I am two weeks into my Creative Writing MA. I am enjoying it a lot and survived my first round of feedback on my writing from my fellow students! As usual, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I write disability in the stories I come up with. But during my Thursday evening class, I realised that there is something interesting in hearing others pick up on how and what I describe.
The character in the story I wrote was not stated to have any disability and (perhaps naturally) everyone assumed her to be able bodied.
Here is an extract from my story:
In the distance, she can make out a cluster of colours. It stays still for the most part, but as she watches, a solitary figure breaks away. Masie hangs back at a socially acceptable distance and together, although they do not know it, she and the huddle watch the figure step towards the iron railings.
The class pointed out that it is not clear that the cluster of colours is a group of people, and that they only began to guess that it was a group of people when the figure stepped away. In my head, I was thinking, 'Well, yes, obviously' because this is exactly how I work out the world. Nine times out of ten, I use location and context and movement to guess what it is I am seeing. So, yes, I’d have seen a bundle of colours ahead, I would have tried to notice specifics, would have failed, and would have used the movement and the distinct shape of the single human to guess that the bundle of colours was more people.
Another point they had was that I peppered my description with spots of colour, homing in on certain specifics while giving very sparse detail about other things. Again, I have a tiny field of vision. I see the very thing I am focusing on with almost no peripheral. I found it really interesting to hear all of this, because I have never noticed (how would I?!) that I write in this way, and why this might create unnecessary confusion for sighted readers.
I’m not saying anyone should have guessed whether or not the character had a visual impairment – it wasn’t the point of the story. I’m also not saying that my way of writing did not deserve those comments, because they are totally valid and I had no idea I wrote in this way! I just think it was a really interesting thing to note, and a really good example of the different perspectives a disability lens can give a piece of writing.
Thank you for reading my ramble – I’m happy and eager to hear any questions or thoughts you might have on this!