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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » When is a freak of nature unbelievable?

   
Author Topic: When is a freak of nature unbelievable?
Elan
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I've been doing some research for my WIP. My work is set in a fantasy realm and my characters will be encountering people who have grown up in a tainted land. The best comparison I can make would be to people who grew up where radiation mutated their DNA. They will first appear as horrifying mutants to the CHARACTERS in my story.

My intention is to have some horrifying (to the characters) deformities, but yet still keep some semblance of realism to it. My problem is that I'm finding freak incidences of severe birth defects that *I* have a hard time believing, and these defects have happened to real people and are not made up. I've been doing research on the Discovery Health Channel.

So far, I've seen a show with a pair of conjoined twins, little girls about 11 years old. They share one body and have two heads, and two distinct personalities. They play volleyball, have an active social life...
You can actually see a picture of the girls at:
http://advancedmedical.tv/shows/jfl.htm

In another episode, Joined at Birth, they talked about other conjoined twins, and showed a photograph of a person born with a twin protruding, from the neck down, from her abdomen. It hung from her like a baby doll... (she was an adult when the photo was taken.) It reminded me of Total Recall, where the little man in charge is embedded in the chest of someone else.
http://advancedmedical.tv/shows/jab.htm

And there was the episode about Julianna, the baby Born With No Face. She had an eyeball located about where her right ear should have been, and she had no mouth, only a giant, unclosed gaping hole where her mouth and nose should have been. This sweet baby has an extreme case of Treacher-Collins syndrome:
http://advancedmedical.tv/shows/tcs.htm
http://www.mymultiplesclerosis.co.uk/images/juliannaatbirth.jpg

My theory was that if I based these characters on deformities found in real life, they would be believable, but I'm finding that even *I* have a hard time believing people live with this level of severe deformity. It's certainly been outside my experience.

At what point does your disbelief kick in? What can I do to assure the reader will continue to buy into the story?

[This message has been edited by Elan (edited March 30, 2006).]


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Hot Chocolate
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If you give me a good scientific explanation for the disfigurement, I'll believe it. But if you were to create a person with six heads out of an atomic bomb like the one that hit Hiroshima, well, that's just a little bit unbelievable.
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Jeraliey
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I think the most important thing would be that their deformity was NOT the only part of their character. That would give you a huge step toward believability.
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Elan
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The deformities are caused by magic gone bad... (this is a fantasy story). And the entire focus of this segment is to show one of the characters finding the humanity within this tribe of "monsters."
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CoriSCapnSkip
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Check out this poor dude: http://www.phreeque.com/joseph_merrick.html
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Wusong101
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This is a work of fantasy.
When picking up a fantasy novel the reader really has to assume that, initially, almost anything is possible. This willing suspension of disbelief can extend to almost anything, as long as the rules that you develop in your story are concrete and constant.
I guess what I am trying to say is that since this is fantasy, and I don't know the "rules" behind the magic in your story, initially I'd believe almost anything. As I worked my way through and began to understand your "rules" my willing suspension of disbelief will become more selective.
Don't violate your own rules.

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Silver3
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I'll second Jeraliey. Give them a good personality, and I'm ready to believe about any deformity.
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Kickle
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Elan, I think you answered part of your question in your first post. When you intoduce the characters have them involved in normal everyday events--this will give the reader a frame of reference that will make the oddness seem more normal. Like you said, have a girl with one eyeball on the side of her head playing volley ball. Show the handless woman wiping dishes by holding a towel between her toes. Also your attitude, as it comes though in your writing, will be important.
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Christine
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To convince me, you have to be convinced yourself.

One difference that I've noticed between amateur and professional writing is a sense of certainty and a command of subject. Now, if I have intimat knowledge of a certain subjec, I'll never buy in no matter how certain, but for many things and many people author certainty is enough to command belief.


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nitewriter
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The idea that that a deformity can cross some kind of "border" when it will no longer be believable seems a little naive. Think about it. Virtually all kinds of monsters and deformities have been portrayed. Most of them are the product of a vivid imagination - one just as unreal and fictional as another. What brings them to life has to do with the personality, emotions, drives, goals, etc. that the monster demonstrates. Frankenstein and E.T. are both "monsters" but the difference is the intent of each.
Appearance has little or nothing to do with believability. If the creature has characteristics of good or evil, then we can be pulled into the story. In the end it won't be the appearance of the character in your story that makes it fail or succeed, it will be your ability as a writer to imbue it with traits a reader can relate to.

