Fantasy Disabilities?

Maybe it's because I grew up with Asperger's Syndrome, but I've always been fascinated with stories that feature characters with disabilities. Physical or mental, I don't care much, the idea of the story's hero having something wrong with them beyond the cliche personality problems has always been cool to me. Even better if that disability is fantastic, something interesting and exclusive to the world the story takes place in. I was wondering, has anybody ever written something like that?

I haven't yet, but I had an idea just a few minutes ago that might use someday. In this story, reincarnation is a confirmed, studied, thing. Usually, people's past selves are, I dunno, locked away (I just came up with the idea five minutes ago, okay?!). The main character's disability is that one of his past lives isn't "locked away" with the others, and he is constantly being "replaced" by him. Like, he'll just be going about his day, and then suddenly he'll turn into a loud, violent, soldier, usually reinacting key moment's of that person's life. It's embarrassing, and sometimes dangerous.

Also, while it's not fantastic, my main character in Juryokine got a pretty serious hand injury in the end of the first book, and rather than write it off as "he got better" in the second book, I made some lingering effects of that injury stick around to make life harder for him.

What about you guys?

I have a character with a disability coming up that actually neatly explains a few plot points. I take very special pride in knowing I'm not throwing things in just 'cause they seem neat or new or special without being necessary.

When it comes to fantasy stories, I have more of a preference towards physical disabilities that occur during the course of the story. It forces the world to explain how that disability is actively managed. When it's a blind character who was born blind, I might get a "Oh, she uses a stick," and that's it, or "He hears really well now." The reader's just left to assume that that character knows how to deal with it somehow. But when the writer changes a character to be blind (sticking with that example), suddenly we get an actual explanation of how the person learns to navigate their world, whether it's by using magic or awkwardly grabbing on to a buddy or - yeah - using a stick. We get to appreciate it and be like, "Wow, this impacts the plot!"

I can't stand flavour quirks in general, so this is just me still saying, "If you're going to make me differentiate between your characters in any way that requires me to exert my memory, friggin' make it count. Some of your readers named Tartra have the attention span of a horse. And I know a lot of stupid horses; their memories suuuuuuck."

Both of Antlers's POV characters are mentally ill (Austin has generalized anxiety, Landis has PTSD among a whole slew of things), and it affects pretty much everything about the way they interact with the other main characters. A lot of Austin's anxiety is drawn from my own experiences, actually! I also definitely tend to have the lingering effects of injuries my characters sustain pop up, even though there's only been one or two life-threatening wounds so far. More fantastically, one of the characters in Antlers can't see ghosts, but he can touch them like they're solid objects, which creates a lot of problems for both him and the ghosts who hang out around him.

I'm not a fan of the Eragon books at all, but one thing I did, and still do, like about the second book was Eragon's scar. Its curse made him physically disabled for over half the book, and... I dunno, maybe I'm a sadist, but I liked watching him be in pain like that. It humanized him, made me not see him as the godlike hero that can't be hurt or killed, and it did it without giving him a bad guy to fight. Like, his own body was the bad guy. Maybe I'm weird, but that gets me RIGHT HERE *thumps chest*

@TheAdamBo - Inheritance did not do much right, but that one was a smart sub-plot. I also liked Saphira's semi-colour blindness. It was technically a flavour quirk, but it was actually a flavour and not a substitute for a personality. The no-big-deal-it's-just-fun-trivia things, I like, 'cause I don't have to remember them if I'm not interested and the story doesn't keep expecting me to fawn over the detail. Everything in moderation!

Good chunk of my characters have some type of issue or another going on. Sometimes psychological (sociopathy... paranoia... suicidally psychotic... you'd be a bit messed up, too, if you lived through what I put my characters through), sometimes purely physical (generally genetic- it's a setting where healers can undo just about anything else), often neurochemical and/or brain/body related (autism, social anxiety disorder, got a trans character who'll star in a future book), and sometimes a consequence of using their abilities (which can cause things like clinical depression, schizophrenia and permanently transforming into a creature that's barely humanoid).

