1. Oswiecenie
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    Oswiecenie Active Member

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    Writing a deaf character

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Oswiecenie, May 21, 2014.

    One of my leading characters is deaf and mute and I'm looking for a way to show that to the reader without explicitly mentioning that she is deaf, uses sign-language etc. She is not a POV character, so things are kind of tricky. Any help is much appreciated.
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    google is your best friend... do a search for 'novels with deaf mute characters' and you'll see how it's been done... you can then choose a method that works best for your book...
     
  3. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    As someone with hearing loss, I am glad you asked! :D

    She may not be a POV character, but keep these in mind:

    Whatever anyone is saying, she can't hear it.
    So if one of your main characters is revealing an important plot point that is relevant t her, he/she has to know that she can't hear it, so they'll have to sign to her if they want her to know what's going on. You could write it out like so:

    "Do you understand what to do?" Alex signed to her, "We're meeting at the Oak's Grave tomorrow at nine in the morning."
    "Yes, but one question," Amelia signed back, "why are we meeting at a graveyard of all things? Are we looking for a ghost or something?"
    Alex shrugged. "I don't know," he signed. "I think Paul wanted us to see something there."

    I put quotes around the words to indicate that although they're using their hands to communicate, it's still considered speaking. That's how the deaf talk to each other. Hence the term "Sign Language."

    Personally, if I were with a group of friends, and we had a deaf person with us, at least one of us, or all of us would be signing for the deaf person to follow. I also imagine the rest of the group would want to talk, so here's how I would do it.

    "Do you understand what to do?" Alex signed to her, "We're meeting at the Oak's Grave tomorrow at nine in the morning."
    "Yes, but one question," she signed back, "why are we meeting at a graveyard of all things? Are we looking for a ghost or something?"
    Alex shrugged. "I don't know," he signed. "I think Paul wanted us to see something there."
    Jill cleared her throat, "Alex, should I take my car or yours?"
    "How about her car?" Alex told Jill, his hands continuing to sign out the words.
    "Sure!" Amelia signed back with a grin. "You can take my car. I'll get it gassed up!"
    "Excellent!" Alex signed to Amelia with a smile.

    Just because she's deaf doesn't mean she can't get involved with group activities.

    Closed-Captioning is her Friend.
    You know the words that appear on the screen? That's closed-captioning. It's how the deaf can watch TV and know what's going on in the show. She'll want this. You could show her watching a TV show with that on, and maybe she signs to one of her friends?

    Just outright say she's deaf.
    Look, deafness is a subtle disability. It's not like blindness where you have a dog/white stick and sunglasses that all practically scream "BLIND PERSON PRESENT" To anyone else, a deaf person could be a regular person who is being rude to them. Not many people know the ins and out of being deaf like they would with being blind (just close your eyes and walk around and you'll get an idea.) So just outright say she's deaf. You could do it like so:

    "Why is she doing the hand things?" Alex asked, enthralled at the speed the woman's fingers seemed to move.
    "Because she's deaf," Jill said flatly. "She can't hear anything."

    If anything else, people know what the word 'deaf' implies, so just use that and they'll get the message.

    As for her muteness...

    Again, sign-language will be her best tool for communication. If it's not that, she can always text/email like everyone else does these days.

    Above all else...
    She's just like anyone else in your story, she just can't hear and talk.

    Good luck! :D

    EDIT:
    Just out of curiosity, is she part of what is considered 'Deaf Culture' with a capital 'd'? If so, here is what I've gathered from looking it up on Wikipedia, and note, this is the Deaf Culture in general and painfully paraphrased. Research into this is mandatory if she (or any other deaf character of yours) is part of the Deaf Culture.

    In general, they take pride in Deafness. They don't consider it a disability at all, as something that could be fixed with cochlear implants or a hearing aid (or two). They absolutely reject the idea of oral therapists because it implies 'there is something wrong with you, and we are here to help you fix it.' They don't even want to consider it. They're Deaf and damned proud of it.

    Now, with that said, there are a lot of things from Deaf Culture that even I, as a severely hearing-impaired person would agree with it. The bone-headed obvious of treat others with respect, regardless of who they are, or what they've got, etc. Yet I don't consider myself part of the Deaf Culture because I recognize that what I have is a condition that I fixed with hearing aids and an oral therapist.

