion that even they cannot control, and the fates of gods and men alike hang in the balance.

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  1. Thanks, Mary, for hosting me here! This was a lot of fun to write (both the book and the blog post). Any readers interested in more can find me at