Q&A

How Do I Portray a Deaf Protagonist Overcoming a Musical Villain?

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The monster villain of my story uses music to hypnotize and kill victims. My protagonist is deaf and loves music, but he’s immune to the hypnotic tune because he can’t hear it. How do I depict this respectfully?

– Anon

Anon,

Thanks for the question! It is great that you are putting in the thought and effort to make a story that is a respectful representation of disability.

Your story idea does go pretty deep into the experience of being deaf. That is going to take a lot of research and, if at all possible, consultation with a deaf sensitivity reader. I have talked about key aspects of representing deafness in this Q&A. That link also has a number of resources that can help get you started.

There is a myth that deaf people can’t enjoy music, and it is great that you are going against this stereotype. Do keep in mind that the way that deaf people experience music is different than hearing people. One useful resource is Touch the Sound: A Sound Journey with Evelyn Glennie. This documentary is about percussionist Evelyn Glennie who is “one of the world’s foremost solo percussionists” and it focuses on her perception of sound as a deaf musician. Also, there are many more resources about this topic online, so you should have a lot of useful information to start with.

With the plot details that you have shared, I have one main concern. This plot is using the Disability Immunity trope. While this trope is intended to be empowering by showing how a disability can be an advantage in certain circumstances, it can actually send a negative message about disability. This is because creating a story focused on a specific circumstance where the main character’s disability is an advantage makes it seem like the character could only be victorious in those circumstances where their disability is helpful. As a result, it implies that the disabled character wouldn’t be victorious in normal circumstances. Focusing on the character’s disability in this way also downplays the role that the character’s heroic qualities, like their cleverness and determination, play in their victory.

Whether a disability-based immunity is a problem or not comes down to how it is done. It is okay for a character’s disability to help them sometimes, as long as it isn’t over emphasized or made into the key to their victory. This means making sure that the character’s disability immunity is only mildly helpful. If the character’s disability helps them overcome some of the challenges in the story, then there also need to be challenges where their disability immunity isn’t helpful. For example, the monster could have other songs that cause direct harm that the main character wouldn’t be immune to.

It is also important to keep in mind that your main character doesn’t need to be immune to the monster’s music at all. There are plenty of ways for them to overcome this challenge with hard work and cleverness that don’t require an immunity.

Regardless of what you decide to do about the character’s disability immunity, it is important for the character’s actions and heroic qualities to be the main cause for each of their major victories. One thing that might be helpful is to really think about the turning point of the story and think about different options for how it can be done.

To conclude, I just want to say that it is great that your story is about music, with your main character being a deaf person who loves music. There is a lot of potential there. However, as you work on the plot, remember that showing that disabled people are equal means that disabled characters don’t need special circumstances to be heroes. We can be heroes under normal circumstances and it is important to show that.

I hope that this helps! Good luck with your writing project,

— Fay from Writing Alchemy

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Comments

  1. Jeppsson

    How about this: There are ways to protect yourself against the hypnotism, but you need to make sure that you neither hear it nor feel the rythm in your body. The MC still has to take some active steps to avoid feeling the rythm, but protecting themself is a bit easier than for hearing people.

    • Tony

      I had a similar idea involving a team of characters taking down a basilisk or cockatrice. The one who’s already blind wouldn’t need the blindfold that the others are wearing, but they’d all probably need hazmat suits (or the magical equivalent) to guard against the creature’s venom.

  2. Kit

    Aha – I think it was a Scottish thing, but the music teachers at my old school adored Evelyn Glennie! That’s a throwback and half.

  3. Ren

    The villain could hypnotize hearing people and make them attack the protagonist or use them as shields. This would provide a problem that the hero can’t solve with their disability, while also keeping the original premise intact.

    • Ren

      Also, a cool idea would be to expand upon the hero’s love of music and make their character a musician. Then, perhaps their musical skills could be used to defeat the villain rather than their disability. I always love a good music battle.

      • Bellis

        That reminds me of an amazing scene in a film I otherwise hated, where a drum player hides beneath the stands in a big stadium where a nazi procession is held and he plays some jazz rhythm or something (don’t know exactly what he played) and caused the marching band to lose count and become totally disorganised and that was a huge embarrassment for this meticulously planned propaganda event!

        Something like this could work against a musical villain as well.

        • Tony

          Out of curiosity, what movie was that?

          • Bellis

            Its English name is The Tin Drum after a 1957 novel by Günther Grass. Apparently it was very well received and won awards and everything, maybe I was a bit too young to appreciate it when we watched it in school? Most of what I remember is that it started with a rape scene played for laughs and some other disturbing and disgusting scenes (which is why I hated it) plus this one that I loved. I don’t remember much about the message and symbolism which we probably analysed in class but that didn’t stick :’)

          • Cay Reet

            I knew this description rang a bell.

            It’s analysed in classes in Germany quite often, because of the setting during the Third Reich.

  4. Dan

    Not “if at all possible,” absolutely mandatory. Any time you’re writing a story that isn’t yours, consulting with people who live that experience is absolutely necessary. No research you do is complete if all you consult is the observations of people outside of that life experience. There are so many books, for example, about autistic characters, written by allistic authors, and they tend to represent us poorly and more often than not waver into outright offensive territory.

    A lot of autistic peeps can tell whether a story is being told with the blessing of actually autistic people. It works the same with other disabilities or any other marginalised group. To not consult a sensitivity reader on such a topic, one invites resistance from members of that marginalisation further down the line, such as when To Siri With Love was published.

    (I’m centring on autism coz that’s where I have most personal experience, but I’ve seen disabled people ripping into so-called rep enough times to insist this is very important.

    If you’ll forgive the earnest outburst

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