    Again, painfully generalized and paraphrased, but that's what I've gathered just to give you a heads-up in case you considered having her be part of the Deaf Culture. If she isn't, then feel free to ignore it. :D
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2014
  4. Oswiecenie
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    Oswiecenie Active Member

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    Thanks a lot for your insights, very helpful indeed :) One more question, does deafness have a negative impact on the sense of balance?

    She isn't (in fact, I wasn't even aware that Deaf Culture existed until now), but she doesn't have any plans to get hearing aids, implants or therapy either. I'll have a look at it though, sounds interesting.
     
  5. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Balance is regulated by a little system in your ears known as the vestibular. So long as that system isn't damage, your balance won't be affected. So no, deafness doesn't always have a negative impact on the sense of balance. Deafness is mainly caused because something in the hearing process was damaged or was altered in some way either via injury, severe illness (I mean severe illness, like the one Helen Keller had when she was a baby) or a birth defect. Typically, though, it's due to injury or a birth defect. My hearing issues is because the three little bones behind my eardrums are deformed. Not so much that I'm in complete silence, but enough that I'm half-deaf and require a hearing aid.

    And you're welcome. :D Glad I could be of help.
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2014
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  6. kburns421
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    kburns421 Member

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    Disclaimer: I am not deaf or hearing impaired, neither is anyone I am close to. My knowledge of deafness and Deaf Culture is based on four years of American Sign Language in high school. I'm not an expert, but I might be able to give you a few ideas.

    First off, I don't really see why you don't want to state it explicitly. I mean, that's not an emotion or a fear or something internal. It's simply a part of her, like the fact that she is a female. If she is going to communicate with other characters, I don't see how you can get around mentioning that she uses sign language (assuming she does use it, rather than writing/typing and lip reading).

    However, to actually answer the question, Link made good points. Even if she doesn't consider it a disability, her deafness IS going to affect certain things in her life, and you can use that. If she's facing another direction, people won't be able to get her attention just by speaking or shouting. People who don't know she's deaf will likely think she's just being rude when she accidentally ignores them. People who do know about it but aren't close to her might treat her either rudely or extra nice (Don't be fooled, both of those can be condescending. If she sees herself as a fully-capable person and doesn't see deafness as a disability, she won't want to be given special treatment or treated like she has a disability. If she sees herself as a victim, then she might like that treatment.). She won't notice or be distracted by noises like TVs, cars, etc.; she's only going to notice something going on if other people are looking at it, pointing at it, or running toward it. In heated moments, even her friends might get distracted and forget to sign things for her, leaving her confused. If she lip reads, she might get the wrong information or less information because lip reading is difficult, strangers might do the whole exaggerated over-pronunciation thing which only makes it even harder, and she will probably look at people's lips more so than a hearing person would. She might always keep pen and paper with her to write things in order to communicate. Her house would likely having flashing lights or vibrations to replace door bell and alarm clock sounds. Even though she can't hear music, she could still feel vibrations if it's loud enough. Deaf people still make sounds, they're just not words, unless she has a further medical reason for being mute and is unable to even make any noise. She will rely a lot on facial expression and body language.

    This is basically just what I can think of off the top of my head and definitely not a comprehensive list. And your characters actions/thoughts are going to depend on whether she considers herself to have a disability or not, whether she considers herself to be deaf or Deaf, as Link said, whether she knows ASL or not, whether she has deaf parents, etc. If she is a leading character, I would suggest doing some research, maybe even trying to find forums, stories, or books written by deaf people to get a sense of how hearing people treat them or even just what their everyday lives are like. I think that kind of applies to any group of people though who has a trait different from what you have. There are always the little things we don't even realize other people do/think/feel/experience/struggle with. That's where research comes in handy, and that's where I think you'll find ways to show rather than tell.
     
  7. Oswiecenie
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    Oswiecenie Active Member

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    That's actually the first thing I looked up when researching deafness. I think music is the most wonderful thing on this planet and it's great that people are actually able to enjoy it even without hearing it in the conventional sense.

    Anyway, thanks a lot for your post :)

    No offense, but I really don't get the purpose of this message. Nothing you can find on the internet or in other novels is even remotely as useful as the accounts of people who actually have personal experience in one way or another.
     
  8. Azurisy
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    Azurisy Member

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    If you wouldn't mind, I am a very severely deaf person. Feel free to ask my any question.:)
     
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  9. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I also have a deaf character in an upcoming story, so since this is on-topic, I figured I'd ask my questions in this thread instead of starting a new one. So far I haven't been able to find definite answers with Google.

