Writing a Deaf Character
Anonymous asked writing-questions-answered: I have been writing for quite a bit now and have recently started a new story. The main character in this story uses sign language to communicate. What do you think is the best way to represent this?
The best way to represent sign language in a novel is to just say that a word was signed or note that the person used their hands to speak. Dialog can begin with or be followed by “he signed” or “she signed” in place of “he said” and “she said.” If you want the character to say something without using the signed/said tag, you can use italics. Here are some examples:
- “What time are we leaving?” I signed as soon as John looked up.
- I signed the word for “sorry” and hoped that John wasn’t too disappointed.
- As soon as Mandy focused on me, my hands furiously began to detail the saga of my afternoon. You won’t believe who I ran into at Starbucks…
- Andrea slid down from the stool and quickly signed, “Let’s go.”
- With a sad look on her face, Andrea raised her hands. I can’t do this anymore, John. I’m sorry.
- John waited until Andrea’s hands stopped. Then, frowning, his own hands formed the words, “I know. I can’t, either.”
In some cases you might be able to use words like “gestured”, “motioned”, “indicated”, “signaled”, etc.
Facial expressions and general body language can also be important in sign language, and many deaf people speak as they sign. Deaf accents range from barely noticeable to difficult to understand. All of this might be useful as you describe your character speaking, though you’ll want to refrain from describing the hand motion of specific words unless you’re really confident you’re describing it accurately. You should also avoid transliteration, and if your character does speak as they sign, it’s probably best not to render their accent phonetically as this would only add confusion. If you want to get across that your character does speak but is difficult to understand, this can be noted by another character or even the narrator if you think it’s important.
Here’s a great list of novels with deaf characters if you want to see how others have done it. You can also watch video of deaf people speaking on YouTube to get some ideas about facial expressions and body language.
I hope this helps! :)
I'm Deaf In My Right Ear
I’ve been keeping a secret my whole life. It’s the single thing that I keep closest to me than anything in the world, to the point that most of my family doesn’t even know.
I’m completely deaf in my right ear.
Since I’m exposing my income, myself, my feelings, and my tribulations then I might as well press ‘publish’ on what scares me the most.
There are some things that you’ll notice if you were in my presence:
1.) my phone is always in my left pocket
2.) i will always walk on someone’s right side
3.) it’s usually years before I discover that only one of the ears on my headphones work
4.) i can read lips pretty well
5.) i have a remarkable sense of balance (i bet you’ll never tackle me in football)
6.) when writing music I pan all the instruments to one ear, then I go back and “spread them out” to both ears when I’m sequencing them.
7.) when sitting at a table i will only sit on one of the 2 opposing corners. Like this:
Some occurances are strange, like when someone screams “hey buddy, I was talking to YOU. What are you deaf?” Almost every time I stop short of saying “Well, actually…”
Some ‘asks’ about the balances on my mixes have made me want to discuss this sooner (more on that tomorrow).
Some things are actually funny, like how I sleep 11 hours a night. This is probably due to the fact that I can’t hear anything when I sleep because I sleep on my good ear. Like, after I wear eye shades and put my ear to the pillow, it’s as if I’m in a soundproof and sunproof room.
To be clear: I’m not deaf. In fact, I have remarkable hearing. When I was younger the doctor told my mother that I would likely grow up to have surround sound in just one ear. In short, the good ear would “learn” and “pick up the slack”.
So how did this happen? Well it’s one of two theories:
1.) I had a pretty bad concussion when I was 2 years old while playing army with my brother and sister. I built a fortress out of chairs, then I proceeded to climb the fortress (I know, dumb move). Anyway, I fell on my ear and got knocked out. It was so bad that I got rushed to the doctors.
2.) It could have been since birth.
But there’s no way of knowing, nor would it change anything at this point. The thing is that I don’t know what it’s like to hear “real” surround sound. Or when someone complains about mono vs. stereo audio files I just sort of smirk and go along with the conversation. I never really know what they’re actually hearing.
So why am I telling you this? Why now? Well, people judge a lot, and people are depressed a lot at their imperfections or obstacles. Like when someone is walking down the street, you have no idea of the current state of what they’re going though or what disabilities they have.
So, do I think this helps with my music? Well, I write music, so I’m not sure how a deaf ear can help with one’s creativity of songwriting or guitar playing. If I were a music recording engineer then I’d feel differently.
I read a few months ago about how Crayola’s Senior crayon maker is color blind. Which got me thinking: for all I know someone has 9 fingers and was told that they can’t be a musician. Or maybe someone else is deaf in their right ear, too? So maybe if everyone knew about other people the things that they can’t see, then the world wouldn’t seem so scary and intimidating.
I’ll explain more about this tomorrow, because there’s a lot on my mind and why I don’t talk about it.
In closing, now you know why I prefer a blog to a vlog. Writing strips out the pain of having to deal with syncing and panning audio :)
Top 10 Reasons to know Sign Langauge:
1. You can communicate through windows
2. Sign language is a 3-D Language
3. You can sign with your mouth full
4. Hearing parents can communicate with their Deaf child
5. You can sign underwater
6. Sign Language is a neat way to express yourself
7. You can communicate across a room or via mirror without shouting
8. Sign language is beautiful
9. You can make friends with Deaf people
10. Sign language brings together Hearing & Deaf people