[This message has been edited by nitewriter (edited March 30, 2006).]


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Fahrion Kryptov
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Like Kickle said, keep the mutants' (if the word's connotations aren't too skewed) personalities. Most likely, if this is a functional tribe that has lasted for awhile, the people are willing to work around their mutations and get on with their daily lives. That demands a great amount of flexibility. Remember, just because someone's body is horribly distorted doesn't mean his mind is (see Joseph Merrick). And as for descriptions of strange beings, people have no problem with orcs and goblins, and unless the change is completely ridiculous, like uzies growing instead of arms or twelve arms and no head or something, people will be willing to accept it. There have been stories about strange mutated creatures for a long long time... and they make great horror/fantasy/sci-fi/even fiction stories. But as Christine said, if you believe that it's possible, then you'll write as though it is, and you can't fail to convince us. (well, you could, but...) And from what it seems, whatever you come up with as descriptions will probably be tame compared to what's really out there.
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hoptoad
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freaks? monsters? horrifying mutants?

I think you got a hide naming this thread the way you did.

I thought it was going to be about bird-eating trees or 40,000-year-old talking pack-rats or something like that. Really was shocked to see you were referring to people. So much for the liberal views you tend to evince in the majority of your posts.

Truth will out I guess.

PS: My disbelief has already kicked in and I haven't read a word of your story.

[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited March 30, 2006).]


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Jeraliey
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Are you trolling?
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pmcalduff
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If you want it to seem realistic you have to make it realistic. Something you have to remember when writing your story is that fetuses with sever genetic or developmental problems are far more likely to result in a miscarriage than in a live birth. Also people with sever problems usually have a much shorter life expectancy than people without them. If you write about a “tainted village” that results in creating sever genetic abnormalities it should be a realistic depiction. In my opinion it should have a low birth rate, a high infant mortality rate, and a short life expectancy. Also there should be a spectrum of genetic problems. Not everyone should have severe problems.

I have to agree with Hot Chocolate that you also need to give a good scientific (or in your case magical) explanation for the disfigurement.

I also have to go along with hoptoad that referring to another human being as “freak of nature” is a bit much. If the fictional characters in your story see them as “freaks of nature” that’s not a problem, because you’re just showing us their point of view. While I’m no advocate of being politically correct (by even the wildest stretch of the imagination), there is a limit. In my opinion, when you’re writing a nonfiction post you should try and be a little more sensitive.


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hoptoad
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What is trolling?

Okay I looked it up: Trolling: deliberately provoking arguments on newsgroups or bulletin boards, with no other intent than to gain attention for the sake of attention.


To explain, TROLLING is not what I am doing. I am looking at what her post means. If, as writers, we cannot ascertain what a collection of words forming sentences and paragraphs collectively imply, what good are we?

My INTENT is to unmask an attitude that will diminish the value of the story that this writer is about to write. Think about it, in a nutshell she is asking 'how extremely horrifyingling grotesque can I make these montrous freaks and still make the believably human, and sympathetic characters'. The assumption is that those living with a disability so horrifying that "even *she* can barely believe it" are somehow freaks, monsters, mutants or barely recognisable as human.

The initial post is specious.

[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited March 30, 2006).]


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trousercuit
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Or, perhaps, she set out to do something that she thought was important, and discovered her own (very human) limitations in the process.

Not really all that unreasonable, old chap. Do you happen to espouse any ideals that you don't quite live up to? I certainly do.


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hoptoad
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Thanks trousercuit ( voice of reason )
This subject hit a little close to home is all.
I am glad someone can see my point, though. I thought maybe I was seeing something that was not there.

And yes, I am hypocritical and rotten to the core, too.
Perhaps we should start a club -- old chap.

[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited March 30, 2006).]


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trousercuit
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We'll call it the Old Chap's Club. Anyone who is a flaming hypocrite can join.

Any takers?

EDIT: I mean, besides me and hoptoad? First ones to sign up get the Grand Pharisee positions!

[This message has been edited by trousercuit (edited March 30, 2006).]


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Elan
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Sorry if I offended you, hoptoad. When I used the term "freak of nature" I meant the DNA accident that happened, the "freak accident" that went awry from how nature normally operates. I use the term "freak" as in: only one in a zillion chances this could happen.

