Friday, May 20, 2016

7 Tips for Writing a Character with a Chronic Illness

Rule #42 of storytelling: In the event of a sick character surrounded by healthy characters, the sick person must die.

Okay, so maybe that's not a rule that's written down anywhere official, but it might as well be. Sick characters in books die. That's just how it is. It's heartrending and sad, but somehow we writers can turn it into something beautiful and poetic. 

But what about the people who are sick and just continue to suffer throughout the entire book? That’s not very popular. Why? Because it’s ugly. It’s sad and unfair and difficult to romanticize. Illness is hard to write about and many authors don’t even know where to begin. So they simply never do.

And that needs to change. Why? Because it’s real. Many people suffer from chronic illness, and you know what? People with chronic illness are pretty darn awesome. They’re brilliant characters just waiting to happen. All you need is a jumping-off point. Here are 7 pointers to keep in mind when writing chronically ill characters:
1. Give some thought to the illness your character has. When sick characters do show up in books, they are commonly cancer patients. Now, I am in no way belittling cancer, but really? Don't just slap on the first illness that comes to mind because it's convenient or well-known. Look around you. The world sucks, so we have no shortage of sicknesses to choose from. Lucky us. We've got chronic fatigue, we've got arthritis, we've got diabetes, lupus, myasthenia gravis, gaucher disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, crohn's disease, narcolepsy, tourette's syndrome and, my personal favorite: lyme disease. Don't be afraid to step outside of the box.

2. Try not to kill off your character.
Not only is this a cliche, but it's an extremely unhelpful one. Look at it this way: Imagine you have a chronic illness. You fight it every day. And every time you open a book with a character who has similar struggles, that character dies. How do you feel? Yeah. Not very good. Besides, one of the things that makes chronic illness so difficult is that there's no real end in sight. The mental and emotional ramifications of this are huge and can add a lot of tension to your story. Now, if you have a distinct reason for killing of your sick character, then fine. Just don't do it because it's a convenient way to evoke emotion.

3. Remember that chronic illness does not have to be the point of your story. I think this is one of the reasons why books don't utilize chronic illnesses more often. Writers seem to think that the character's illness needs to be the central part of the story. Not true. Think of the amazing possibilities for characters with chronic illness in stories that aren't about said chronic illness: The body guard who serves a king while using a magic potion to keep his epilepsy at bay. An assassin who fights chronic pain. The young lady in the Victorian era who is pursuing an education while dealing with what is later discovered to be lupus. I don't know about you, but I'd love to read those stories. While it's great to write books about people with chronic illness, it would also be amazing to see more stories out there where a character's sickness is not their defining characteristic.

4. Find the middle ground between angelic and spoiled. We've all seen it: The sweet, frail girl who is a complete angel and suffers quietly. Likewise, we're pretty familiar with the sick old coot who's bitter about his lot in life and makes everyone suffer alongside of him. I know this will come as a huge shock, but people with chronic diseases aren't like this. Find a middle ground. Make your character a human being, not an angel or a spawn of the devil.

5. Do your homework. And not just on the symptoms. Look up treatments, the social and financial ramifications, the emotional strain, and the end game (Do they die young? Get worse as time goes by?). Read articles, read books, follow bloggers who write about their life as spoonies, read interviews. Or, better yet, find somebody with your chosen illness and see if they are open to answering your questions or giving you pointers. Just be respectful and understand that they may be too tired to feel like dealing with us overzealous writers.

6. Find what keeps them going. What kind of strength does your character have? There are a lot of different kinds out there, as touched on in this post. Find out which one fuels them. And then find out why it matters: Why do they keep fighting this illness? What do they use to aid them? I know a lot of spoonies have different techniques to help get them through a rough patch: breathing techniques, recalling quotes or bible verses, clutching a good-luck piece, saying their ABC's backwards (which is impressive, by the way. I can't even say mine forward without singing the ditty that goes with it). Find your character's reason for living and find their way of living. You know the saying: Where there's a will, there's a way. Find the will, find the way.

7. No pity points. Just because your character has a difficult life doesn't mean that he gets to behave badly. I'm just going to say it: Nobody wants to read about a whiny, "woe is me" character. Oh boo hoo, he has chronic pain. What? I don't care if it's mean. Depression and emotional struggle is fine, but we don't need any more characters who are a pity party incarnate, and we most definitely should not dismiss such behavior simply because the character is sick. It's not a good message to send.

