I’ve decided to include a character with schizophrenia in my story. I have schizophrenia, and I’ve decided that I want one of my contributions to the world to be a depiction with a character with my condition in a speculative story that isn’t terrible. I have a good and growing understanding of schizophrenia and the plethora of problematic schizophrenia tropes to avoid (i.e. all of them) but in my experience, just using the word “schizophrenia” makes a long and circular explanation about why they shouldn’t freak out, given in the candied voice of death that every retail worker has mastered. So, avoiding those stigmas is hard.
I find myself unsure of whether I should lean towards explicitly contradicting stereotypes by having my character defy expectations within their story, or if I might be able to pull off a positive example in which real world stigmas aren’t included in the story. Also, I know that my experience is limited, and I want to fix my mistakes before they do any damage, so could you please point me to where can I find disability consultants? Thank you for your time.
Hello Emma, thanks for writing in!
This is both an exciting and challenging project. It seems to me that there are three related issues wrapped up in your question:
- Whether to have confronting stigma be part of the plot of your story.
- How to deal with all of the stereotypes that readers bring with them, which will affect how they interpret your story.
- How to find a disability consultant who can help you with your project. I’m going to go through each of these individually.
In order to decide whether you want stigma to be part of the plot, you will want to decide what the focus of your story is. What is the one thing you most want people to get out of reading this story? This “one thing” is your focus and it will determine the best way to handle stigma within your story. For example, if your focus is creating a positive depiction of a character with schizophrenia, then it would be great to have a world without stigma that shows readers a better way to do things. Alternatively, if you want to show how harmful stigma is, then having your character struggling against stigma would be important. A disability consultant with knowledge about storytelling structure could help you figure this piece out.
The second issue is dealing with the stereotypes that readers bring with them. This involves being aware of stereotypes specific to schizophrenia, as well as knowing broad stereotypes that commonly come up in disability representation. Even if stigma is not part of your plot, there are many ways to address these stereotypes. Sometimes that involves directly contradicting a stereotype, but it can also involve being explicit about what is happening in the story so that the stereotype is not being reinforced. For example, there is a stereotype about disabled people being bitter about their disabilities. That stereotype could be directly contradicted by creating a cheerful disabled character. Alternatively, that stereotype could also be addressed by having a disabled character that is bitter about the ableism they face, but who is explicitly shown to not be bitter their disability itself.
The third issue is finding a consultant that is a good fit for you. If you feel comfortable bringing in your personal experience and research on the representation of schizophrenia, then a consultant with broad knowledge about stereotypes, disability representation, and writing could be a good fit for you. A good place to start looking for someone with those skills is my list of Disability Consultants for Geeky Projects. I pulled this list together specifically because it can be hard to find consultants and I was getting questions from people looking for consultants for specific things.
However, if you want a consultant who has personal experience with schizophrenia, then your best option would be to search the internet for “schizophrenia sensitivity reader” or ask around in disability-focused social networking groups. When interacting with folks in groups, be sure to follow each group’s code of conduct and let folks know that this is a paid project.
I hope that this helps and gets you going in a good direction!
Fay from Writing Alchemy