I can see how my meaning could be misconstrued. When I said "My problem is that I'm finding freaks of nature that *I* have a hard time believing, and these are real people," perhaps I should have phrased it thusly: "My problem is that I'm finding freak incidences of severe birth defects that *I* have a hard time believing, and these defects have happened to real people and are not made up."

Does that clarify my original meaning? I'll go back and edit my original post so it more closely reflects my meaning.

My question was around the issue of believability. What I could not believe was that people with these severe deformities have been able to live, given the pain and struggle of dealing with their physical issues. Of course, modern medicine steps in and helps. But my question is: would a fiction reader believe this is possible?

The television show I watched about the little girl Born Without A Face was heartwrenching, because she's only two and cannot hear or talk, and goes through obvious suffering and pain. At the same time, she's a sweet little girl who is well loved by her family and they hope all the surgery will allow her to eventually be able to hear and eat normally.

At no time do I consider the PEOPLE to be freaks. They are people. It doesn't make someone less of a person to have their body twisted by deformities. But it is also a reality that a freak act of nature caused their deformities: chromosomes getting crossed, DNA getting tangled, cells clumping en utero instead of dividing.

I stand by my choice of words in the title to this thread.


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Elan
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And really, hoptoad... who would believe a story about 40,000-year-old talking pack-rats?
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Jeraliey
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I had no problem seeing the point you were making...but the way you made it seemed to me like you were trying to provoke an argument. Just saying.

My apologies for sticking my nose in.


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Survivor
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To be fair, I think that Elan was expressing her difficulty in believing that such a thing should happen at all, not just that it could happen to a person.

Of course, she gets around to clarifying that herself. So I'll go ahead and add in my actual input here.

The important thing isn't that this could have happened in our world, but that it has happened in yours. Therefore, the key is to make the mutations you portray seem like a logical and reasonable effect of the cause you specify, given the laws of nature as they operate in your world, not ours.

For instance, if you look at birth defects like conjoined twins and such, these make sense in terms of initial slight deviations from the normal pre-natal developmental path of humans. You can look at the various kinds of things that do happen, and compare them to things that can't happen, if you follow the developmental logic.

So you're going to have people that have been mutated by some kind of uncontrolled magical effect. Thus, you can create an internal logic based on what the spell was supposed to do originally and how it went wrong. Let's say it was a spell to ensure good soil fertility by the rapid breakdown of organic material in the ground, only a mistake transposed the symbols for "organic material" and "earth" with the result that everything that grows in the area accumulates earth elements like rocks and stuff as part of the growth cycle. So you base all your "mutations" on simple extrapolation of the effects that this has on things living there. You have to balance that by considering when the effects become crippling or fatal, and work that into your society as well.

In other words, just make sure that all the things that you have happening as effects of your magic gone wrong seem like they all have a common cause, and that the common cause could be the magic you have going wrong in the way it goes wrong. It has nothing to do with how likely such a thing would be in our world.


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Elan
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quote:
To be fair, I think that Elan was expressing her difficulty in believing that such a thing should happen at all, not just that it could happen to a person.

Thank you, Survivor. You said it better than I did. That was precisely what I meant.

Hoptoad, you may have inadvertantly pointed out something to me that I hadn't thought of, and that is I could lose my reader at this point from something other than lack of belief. You mentioned this topic hits close to home. I can only surmise that means you know someone with a deformity, and have seen the struggles they've had to go through.

The intention of the segment in my story is to bring the reader through a significant stage of a MC character's growth. My character IS prejudiced about these things. The character starts out, horrified and frightened by these "creatures", but over time ends up empathetic and is able to see the human nature behind the deformity.

I don't want to lose my reader before I've had a chance to demonstrate the changes she goes through. Your comments are, as always, helpful. Any suggestion on how to keep the reader hooked during a spot I know will be rough? I don't want them to bail on me because the CHARACTER'S initial reaction will be insensitive.

[This message has been edited by Elan (edited March 31, 2006).]

[This message has been edited by Elan (edited March 31, 2006).]


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trousercuit
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If you don't want your readers to lose empathy, you'd have to give them a character that makes choices and has reactions they can identify with. Original thought, I know.

You may actually be rather fortunate in having just the reactions you did to severely deformed people. I think most of us could empathize with that. (That can happen to a person? And they can still live through that?)