Now, I may be slightly biased, but I think people with chronic illnesses would make epic characters. They face obstacles every day and just keep going. If that's not great character material, then I don't know what is.

Do you think you'll ever write a character with a chronic illness? Do you have any tips? I'd love to hear them! What is your favorite book/series that features a character with a chronic disease? Let me know if the comment section!

Related article:
4 Fundamental Errors in the Diverse Books Campaign (And How to Fix Them)
Writing Surfer Characters: 9 Things You Need to Know
7 Cliche Characters in YA Fiction That Need to Stop 

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66 comments:

  1. This is awesome Hannah! Every point you made is spot on!

    Just this month I decided the lead heroine in my fantasy novel would have a chronic Thyroid disorder that will result in her feeling pretty darn sick and developing Alopecia (that's a loss of all hair, eyelashes and eyebrows.) And she will have to try and find a natural, herbal substitute medicine in the new world while being a brave leader for the younger teens with her.
    Pack on the pain for your characters right? �� it makes winning that much sweeter, to have struggled long and hard.

    I've never read a book where normal human kids/teens/adults get swept away into another world and get sick because they didn't have their drugstore meds with them. I mean, more likely then not, in a group of people somebody takes asthma meds, ADD meds, or something similar.

    Just seems more realistic... And like you said, it would be so much more interesting to readers with similar problems.
    I have a thyroid condition myself, and though it would take several months, without my meds I'd be in very bad way...

    Thanks so much for all your posts! I love your blog!

    A fellow Christian writer, Emilie.

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    1. I love the idea behind your novel, Emilie! I would definitely read that. Not only would that add to the tension, but it would make her victory so much more awesome. Gotta love the characters who just keep pushing!

      I also find it odd that so many books never mention the medications that lots of people are on. Piggy from Lord of the Flies has trouble with his asthma, but that's the only novel I can think of that did that.

      I'm so happy to hear that you love my blog! Thank you for the great comment.

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  2. #3!!!!!!!!!! Yes.

    As someone with [many] chronic illness[es], one thing I would find the most difficult about writing about it (other than that I'm so close to the problem I can barely see straight) is the chronic illness does not move in an arc. Cancer lends itself to an arc, one way or another, which might be one reason it's a default choice. Chronic illness doesn't end, doesn't get steadily better or steadily worse. It's more of a plateau of "okay," followed by periods of hell, and maybe periods of remission, all more or less at random. The unpredictability of it is part of the grief process someone with chronic illness has to deal with.

    Something I would also struggle with is finding a way to balance the seriousness of the illness with being a normal character. Everything in a story has to be there for a reason, so having someone with rheumatoid arthritis just for the sake of having someone with rheumatoid arthritis is a waste of words. Yet, like you say, it needs to not be able the illness 1000%, because our lives are not 1000% about our illnesses. But when your illness means you have to think about everything you eat, or constantly monitor your bloodsugar, or your hands hurt every time you open a door, it becomes hard to figure out what is important for accurate representation within the story, and what is just habitual fluff. (Few writers have their characters go to the bathroom, have a period, or even eat on screen for the same reason--it's just a norm that isn't strictly important to the plot. My chronic illnesses in some ways the lens through which I see the world, but searching for a gluten free option at every restaurant or store I visit isn't necessarily propelling my life story.)

    These are my ponderings. I've been thinking about it quite a lot, because while I agree that chronic illness should be in more stories and I feel uniquely gifted in that area (haaaa), I have struggled for years trying to contemplate how it could translate onto the page or into a plotline. I think in some ways I'm too close to the problem to know the answer.

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    1. Wow. I never thought about that, Alyssa. I mean, even if you don't want to write about a character with chronic illness, most people get a cold or the flu at least once a year. And what **about** periods? Were Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior on birth control or something? Okay, I am definitely going to write a story about a teenage girl who has to lead a rebellion against a dystopian dictatorship or fight off a zombie apocalypse while she's PMSing. Oh, and what about food poisoning? If the world has ended and you're living on canned goods, you're probably going to get botulism occasionally. Thanks for the inspiration. Although my characters probably don't thank you. Their lives just got a lot harder.

