Disabilities in romance!?

20 Jun

I’m currently doing edits on the second book in my new paranormal series and the heroine has a disability. I didn’t exactly plan it that way at first but when I started to develop her character and round out her quirks, well…there it was. It’s who she is. It doesn’t define her, she doesn’t let it dictate to her, but it’s an integral part of how she came to be the person she is. As I look at layering the book further to bring out more of this characterization, I started wondering about disabilities and how they’ve been represented in other romance novels over the years. The first that comes to mind are JR Ward’s The Black Dagger Brotherhood series. There’s a blind king and a warrior with an amputation for starters. Are there any other books that stand out? That have made an impression?

As a writer, this provides a great opportunity to explore the character and some unique scenarios, providing an added level of richness and depth if handled correctly. I’m not going to give away exactly what disability my heroine has because it’s kind of a surprise as the story unfolds, but it doesn’t weaken her, it doesn’t make her a victim. In fact, it’s hardened her to others somewhat and it’s actually made her a stronger person. By the end of the book she’s also finally able to come to terms with her situation. Of course, the book is a fast paced paranormal read so this doesn’t get a lot of page time, but it is a critical piece in understanding my heroine. I do wonder though how readers will perceive this.

So what do YOU think about disabilities and how they’re represented in romance?

12 Responses to “Disabilities in romance!?”

  1. acm05 June 20, 2012 at 9:33 am #

    Well, they’re definitely under represented. When they do occur they tend to be the “easier” ones to deal with like blindness (I’ve read several too) or PTSD (all those returning alpha SEALS, etc.). I may have read one with a temporarily wheel chair bound character, but it didn’t deal with the less romantic aspects that go with being wheelchair bound.

  2. shannonemmel June 20, 2012 at 9:42 am #

    Katie McAlister comes to mind.

    The heroines in her Dark Ones series are physically flawed in some way. One had a permanent limp that was a result of an abusive relationship. If I recall correctly, she broke her leg in a car accident and her “husband” held her prisoner instead of taking her to have the injury properly set.

    It didn’t hinder her actions but her past experience left a permanent reminder that definitely colored her emotional state when it came to relationships and men in general.


    • shannonemmel June 20, 2012 at 9:46 am #

      Almost forgot… I liked the fact that her characters are not “perfect”. It makes them easier for the average person to relate to… makes them more “real”.

      Disabilities in romance are not common, but if done with care, it can definitely enhance the story and the reader’s emotional investment in the character…


  3. mywithershins June 20, 2012 at 9:53 am #

    Kudos to you! I work with special needs students and understand the difficulties when it comes to a physical disability. I also have a friend with MS and a friend who suffered a stroke a few years ago. My friend with MS had a husband who did not know how to deal with her disability and instead, complained about handprints on the walls where she needed it for support. She has since dumped the jerk and found a lovely man who is kind and supportive and, so I’ve heard, is wonderful in bed! My other friend is still married to her high school sweetheart who loves her unconditionally. I am very glad that there are authors out there willing to explore this line of story telling because persons with disabilities need romance, too! 🙂

  4. Kate Rothwell June 20, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    I don’t see many disabilities in contemporary romance but a bunch of historicals I’ve read have heroines/heroes with disabilities — one by Nancy Butler and a couple by Balogh have seriously ailing heroines who can’t walk (they get better though). And there are a few guys without arms, usually courtesy of the Peninsular War.

  5. nancyg5997 June 20, 2012 at 9:59 am #

    When I read the title here, two authors came to mind-Vivian Arend and Nikki Duncan. Vivian’s first book dealt with a wolf shifter who A) was deaf and B) didn’t know she was a wolf. Talk about life complications there. I felt that Vivian was able to handle the situation well, and not make the disability the major focus or an obstacle. And the blind operative in the first of Nikki Duncan’s Sensory ops series was strong and capable in spite of his blindness.

  6. donnaalward June 20, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    I’ve written one – an amputee. He was one of my fave heroes ever. I’ve written about “wounded” characters quite often, including a breast cancer survivor who didn’t undergo reconstruction.

    I think they are hard to write on one hand, but easier on others because a lot of times the disability comes with conflict built in – like insecurities and finding ways around limitations.

  7. wolphcall June 20, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    I also find that disabilities are under represented & the ones used are mostly physical disabilities. PTSD is also used often in military romances. As the mother of two children who have autism, I can tell you that there is a huge world of developmental disabilities that are rarely if ever explored.

    • shannonemmel June 20, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

      I’ve seen several where there is a child with a disability and how that influences the hero/heroine’s life and the evolving romance between them.

      It makes for a very moving story-line. I’ve read stories with children who are mentally, physcially and/or psychologically challenged.

      It’s out there…the stories are very memorable and quite moving.


  8. joderjo June 20, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

    As a quadriplegic for almost my entire life I go out of my way to find books featuring disabled characters. In my opinion there aren’t near enough. I’ve read some in the historical genre like Annie’s Song by Catherine Anderson, the Mary Balogh titles others have mentioned etc. Justine Davis has some old HTs featuring disabled characters in the contemporary genre too. For the most part I feel that the author does a respectable job of presenting the reality of our lives, but what truly annoys and enrages me is when the character is miraculously cured. It gives the impression that the characters can’t have a HEA unless they’re cured.

    Considering the large number of disabled people in the world, we’re greatly underrepresented in books.

  9. naramalone June 21, 2012 at 6:53 am #

    Interesting. My heroine in Blind Heat is face blind. The fact sets up the conflict and how she has to grow throughout the book. It’s a little known and rare disability and that was one of my reasosn for going there. I know I was so grateful to discover articles about the disability that explained my struggle to recognize even close family members. It led me to understanding my condition even though there wasn’t a cure. When I wrote the book it was with the hope of helping others understand the world through Allie’s eyes and at the same time, possibly give others who suffer from the same thing undiagnosed, an answer as to what is wrong with them.

    I agree with Joderjo, that disabilities are underrepresented, and personally I like reading about people who aren’t the Hollywood ideal of physically perfect. I really love reading romances where a disabled heroine still finds a wonderful hero to love her.

  10. Brandi Evans June 21, 2012 at 9:37 pm #

    Honestly, I like it. Of course I love a tortured, almost broken hero, LOL. Does that make me weird?

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