You might have a character who thinks he's quite accepting and tolerant, but never seen anything like the kinds of deformities you'll invent. (Plausible already. If you need to, you could throw in the fact that magic has all but extinguished birth defects within his own culture, or something along those lines.) When he sees these people, he has a reaction similar to yours, except that it doesn't quite feed pity - rather a sense of revulsion, a sense of otherness, and a desire to distance himself completely.

I expect you want your readers to join him in his struggle. If that's so, you might consider that not every person in this deformed community is nice, especially to outsiders, whom they may have grown to be wary of in general. Some of them may even be downright mean or abusive to, um, more bilaterally symmetric people. What if he meets those people first?


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AaronAndy
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As an interesting side note, I'm in a class this semester called "Disability and the American Experience," and we just finished a whole unit about how people's perception of physical disabilities has changed over time, including the concept of the "Freak Show" and how that word came to mean what it means now.

The word "Freak" as it turns out originally meant, "a curiosity" or just "something interesting." You could use it to refer to a splash of color on an otherwise plain garment, for example. Although it's certainly not nice or polite to use the term in this context today, the word "Freak" in "Freak Show" was not the slightest bit demeaning or derogatory, and it was the preferred title that those individuals used to refer to themselves. Rather than being looked down upon, most of the "freaks" considered themselves performers, and thought rather lowly of the poor fools who were paying money to see their shows. It was good money too--the original Tom Thumb, for example (who used to perform with Barnum of circus fame), has several yachts, mansions with servants etc, and was essentially one of the big celebrities of the day.

It was only later, when people's perception of disability and deformity changed to be more medically minded did such people start to be thought of us "horrifying deformities" who had less respect and rights in society than "normal" people. That's about the time that "Freak" went from being a good thing to a bad thing (as it is now). I imagine that the usage of freak to mean "extremely unlikely (usually bad) occurrence" started sometime after this, likely related to this second meaning.

This isn't really related directly to your story, but I find I certainly find it an interesting topic to think about. Just note that the way society has viewed people with physical deformities has completely changed several times in the last few hundred years, so your MC's reaction to meeting them would vary significantly depending on what culture he has been raised in and which century of human history their views on physical disabilities are most closely aligned with.

[Edit: paragraph breaks...]

[This message has been edited by AaronAndy (edited March 31, 2006).]


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CoriSCapnSkip
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Hey, after the freaks seen online every day, anything you invent will seem believable.
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Survivor
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I think that, depending on the overt nature of the deformity, it wouldn't be implausible to have your "outsider" characters initially be disinclined to believe that these "freaks" are human at all. I mean, depending on the particular mode of mutation you have. Consider how such a minor difference as skin color has affected, and could still affect, such perceptions.

Imagine you met a humanoid with large, entirely black eyes, bluish grey skin, wearing no apparent clothing and with no apparent genitals. Your first--shocked and disbelieving, but still nearly automatic--thought would probably be that this is a space alien. You might be willing to believe that it was probably intelligent, but your assurance of it being human would not be present. Or suppose that you meet a humanoid which is entirely covered in thick fur and has evident fangs and claws?

If this entity doesn't dress in something you recognize as conventional attire or speak a language you can recognize, you're not going to assume that it's remotely human. It's that simple. It doesn't matter whether you find the physical attributes disgusting, you might find them rather pretty.

Magic is a particularly good mutator for this, because you can play about with the sort of simple chimeric mutations that aren't too common in conventional biology. Like my example of lifeforms made of living stone. Utterly impossible, but this is fantasy


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hoptoad
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Letter from the:

Ancient Order of Profound Hypocrites
From the office of the Whited Sepulchre.

I am not anti you talking about this stuff, but felt that your call for advice was really just a cover for a hey, get a load of this post. If so, then don't beat around the bush making people 'jump-to' with advice you don't really need.

If I am wrong, I apologise.

What worries you about the effectiveness of your charatcerisation in this situation? What advice on characterisation (that I have seen you offers others time and time again) does not apply? Why don't you post your thirteen lines in F&F and let us look to see if it begins to achieve your aims?

BTW: What's wrong with a 40,000 year-old pack rat? Do I need to begin a rewrite of my wip?

[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited March 31, 2006).]