To say nothing of a good fight scene and the injuries those inflict. But, again, healers... so those injuries tend toward the temporary...


Sane, rational human beings avoid my setting's "magic system" like the plague, for it is rife with fates ranging from unpleasant to worse than death and they intuitively know it's not worth the Price (hehe) of admission. Which is a great excuse for me to not have to write about them because they're boring- built in filter that lets me focus on the flawed, damaged, and sometimes just plain deranged characters I prefer writing about.

So, in my erotica universe, all adult women on Earth have developed psychic/magic powers. Men, however, do not get any powers of their own. (I won't get into the power set or details, because it's not appropriate for the site, but this does relate to the topic, probably better than most of my other worlds.)

So, the average woman, after a bit of practice, gets very good at using these powers very quickly. Even if she doesn't want to use them, she can usually just "shut them off", so to speak, once she gets a handle on them. A small percentage of women are stronger than average, and even gain special abilities most women don't.

However, a small percentage are the opposite. These women are known derogatorily as "Glitches", and their powers don't function properly. Usually it means they lack certain abilities, or their abilities are very weak compared to the average. This already puts them at a disadvantage in the world, some more so than others depending on the nature of their Glitch.

However, one of my more recent stories dealt with a woman whose powers were actually very strong, but she had the Glitch condition of not being able to reign in her energy. Because of this, she was forced to live on the edge of a middle-of-nowhere town, as her magical aura overwhelmed anyone who came near her. She still had to make periodic trips into town, but had to do so quickly, and the town grew increasingly resentful of her presence, until they finally snap and try to figure out a way to kick her out. Technically, her Glitch condition didn't harm herself directly, but because it forced her into a isolated existence, she suffered from that isolation, including losing her husband and son.

Interestingly, as something of an outsider in her own hometown, she had a somewhat unique perspective on just how screwed up her society had become thanks to the corrupting influence of the magic. She acknowledges that without her "disability", she'd have likely become just as casually abusive with the power as most of the women in her hometown.

I think fantasy disabilities really help to give a character real personality and also is helpful from a writing perspective. Most disabilities are almost instant conflict generators which really helps if you've run out of ideas. And also perfect people are boring. It is challenge and how they overcome that give characters their own personality and flavour.

My personal favourite in this regard is Thomas Covenant with his leprosy. How he deals with it, how he deals with its loss, how he tries to escape it, give him humanity and shows his character, and also makes for fascinating reading as you learn about all the ways leprosy f**ks you up.

It's fair to say that a number of my characters are "messed up". It's a future where people consider reaching 40 an achievement because of how common suicide is. The opening sets the tone better than anything I could add here (for those who don't want to click the link, it's basically a dirge (set to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata) wishing for the end of the world...)

For a more specific example, I presently have someone in the midst of a dissociative breakdown, which is fun (not really), and involves her using multiple names/aliases depending on her actions, sometimes even switching them about in the same paragraph. This includes a whole chapter of anachronistic dream sequences for added confusion. It will later involve possession.

More general issues include: depression; narcissism; separation anxiety; Oedipal and messiah complexes; aforementioned suicide; panic attacks, bi-polar and borderline disorders, schizophrenia...

On the plus side, Science! has at least ensured most physical illnesses and disabilities are of little to no concern. This includes dying.

And there are people who think us learning that "magic and faeries are real" would be fun!

One of my characters in Delvers has PTSD and suicidal impulses after a divorce. He has a brief mental breakdown after being given proof that people suck even on other worlds.

I think that counts.

So it's seeming like a trend around mental health and the more unseen disabilities (as in, on a really or explicable good day, the average person in the story couldn't tell something was different about that character). What the hell does that say about us? :P

Well. It's kinda hard to write a story with a character that's literally unable to interact with the world around them in any meaningful way unless you're aiming for the the book to be focused solely about the disability.