    The thing I'm wondering about is how people who have been born deaf experience/understand music? I know there are plenty of deaf musicians out there, like Evelyn Glennie, a highly sought-after professional percussionist/drummer, but she started losing her hearing at age 8 and became fully deaf at age 12, so by then she had already heard a lot of music.
    Furthermore, Glennie is a percussionist, so she doesn't have to worry about pitch as such whereas, say, a guitarist would have to be able to tune their instrument. The challenge with my character is that the story takes place a few centuries in the past, so she can't rely on an electronic tuner or anything like that.

    I'm wondering if a person could learn to feel the vibrations of an instrument so accurately that they could actually distinguish it when the instrument, e.g. a lute, is out of tune, which notes are being played etc? Could their ability to feel the vibrations be so accurate that to them it would be like hearing the music? E.g. if they only touched the lute's body while someone else played a chord, could they tell from the vibrations which chord is being played?
    I started thinking about this when I was noodling around with my acoustic guitar and could feel it vibrating differently when I played E string vs. when I played the A string etc.

    My idea would be that the character has been born deaf but that she has still learned to understand music and is actually a pretty good gigging lutist, able to tune the instrument herself, notice when it goes out of tune, and perform in taverns, festivals etc. just like any other musician.

    If that's possible, my idea was that her brother, who can hear, would have tuned her lute when she was just starting out so that she learned to tell how a tuned lute's vibrations feel like, and that over the years, she would've learned to distinguish the vibrations so clearly, she could tell when it's out of tune and if so, which string is out of tune and whether it's sharp or flat.
    In a way this seems an easier thing to learn than singing since as long as the instrument is in tune, it will sound just like anyone else's playing as long as the player plays the correct notes.

    If that's unrealistic, I could of course change the character so that she can hear the first few years of her life, up until, say, age 10 or so since nothing's written in stone yet. I just figured that if she was born deaf, her understanding of music would have provided a more unique perspective.
     
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  10. Azurisy
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    Azurisy Member

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    As a deaf person, I hardly listen to music. However, my imagination is great, such that I can 'hear' the sounds even when watching TV that is on mute. In 80% of the cases of unheard sounds, my imagination proves correct and accurate, as I test-hear them.

    Please note that the person's other abilities that may supersede hearing in most walks of life, is subject to the level of family and friends support, wealth and luxuries of lifestyle.

    Have I satisfied your question?

     
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  11. Oswiecenie
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    Oswiecenie Active Member

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    Thank you :) I'll just pm you whenever I have a question, if that's alright.
     
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  12. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    For the most part, yes, thank you. :cool:

    What I'm still wondering is how does it affect her perception of music if she's been deaf from birth and has never heard a single sound, much less music: how would she grasp the concepts of pitch, melody, harmony, tone etc?

    I'm basing this just on my own thoughts, but perhaps, since different notes resonate in different places of the body (e.g. lower notes seem to resonate higher and deeper in the chest whereas higher notes appear to resonate closer to the stomach... which is contrary to what I would have expected, actually) and hence feel different, she could gain some understanding of pitch from that, providing her with the tools to understand the concept of melody by stringing different combinations of such "resonances" together.

    Of course I can bypass all that if I write her to have lost her hearing after she has actually heard music, speech, bird song etc, things that provide her with a solid understanding of pitch. In that case, all she really needs is to practice a lot, at first with her brother's guidance. For instance, he could explain to her which notes on the lute's neck produce a major or minor harmony when combined with certain other notes. From there on, she wouldn't need even his help except with tuning.

    The reason why I'd prefer the first option (born deaf) is because I've never seen it done before. I'm sure someone has already written about it, but at least a quick googling didn't yield any results, so that would be more original. Usually we see stories about musicians who lose their hearing over the course of their careers.

    However, the latter option would also be much more difficult for me to portray accurately because I want to do justice to the character and her experience. Having never heard a single sound is such an alien concept to me that I have a hard time imagining what it would be like: I've played the guitar for almost three decades, so I constantly hear music in my head.
    Maybe it's like trying to understand what it would be like to have been blind from birth and then trying to understand concepts like colors.

    I wonder if she would do something like substitution: I've heard that some blind people associate feelings to their ideas of colors. For instance, when they think about warm colors, they think about heat, or if they think about cold colors, they associate it with cold etc.
    Maybe the resonance-thing is like that: her associating physical sensations to notes, i.e. E1 feels like this while A3 feels like that etc. since when playing the lute, it would be pressed against her chest, resonating in her body.