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    2. You both have great points! I agree that you shouldn't just give a character a chronic illness for the sake of inclusion. If it doesn't fit, don't force it.
      Tamara, I would LOVE to read about a teen girl fighting wars while PMSing. Seriously. A girl with a weapon who has PMS? Fear her.

      And Alyssa: Yes, sometimes it can be hard to write about something we're so close to. It takes a lot of thought and chocolate.

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    3. But why shouldn't we "just give a character a chronic illness for the sake of inclusion"? A person doesn't develop Hashimoto's or contract AIDS for a *reason*. It just happens. So our books should reflect that. We *should* include characters with chronic illnesses "for the sake of inclusion" because people with chronic illnesses exist in every day life just because.

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    4. I understand the sentiment behind this comment, but what I meant (and I assume what Alyssa meant) was this: sometimes adding a character with an illness into a story that has no room for such characters can clutter a book. It can also be somewhat demeaning to those with illnesses: they should not be token characters put there to add diversity, which is often what authors do. I do agree that characters should be reflective of real life, just not shoved into books so that the author can be written off as open-minded and diverse.

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  3. I've sometimes wondered what would happen if I got dragged into Middle Earth without my asthma medication. Now I'm tempted to write a story with a similar dilemma.

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    1. Ha! I would love that! I always think, "Hmmm, I'd love to go to [insert fantasy world]." But then I realize I might not last too long with my Lyme. =]

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  4. I'm currently writing a story with a chronically ill main character. He doesn't die in the book, and his illness is merely one of many hindrances in his life. He's a little bitter, but he finds people to help him through it. Hopefully I can do him justice :)

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    1. That is so great! I'm so excited to hear of another writer who is working to accurately portray a chronically ill character (and then not proceed to bump said character off). Keep up the good work!

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  5. These are great pointers, Hannah! I can definitely see your point about characters always dying or about the illness being the main focus of the plot. :/

    I've been thinking of giving Aster an illness, to pack on some of the stress as I definitely feel she's lacking in that area. I don't know if it will be chronic, but these are some great tips to keep in mind either way. Thanks for the helpful post, as always. :D

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    1. Aster having a sickness/illness would be interesting! Poor child. She's having a tough time as it is. She definitely needs more pain. =)

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  6. This is such an excellent article! I know of tons of people who would benefit hugely from this.

    Ellie | On the Other Side of Reality

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  7. I agree a lot with the point you made about cancer stories. Many people write stories about cancer and dying. I would like if people wrote more stories about people with different conditions such as Lyme disease (I need to understand what it's like) and Diabetes type 1 *cough, cough* However, I feel that authors without chronic illnesses might mess up facts and people will just end up getting annoyed.

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    1. Yes, authors might mess up the facts. But it's best to try, anyway. If we never act, we'll never know. Besides, if they just take the time to do a bit of research and talk to some people, they should be fine. Research and people-study should be part of the writer's process anyway.

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  8. Great post. All your points are spot on, but I especially like #3... I think there is such a great opportunity to create characters with depth and interest by adding an illness into the mix. However, chronic illness can so easily hijack the story and become a main theme when an ailment in even the smallest of characters is grotesquely effecting their body. That's one of the problems with sick characters in stories... they're usually disfigured, or already near death; it's so often the worst case of fill-in-the-blank that ever was. Because that's when we see it in other people. When the pain is so bad it becomes physical. But it effects so many people who aren't showing the public of the wear and tear on their bodies.

    I think that's where the disconnect is, healthy writers are at a disadvantage in knowing about the regular, everyday effects of chronic pain. And it's not just in a misunderstanding (if it was just that they could do a bit of research, talk to some people who have a disease); it's that they don't even realize they're encountering people everyday who are suffering anything; or when they are suffering. Example, there are times when I'm trying to accomplish something simple (like rearranging a blanket on my legs) and my arthritis is making it difficult or painful to perform the simple task; my husband will be right next to me, watching me... it use to annoy me to an unbelievable degree. I mean, how could he be so careless? To just sit and watch me struggle! But then it dawned on me... he has no clue; because he's healthy his mind doesn't register that the way I'm moving might be painful or hard... they're normal movements for people to make. Of course, anytime I ask for help he's always there; but he can't actually see every time I'm struggling, even when it's unfolding right before his eyes, because so very often it looks like I'm doing what anybody else does with ease. Does without thinking. How does a healthy person write about that?

