Character Flaws

A character’s flaws are not always visible. For example, a hearing loss will not show unless the individual is wearing a hearing aid. Because of this, no one meeting the person for the first time, or even the tenth time, will suspect a thing unless the individual repeatedly asks for clarification.

Mental and emotional disabilities are the same. There is no physical sign that indicates that a person is suffering or unstable. Unless, of course, the person is staggering around talking to himself.

But on first meeting a person, we would not know if she was bipolar, suicidal or developmentally disabled. It would take heart-to-heart talks and even then the information might not be revealed.

How do you write about a character who’s disability is not visible? You show it by building it in slow degrees. Perhaps some element is disclosed in a casual conversation. Or maybe the character comes right out and admits that he is deaf.

Jennifer Niven, who has published several YA books, expertly handles the invisible disabilities. Read All the Bright Places or Holding up the Universe. In both books you meet characters who are suffering. In the first book, both protagonists hurt inside. One, Finch, tends to “disappear” or “sleep” when his anxieties take over his life. The other, Violet, is depressed over the death of her sister. But we don’t learn these things in the first chapter. Niven slowly develops the characters’ flaws through the things they say, do, and think.

Your task is to write a scene in which a character has an invisible disability. Before you begin, do some research into that disability. Find out how it manifests itself and how it affects life. Then make a list of things your character would say or do based upon your research.

Then tell her story.

Have fun with this one.

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