    I predict lots of research in my future. :D
     
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  13. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Just out of curiosity, Azurisy, how do you feel about books where the disabled character makes fun of his/her own disability? Overdone?

    I'm thinking this because one of the things the OP could do, if he wanted to show that she doesn't really see herself as disabled, she could make fun of her deafness. Like say she is informed of a plan she thinks is stupid, so she ignores it and does what she thinks is the best idea. Turns out it works, and the others ask her. She could reply with (via sign language or written), "Oh, you were planning to do that instead? Huh, guess I didn't hear it." Or if she saw that someone was uncomfortable around her because she was deaf, she gives them a hard time about it.*

    Of course, this depends on her personality. I like to make fun of my own hearing impairment a lot, even using it to my advantage when I don't want to hear someone (even going as far as switching my hearing aid off a time or two.) She probably wouldn't give two thoughts about it. Entirely up to her personality.

    * This also brings up something else in my mind: Just as there are people who would mistakenly think she was rude, there are those who would tread lightly around her out of fear of offending her. This is because they would never have met a deaf person, so they're not really sure how to act around a deaf person. If they had heard of Deaf Culture, they probably might assume she is from Deaf Culture and treat her accordingly. This would create conflict, especially if she wants to be treated like anyone else, but here is this person tiptoeing around her like she were fragile china glass.

    There are also people who are so ignorant that they think that all you have to do to communicate to a deaf person is to *yell louder* and over-exaggerate your mouth movement. I had that happen once. Thinking back on it, I wish I could've replied with dramatic arm motions and say, "No, me not under-stand you. Me walking there presently." just to see their reaction.

    Hope that helps! :D
     
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  14. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    I, too, have a story involving a hearing impaired person. It was triggered from 'real life', as my stories always are. In this case, I have always been curious to learn new things and many, many years ago, I took classes to learn ASL (American Sign Language is the most common sign language used in the world but, by far, not the only one!) Years later, it was my honor and privilege to get to know a woman whose parents were hearing impaired. So she grew up with sign language as a second language to her. In later years, after years of service in the Army during WWII, she became an interpreter for the hearing impaired and has been awarded many commendations worldwide as well as being a keynote speaker at conferences and symposiums around the globe as well. Among her latest, and perhaps least auspicious, commendations was for being the oldest working sign language interpreter in the world. She used to insist there was a woman older than she but that was a few years ago and, at 93, I think she holds that honor on her own now.

    She is also an incredibly wise and witty writer. Norma has given me a bit of a peek behind the curtain, allowing me a few insights into the world of deafness. She tells tales of "experiences in sign language" that moved me to write my own tale. Oh, yeah. And some hearing impaired prefer to speak and they choose to lip read whenever possible, though some people have such poor diction and/or accents that it creates quite a challenge for the hearing impaired person. Another curious note, studies have shown that women, particularly with children, have a greater ease in learning to lip read.

    Truth is, a person who uses sign language as their primary form of communication is really no different (as far as communication skills) than anyone using any other language - Japanese, Russian, English, German... It's all the same bag of tricks. Not everybody is going to understand the language you 'speak'.

    Just my tuppence, fwiw.
     
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  15. Azurisy
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    Azurisy Member

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    That's a good and interesting question.

    I am a deaf person that uses hearing aid and cochlear implant.

    When I was very young, before getting overridden by social norms and expectations, I used to fancy and objectify about my hearing disability, such as hearing aids. I cannot imagine what it feels like reading those books about the disabled character, since I have grown up in a mainstream society, and not very closely knit with the deaf community. However, there were issues such as inferiority complexity - that is the key thing. Still however, the foremost issue, due to my lack of acquaintance with the deaf community, is the fear and slight loathing whenever I see a deaf person around.

    Nevertheless, it is equally interesting and noteworthy to say that, being deaf makes me special and unique, whilst situated in the non-deaf world as insofar. I think, no matter whether I am deaf or normal hearing person, it is this very individual contrast and uniqueness to the society at large, that makes this person feel happier, unique and special. As this is the case, I think, being disabled but continuing to be a high achiever, is what establishes the person's sense of uniqueness and specialty. Being disabled alone is usually detrimental to self-esteem; being a high achiever alone simply compares to being an average person; however, being disabled and high achiever is a self-referential example of heroism.

    I hope that this is very interesting. Do you find that really insightful?
     
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  16. Azurisy
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    Azurisy Member

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    Yes, why not!
     
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