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    1. Great point/question! I also have dealt with the whole 'invisible pain' thing, so I've often wondered how healthy people would write about it. I've come up with a few ideas:

      1) Don't forget to include healthy characters. These healthy characters can observe the sick character, so we can see both sides of the story: The people who are hurting and the people who only see the tip of the iceberg.

      2) As a healthy writer, steep yourself in the spoonie mentality. And I mean really dig in. Read blogs by people who talk about the social and emotional and mental issues of chronic illness (there are TONS out there). Read books. Talk to other people. I mean, writers often are able to write about mindsets they have little in common with: Serial killers, slaves, people forced into fighting zombies, people forced into marriages, people forced into all kinds of hard situations. While chronic pain is different, the idea of how to write about it is very similar. It just seems more scary because we're afraid to misuse something that is clearly a huge issue to a large population.

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  9. Splendid post!
    #3 and #4 are especially excellent.

    Great timing for these tips! I have a series plotted out about a group of young adults who get dragged to another world and a couple have health issues (one chronic) and obviously no medication in the new place! But only one dies, and the health aspects are not the focus of the story/series... Betrayal, Nobility and Adventure are the main focal points:)
    but it's a good plot thickener, and is more realistic to have these things. And as Tamara and Alyssa mentioned in the comments above, how about a couple heroines in fiction who have their *gasp* monthly misery come upon them while they are out adventuring?

    Oh and I really hate it too when the person always is "healed" at the end of the book, or movie as it sometimes is.

    I have a chronic disease, and my brother has autism, so perfect endings (at least health wise) really annoy me as well.

    I can't stand the sad but angelic ill/pained/crippled characters.
    Beth in Little Women is just pitiful! I'm afraid I never really liked her very much...I know...I'm terrible:) my friends all love her character.
    But Melanie Wilkes in Gone With The Wind is a pretty good example also; I love her though! :)

    And the sour, angry person is just as overdone, though I admit I used this one as a side issue for a young man character in my second western novel. He had both his legs broken in an accident, along with serious nerve and muscle damage. So he was pretty livid he could never work, or support his sister and started drowning his sorrows in whisky. He was a pain in the behind and mean until the hero straightened him up with a good scolding, haha!

    And yes! The illness does NOT have to be the focus of the story! Great point, and that is something I see so often in books and movies too.

    Great job Hannah, I truly enjoy your blog! And I have you and your family written in my prayer journal. :)

    Paige*

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    1. Thank you so much for your prayers, Paige! It means a lot.

      I really like your story idea! I'd love to see more books like that. And the grumpy guy getting a scolding? Awesome. I always feel like those characters need to talk to Edna Mode: "My God, pull yourself together!" *slaps with newspaper*

      I never liked Beth very much either, I'm sad to say. I did enjoy Melanie, though. She had more depth and we did get glimpses of her more human-like side.

      Thanks for the great comment and best of luck with your story! Happy writing.

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  10. What a wonderful article, Hannah! :) I must confess I never contemplated writing a such a character, but theres no denying the potential in it. Thank you for some very excellent suggestions! :)

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    1. Yay! It's always fun to discover a new avenue of writing. Glad you enjoyed the post!

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  11. Wow! I stumbled upon your blog like ten minutes ago and I've already subscribed to your email newsletters, and I can tell I'm gonna be binge-reading it all afternoon.

    This post is fantastic. You give such wonderful advice (plus you should know I admire you so much.)

    I would like to ask you for some advice, if it's not too much trouble. I'm a young writer (15 years old) and I just started up a book that has a girl who recently discovered she has schizophrenia as the main character. Can you give me some tips on how to accurately portray her responses to how it affects her and how to not romanticize it?

    Thanks :)

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    1. I'm so happy to hear that you're enjoying my blog! You have great questions.