Which is fine, if that's what you're going for, but generally that sort of story needs to be told as close to nonfiction as possible. Because, The Miracle Worker was a great story to tell... but something tells me the story wouldn't have worked as well if Annie Sullivan was a fairy godmother.

Plus, frankly, the vast majority of mental disabilities, at least, are such that it truly is almost impossible for someone to notice there's something wrong with them without spending a lot of time on it.

Hollywood mental illnesses where OCD is somehow "fun and quirky" be f-ing damned. It's the disease responsible for more suicides than any other thing... it shouldn't be turned into a joke.

Trying to make up an ailment inflicted a character is rather tough or at least I find it is. I've not done it yet and my current universe there honestly isn't a good place for something I've made up completely verse my taking something real world and applying it to a fantasy world.

In my current story I'm posting, the character Mien has essentially has PTSD and he suffers from anxiety from it. Of course I don't use those labels in the story because it is fantasy and given that the main characters are elves and mental disorders are rather rare so they don't exactly have any sort of labeling for that. The only thing they can do is counseling.

And then there is the main character Theris in an upcoming novel to be posted actually has a physical disorder. Well what they would considered a physical disorder in his would. He's essentially asthma and while this isn't magical at all and honestly probably pretty odd for an elf to have asthma but that's is kind of why I did it. It's a birth defect and I didn't want him to easily fight his way out of a situation and there are several points in the story where this actually makes things hard for him to deal with something happening. It also makes him feel inadequate and it annoys him to no end when people treat him like a "piece of blown glass." He's quite the character and I can't wait for when I get started on his story.

@LadyAnder - This is gonna sound like a trap, but I swear it's honest ol' curiosity: how consistently do you bring out his asthma (we're gonna quietly acknowledge that you said it's not exactly asthma and then go right on back to calling it that for simplicity's sake)? Do you use it more as a dramatic effect, or do you have something written down to say, "When this character gets to X level of exertion, that's when it kicks in"?

I do notice that handicapped superheroes tend to have super powers that mitigate their handicap. Daredevil is blind, but has radar sense and enhanced other spaces and balance/agility that gives him superhuman sensing beyond any sited person. Prof X can't walk, sometimes, but his mind can travel in ways no human can. Characters who lose limbs tend to immediately get them replaced with robotic limbs that come with custom built-in weapons and other gadgets. It's almost like a physical disability is an avenue to powers in and of itself.

Along this line of thought, I'm suddenly reminded of a similarly themed character I made up, but haven't used in anything for a while. A girl named Usagi, who is a blind-deaf-mute-psychic-gunslinger-ninja-assassin. Can't see, hear, or speak, but has telepathy/psychic broadcasting, and powerful ESP, so she can "aim" and shoot someone from a mile away without turning around, can't be snuck up on, can experience sight and sound, and speak, via telepathy, etc. So, you know, unless she gets hit with a power-neutralizing device/element that shuts off her psychic abilities, she's considerably more capable than most able bodied people.

I had an idea for a superhero once called Grasshopper who's legs are lame, but he has a set of robotic braces that let him walk, and they're so strong that he can... well... leap tall buildings in a single bound.

... also, he was crippled by his old martial arts master, who called him "Grasshopper," so that's where his name came from.


How realistic wil this chracter probably be? Because I can definitely see him jumping tall buildings, just that the landing would break him.

Uh... comic book realistic? About as realistic as saying a guy could get hit by an atomic bomb and end up turning into a rampaging green monster whenever he got angry?

No. The jump would be identically harsh, if not worse, than the landing. They did this experiment on mythbusters using a seesaw and some blobs of meat. Of course, the magic of comics doesn't care about real physics... but as far as physics are concerned, all forms of acceleration have an identical effect on the body. Sudden starts are just as deadly as sudden stops.

@TheAdamBo - So something, something, 'really strong leg braces that fix most of the problem', right? Would that effectively take care of his disability, or would you keep following it to say he still gets stuck sometimes because the braces are bulky or heavy or... something like that? What's the plan? :D