      First off, if she discovers that she has schizophrenia in the book, be sure to portray the grieving process that goes with finding out about something like this. First: confusion, then anger, then a frantic scramble to fix it, then depression, then learning to accept it, live with it, and make the best of it. This process can take a long time, but gives a lot of writing material, really fleshes out the character, and is realistic.

      Also, as far as not romanticizing it, it's great that you are already aware that that is an issue. If you know that from a start, you'll be less likely to have problems with it. I'd suggest trying to speak with somebody who has schizophrenia, or at least delving in to some blogs that are written by people who talk about their experiences as having schizophrenia. That will bring it down to the ground, make it more realistic to you, and thus you can make it more realistic to your readers.

      I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions! I'm excited to hear how your story goes. It's awesome that you're tackling this kind of a project. Go you!

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    2. Thank you so much for replying! And thanks for the advice, it helps a lot. I researched it and found some auditory and visual stimulations of what's it's like for someone who has schizophrenia, and it really gave me some perspective on how frightening it really is to deal with it. I found several informational websites and blogs, too. It all helps quite a bit with trying to understand what my character has to go through.

      Thank you for the encouragement! :) All your advice really helps.

      P.S. Haha sorry it must be a little confusing 'cause last time commented as "Unknown" and this time I figured out how to reply with my Google account XD

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    3. That's so great to hear, Hannah! I'm happy that you were able to fine some good research. Sounds like you're going to knock this story out of the park. Go you!

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    4. For more guidance for Hannah Campbell and anyone else who wants to write characters who are disabled, or have chronic illness, or psychiatric labels like schizophrenia and so forth, I strongly urge reading and following the Disability in Kid Lit blog closely (http://DisabilityinKidLit.com) and also their sister blog in Tumblr, http://DisabilityinKidLit.Tumblr.com. These cover a wide range of different disabilities, but many of the tropes that annoy readers who share the same disability cuts across many different conditions. The miracle cure trope being a great example! So the DisabilityinKidLit blogs will help no matter what condition you're going to write into a character. Though obviously you still need to do research into that particular condition beyond the DisabilityinKidLit blogs. The main DisabilityinKidLit blog has things like articles and book reviews and so forth. The Tumblr version has book lists and links to the main blog, but also reblogs things by people with various disabilities about their everyday experiences as disabled people and explaining various disabilities and so forth. You could try searching the tags at both locations to see if any have content on schizophrenia, but a lot of the other content will still be interesting and helpful to read also.

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    5. Thank you so much for sharing this site, Andrea! It looks very helpful. I have tons of books that I now look forward to reading. What an awesome resource! I appreciate it!

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    6. You never get out of the grieving process. You may accept it all one day and think you have come to terms with it, until tomorrow when you have a meltdown and rage against the world and then cry. Get up the next and get on with it. In two days you are severing yourself a dose of self-pity about how terrible your life is to three hours later when you think that this had made you realise the important things. It doesn't have an end point where everything is accepted, that just sounds like everyone lived happily ever after. It never ends, that is the hardest thing about it.

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    7. True, the grieving process never ends, but you can learn to deal with it in a better way. Like you said though, there will be times when you throw that 'better way' out the window and just have a freak out. So no, there is not end point, but it is important to show people that chronic illness does not have to be the end of your life or completely control your emotions. There are ways to combat it, even if not completely.

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  12. One of my characters has a complex (fictional) chronical disease. I do use his disease as a important aspect in his personality, because he suffers so much from it. He gets obsessed with being like everybody else and curing his disease. But he finally learns to accept it, and learns how to fight the symptoms.

    It's not the main focus of the story, but I do wanted to write about the mourning process that comes with learning you have a chronic disease. That means my character does experience depression, self-pity and even anger at some points. But he learns how to get along with it.
    This article was really helpful by the way! :)
    * Sorry for bad language (english is not my native language!)

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    1. This sounds like a great character, Lisa! It's awesome that you are showing the mourning process and allowing your character to show a normal response: depressing, anger, etc. It's even better that you show him learning how to live with it.

      Also, I'm impressed that English is not your native language. You write in English better than many English-speakers do. =D

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  13. In a sci-fi series I am writing, I planned about a year ago to have the lead character in the series suffer from a treatable chronic illness. A few months later, I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. My own diagnosis helped me to understand how my character would psychologically approach his illness.

    These points that you have mentioned are excellent and have given me a few more pointers (in addition to my own personal experience) on how to develop this character within the framework of my story.

    Thanks,
    -Tom

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    1. This is so neat, Tom. I'm sorry that you have Crohn's disease, but it's good to hear that you are using that to better your writing. If I've learned anything about having Lyme, it's that there's usually a way to turn it into something good. Writing is the perfect way to do this.

      I'm glad my post helped! Best of luck with your story. It sounds like it is going to be amazing.

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  14. Great post, and th the comments, too. For writers who don't have any chronic conditions, I think they'd be surprised when they start asking around how many people they know who do have something (or several things).

    I'm my SF series, one of the main characters has terrible migraines. She's the super-tough character, too, a martial arts specialist and mercenary. It's not the focus of the books, but the headaches get worse later as certain stressors do and is all tied to both her backstory and relevant plot-history. It will intersect with the main series arc, and hopefully the readers will be, oooh, now it all makes sense... Until then, unfortunately, I have no problems describing what it's like to have plans and people counting on you and be taken down by your own head, sigh.
    Great article and ideas, here thanks!

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    1. I really like this idea, Nicole! Migraines are scary and disorienting, so it would be a great way to add tension to your character's arc.

      I'll be praying for your migraines to go away. While kind of helpful for your story idea, I'm sure that's not fun. =/ Thank you for the nice comment!

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  15. Remember too, that some chronic illnesses are invisible. It isn't obvious to other people that something is different. I have Temporal Lobe Epilepsy and I can have a seizure in front of someone and they'll never know it unless I say something. I just 'zone' out and seem to be day dreaming, but I'm not. IBS is another 'invisible' one.
    It's also not about the big picture, but the small details. The person going to the coffee shop with friends and asking for plain hot water because their IBS doesn't let them drink tea or coffee. Using their own herbal tea bags or ones they've made themselves from herbs they've grown in their own garden. Turning down an invitation to go to dinner at one place, because theu can't eat the food, but suggesting somewhere else or offering to cook for the friend. Always making sure they have their inhaler handy or checking pollution levels or pollen counts. Having to rush to catch the chemist before they close so they can get their meds. All the little details.

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    1. This is super helpful, Vienne! I agree that the small details are the ones that can really enrich a story. Thank you for the great insight.

      Also, as somebody with an invisible illness (Lyme disease), I am sorry that you are having to deal with some as well. I will keep you in my prayers.

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  16. First of all, I want to thank you for including Tourette Syndrome in your list of chronic illnesses. As someone with Tourette's, I know that it is often overlooked as a chronic illness and mistakenly pawned off as "behavioral".

    I'm currently in the beginning stages of my first novel, and have been debating on whether or not my protagonist will have Tourette's. I was worried that this diagnosis would detract from my plot. This blog post helped me to decide that she will indeed have Tourette's, but that it doesn't need to be a focal point in the story. It is very important for people with chronic illness to see that their illness doesn't have to be the defining facet of their lives.

    Also, the Michael Vey series by Richard Paul Evans is a good example of a protagonist having a chronic illness (Tourette Syndrome) that isn't the focus of the story. Michael Vey has Tourette Syndrome, but it's unrelated to the special electrical powers he has. Richard Paul Evans has Tourette's himself, so he does an excellent job at realistically portraying a character with the disorder.

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    1. This makes me so happy to hear. Not happy that you have Tourette's, but happy that you are taking something unpleasant and using it through your writing to create something unique and thoughtful. Good for you! It makes me proud to stand among follower writers with illnesses who are working to use our problems in an inspiring way.

      I have not read the Michael Vey series, but your description was enough to make me place it on hold at the library. Thank you for sharing! I can't wait to get reading!

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  17. I just found this post now and I only recently started thinking about giving one of my main characters a chronic illness. Because my brother is a Type 1 Diabetic, I was thinking of making my main guy character have it as well.

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    1. This is such a neat idea, Megan! I think that has a lot of really interesting possibilities. If it fits into your story, then yes, go for it! Best of luck!

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  18. I was born with muscles that are weaker than normal. This impacts how I move and speak, so it is not a disability that I can hide from others. My novel has a protagonist with alopecia. At the start of the novel, she runs everywhere she goes. At the midpoint of the novel, she is forced to slow down. This causes her to start to view herself differently. Ultimately, she is able to love herself, even with less than a full head of hair. I never have her wear a wig.

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    1. I am so proud of you, Kelsey! Keep writing what you are writing. It's so important to have awesome characters like this. Thank you.

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  19. What do you think about authors who aren't chronically ill writing characters with chronic illnesses? Honestly, I've thought of this sort of thing before -- that such characters should be included in more works -- but since I'm not chronically ill I'm sort of scared to tackle that issue. Maybe it's just me, but chronic illness makes me feel guilty in a way -- selfish or naive or unjustly privileged for never having to go through that. One of my good friends has epilepsy and severe allergies, and I'm never really sure how to respond when people start talking about that. The rest of our friendship is awesome, though.

    I feel that if I tried to write a chronically ill character, I'd always feel unqualified. What do you think?

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    1. A great question, Faith. I'm glad you brought it up.

      Please, NEVER feel that you are not qualified to write about something simply because you have never been through it. Do not feel guilty because you were lucky enough to get this far in life without health problems. I often notice uncomfortable looks and feelings of guilt from friends of mine who are healthy, and it is painful to watch. Not because it makes me mad, but because I think that people overlook this one big point:

      Chronic illness is just one problem out of hundreds that humans have to deal with. Some have to struggle with broken marriages, the death of a child, PTSD, homelessness, abusive parents. The list goes on and on. Chronic illness simply happens to be a form of suffering that is more obvious and harder to hide than others. Not having had a crushing problem yet does not make you naive or somehow lesser than others. It makes you blessed.

      It also allows you to see some things more clearly than those who are in the middle of it all. So do I think that authors who aren't chronically ill should write characters with chronic illness? YES.

      Never back down from a topic because it looks too hard or because you think somebody else is better fit to take it on. You have the idea, you have the words, you have the calling. Go for it.

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  20. This is a really great post! Thank you! I write films about characters with disabilities here http://cripvideoproductions.com and here http://cripvideoproductions.tumblr.com (feel free to check them out!) and I try my very best to write non stereotypes and make them realistic. After my films were screened in public I discovered I had fans with illnesses like diabetes and they told me their stories and various tricks they use(they said my films made them feel they could talk about it) and gave me permission to use their stories as references for chronically ill characters if I ever choose to write them which I am strongly considering. So I think you are really spot on with the interview idea!

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    1. Wow. I think what you are doing is very cool, Margot! It's great that you are reaching out to people to get their perspective on certain illnesses before putting them on screen. It sounds like you have a great and eye-opening ministry going on. Keep up the amazing work and thank you for the cool comment!

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    2. THANK YOU SO SO MUCH!!!!! I really really appreciate your lovely reply! In case you are wondering, I actually have a physical disability called Cerebral Palsy that I was born with which is part of why I am interested in how people deal with disability and illness. Sometimes I am lucky enough to have people reach out to me entirely on their own. You're welcome! Hope you enjoy the films!

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    3. Hannah, Check this out! I wrote a new film and now I'm casting it here! http://cripvideoproductions.tumblr.com/post/157585455766/a-stroke-of-endurance-casting-call
      Part of the new film was inspired by my chronically ill friends' stories.

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  21. I have a question if it isn't any trouble.

    I have several story ideas that I've been meaning to write that sound really good in my head, but when I go to write them down I feel blank on how best to write it. Do you have any tips on expressing thoughts into writing?

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    1. No trouble at all! Great question. I've had this feeling a lot too and there's pretty much only one way I've been able to fix it: Just write and don't be afraid of getting it wrong.

      Often we feel blank because we're afraid of writing the wrong thing or are fearful that what we type out won't match the good ideas we have in our minds. Just write and rewrite and mold and shape. Something good will show itself. If it doesn't? Just delete it and start over. No, it may not be exactly the way you imagined it in your head, but that's okay. As you continue to write without restraint, you will get better and better and expressing your thoughts.

      The only sure fire way to fail at writing is to not write at all, so just sit down and do your thing. It's that simple and that hard. =D I hope this helps. If not, let me know or ask me more questions. I love hearing from fellow writers!

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    2. That was just what I was looking for!

      Thanks

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  22. This post just caught my eye on Pinterest and I've enjoyed reading it and all the comments. I don't know many ppl with a chronic illness but In real life there are just so many plain and simple health problems that people deal with on a regular bases. Maybe writers could start incorporating some in their writing if their story can't afford investing in a chronic illness but they want to capture that part of real life anyway. Headaches for one, females especially often suffer from frequent headaches and never find a cause or cure. Cramps, also don't magically go away just cause a city needs saving or a dragon needs slaying. Rash, maybe due to a slight unknown allergy, i real life many people are bothered by some form or other of skin irritation, things like that somehow disappear when the world needs saving.

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    1. I agree so much with this! Migraines, cramps, rashes. These are common in normal life, but never show up in books. It would add a good amount of realism, while also causing some interesting problems for the characters to work through. So yes, simple, normal health problems should probably be showing up more in fiction. Great point!

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  23. Headaches! Exactly! I have chronic migraines, and, yeah, they don't go away when something important happens in my life. I've given them to one of my characters, who will have to deal with them while trying to save the world.

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    1. This is a great idea, Nicole! I'd love to see a character fighting to save the world while also working through having a migraine. =) Keep up the awesome work!

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  24. Headaches! Exactly! I have chronic migraines, and, yeah, they don't go away when something important happens in my life. I've given them to one of my characters, who will have to deal with them while trying to save the world.

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  25. This is a great post with very inspiring comments.

    One of my lead characters suffers from chronic illness- it's a fictional disorder for which I still do not have a name. He suffers through it the whole time, and to keep his friends from being concerned about him he keeps so much secret. I guess it's not a 'chronic illness' because he is diagnosed with it and is told he has 10 years to live, and it is slowly killing him (though he doesn't die in the course of the story). He is one of my lead protaganists though the whole time he suffers illness. If it isn't any trouble, I have a question. He tells his best friend who is my lead character that he is sick, but I don't really know how he should tell her- Saying something like "I'm sick" and going on to tell what the illness he has is explain the symptoms seems weak for such a powerful character.

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    1. *and explain not is explain

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    2. I really like this concept! I enjoy characters like that. The inner strength is inspiring to read. As to your question: This kind of character sounds like his way of breaking it to his best friend would be just having an outburst. He goes so long keeping it a secret, then something happens and he just snaps. So it would be something like her probing or him slipping up and then he just yells, "I'm sick, okay? I can't ___" and then he rattles of all of the things he can't do/his symptoms. Of course, if he's not an angry character, he could have more of a mental breakdown where she finds him having a hard time and he just whispers it out in a broken way.

      I hope this helps you out! If you have follow up questions, please let me know. I really like the idea behind this character and am cheering you on!

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    3. Alright-- I think that will work... I'll see how it works in context with the novel. Thanks for your help!

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    4. Yay! I hope it goes well! Let me know if you have any more questions, and be sure to notify me when you become a famous author. =D I want to read this book of yours.

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  26. I have started writing fairly late in my life even though I have always enjoyed writing. I also have MS but have never thought about writing it into a story. Then I saw your suggestions on Pintrest and I had to click on it to make sure you got it right.

    You see, those of us with a chronic illness really DON'T want pity, we really do just want others to treat us as you would anyone else. Sure, we have our days that we would rather pull the blankets over our head and stay there all day but I think everyone has those, right?

    So, if you are going to write a person with a chronic illness into your story, be considerate but not too smarmy about the person. You are correct, don't make it the point of the story unless you are writing a story about people that live with (let's say) MS. And yes, do your research. Find out how normal our lives can be.

    I take a lot of meds and give myself a shot every other day. My hands now tremor so all my notes have to be on my computer as I can no longer read what I wrote. Ask a person with the chronic illness what their normal day is like. Most all of us would be happy to educate.

    So, thanks for this post. I love it. You are extremely considerate to advise other writers on a touchy subject. I love it.
    Julie

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    1. Thank you for the great comment, Julie! I know many writers will find it really helpful!

      I'm so sorry to hear about you having MS. I admire that fact that you are still writing in spite of it. Go you!

      I really appreciate the thoughtful comment. Keep up the amazing work!

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