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Survivor
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Given the whole fascination with "freaks" and everything, I was reminded of the alternate script for the Partially Clips: Chibi Figures. You should read the commentary first, for this one.


I think that the script he didn't use was better. I mean, it's got a better twist, and it's also deeper (plus, you don't have to already know about tentacle sex). You could write a serious SF novel, even a series, centered on just that concept, humans make contact with peaceful but disgusting aliens, then proceed to sexually harrass them

The only commentary the other script makes is that there's nothing so morally disgusting that humans wouldn't embrace it should a practical application be found. Particularly if it's something some people already fantasize about even though they can't do it. It's a fine comment on human nature...so far as it goes. I just don't feel it goes very far. And it leaves some people going "???"


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Elan
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To the Whited Sepulchre:

"your call for advice was really just a cover for a hey, get a load of this post"

I am mystified as to what made you draw this conclusion? Why in the world would I do that? Does that mean we can't even bring up the topic of people with deformities or write about them? Any other topics that are off limits I should be aware of?

"don't beat around the bush making people 'jump-to' with advice you don't really need."

You are hereby released from "jump-to" duty.

"If I am wrong, I apologise."

Your assumptions about my motives are wrong. An apology WOULD be nice, although I think it's highly unlikely.

"Why don't you post your thirteen lines in F&F"

If you go back to my original post, you might notice the comment that I am currently in the research phase, meaning the writing isn't done yet. I have people willing to critique, so that's not what I need. I wanted to get a general opinion as to whether there were plausibility/believability issues I should be aware of, BEFORE I begin writing.

"Do I need to begin a rewrite of my wip?"

I wouldn't DREAM of giving you "jump-to" advice about anything.

[This message has been edited by Elan (edited March 31, 2006).]


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Survivor
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Okay, fine, hoppy was dropping acid when he wrote his first post on this thread and has spent all the rest of his comments trying to cover up his drug problems. No further need to discuss the issue.

Elan, your question was an understandable issue that comes up when trying to keep fiction "realistic", namely that all too often there are actual events that are simply too improbable to be believed if they hadn't actually happened. This does make it hard to easily say whether or not a particular device falls within the realm of believability.

That's why I suggest that modeling a fictional device on complex and rare examples from real life isn't what you want to do. You want to make up a simple, consistent deformity pattern that doesn't try to borrow from incredible but true cases. If you can state in a couple of lines the essentials of what underlying rule causes the mutation you're portraying, and you stick to that rule, then readers will probably accept it as being "realistic".


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hoptoad
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Well my assumptions were wrong then, and I apologise.Happy to move on and stop dropping acid, now.

You kinda misquoted me by dropping the 'I felt' part off the sentence. Just so you know.


Advice on how far to go describing or devising deformities before you stretch people's belief too far? You can do anything you want as long as you pay the price. Put in the effort to establish precedents and the world is you oyster. For instance, if the MC is familiar with magic I would have them see magic go wrong somehow, before the 'freak show' appears.

Let them see the consequences of poorly performed magic in a smaller scale so that they do not necessarily extrapolate what might happen to people in this situation. Do it in such a way that they recognise it, however reluctantly, when they see it.

If it were me, I would think about having someone experimenting with combative or dark magics using aberrent effects as a kind of weapon. The MC could intially think it was cool and powerful. Let say the 'experimenter' was using aberrant magic on trees turning them into writhing thorny hedges or turning flocks or sheep into rampaging carnivorous reptillian things, or reducing cows to twisting fatty coils with a ravenous mouth at one end and an oozing udder the other. Then you have precedent.

Like Survivor said, make rules and manipulate them to figure out the abberrant effects. Like his earth spell effect or healing spells gone too far producing cancerous tumors so that the victim's body was a constantly moving mass of flesh, ever increasing. Dressed in their burlap they would look like three dogs fighting in a sack.

You can do anything, just pay the price up front. Create precedent. I would just avoid anything that could be seen as a recognisable condition, like Treacher's Syndrome.

PS: Again, sorry for the mistake Elan.

[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited April 01, 2006).]

[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited April 01, 2006).]


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Elan
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Everyone's comments have been helpful. Thanks for your insight.
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pooka
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Did you see that article about the Komodo dragon that had 4 babies after not mating for 2 years? Maybe it was Zeus.
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Netstorm2k
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I was reading all of this trying to decide if I had anything to contribute, and I do in the sense that I am the father of a child with a disability - Down's to be precise. The reason I bring this up is to comment on the perspective of the "freak".

Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to get all preachy about PC ways to say stuff. You guys who know me know I'm not a liberal. I'm not conservative either, so that sentence is irrelevant.

Anyway, my youngest daughter has Down's, and like all Down's kids she has various delays and deformities. That last word is a little difficult to write, because until this moment I hadn't thought of it with that word, but it's true. Her eyes have the slanted eyes common to Down's kids, and one eyelid droops. She has bad hearing and vision. She has all but one of the other symptoms common with Down's; slack muscle tone, large tongue, loose joints, Brushfield's Spots, the incredible ability to attract smiling people, etc. She's also developmentally delayed but hyperactive, go figure. It kinda helps her out with her motor skills because she won't stop moving.

(She's spoilt rotten too, and about to get in trouble if she doesn't get off the coffee table NOW.)

Thankfully she's at the upper end of the spectrum for Trisomy-21 disorders, so she doesn't have any major defects like cardiac problems or gastrointestinal defects.
And she knows all of this. And she's okay with it. She's never known anything different, so to her this is what there is. She doesn't understand why everyone else isn't as easily happy as she is.

The point I'm making is that unless these people are so totally removed from human as to be a different species, they are going to be drawn on the basic human mold. They will have the same emotions to react with, the same common likes and dislikes, etc. They're still human on the inside, even if their insides are... on the outside.
They will be aware of their conditions. And they may not have a problem with them, even if it's something freaky.

They will be unbelievable if not portrayed with that in mind.

Just something to consider.

Oh, by the way, saying retarded is PC again. But only if you're a therapist or parent of a retarded kid.
Or Carlos Mencia, apparently.

[This message has been edited by Netstorm2k (edited April 29, 2006).]


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Survivor
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I sort of dread finding out what my child-rearing curse will be. Death seems to be a common one in our family, but various other serious medical afflictions seem to get their playtime.

Of course, I dread not ever having children more than I dread my family's curse.


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Elan
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I had been willing to let this thread die, particularly in light of the fact that people are applying the word "freak" in connection with people... which was never my intent. As I explained earlier, I was using the term "freak of nature" in connection with the freak happenstance of the DNA mutation that occurs.

But since the thread keeps getting resurrected, I'd like to explain a little more of my story, and my intent.

I'm in the process of writing a fantasy story. As the MCs make their journey, they are attacked by mutants they initially view as horrific monsters. My mental guideline has compared these creatures to the mutants in the movie Total Recall. The storyline is that the character involved, is kidnapped by the monsters. During her experience, she comes to learn the "monsters" may be horribly disfigured (according to what she knows is normal) but that they are very human at heart. She undergoes a transformation. But her initial reaction is one of horror. These creatures have been affected by magic, and have a variety of permutations... half animal, half human; a cyclops, a two-headed person, a nagus... there are a variety of mutations. Within their tribe, they are normal. Others, outside their tribe, consider them mutants.

If this thread has taught me anything, it's that the closer we get to humanity the more disturbing it is when we call mutations "freaks." In some odd way, that's the effect I want to give. It is part of my character's journey. By starting my story off with freakish magical monsters, I want to lead the reader -- and the character -- backward so that eventually these "freaks" are seen as just another variation of human... normal (in their own way.)

I suppose I need to emphasize to the people reading this thread, that in no way am I trying to compare my fantasy story creatures to real life people in our real world who are dealing with disabilities, physical defects, or anything of the like.

My initial post... and the examples I gave.... were intended to ask the question: can you find this believable IN A STORY? I've seen examples from my own life of stories that people wouldn't believe really happened, even if presented as fiction. It's an odd thing that there are events and people from our real world that live in such extreme conditions (and I'm not talking just physical make-up) that the ordinary reader cannot grasp that it's even possible. My initial question cited some real life examples and asked: would you, as a reader, believe this is possible in a fantasy story? I was trying to figure out where the boundary was between believable and non-believable.

The subject of disabilities in real life has obviously hit a nerve with some people. In a way, I think the discussion is a good one. About seven years ago my family hosted a Slovakian foreign exchange student. As I was walking with her into the high school, we passed a student coming out in a wheel chair. I didn't think anything of it, but she commented on it that where she was from, in Eastern Europe, you never saw people in wheelchairs. They were still coming out from the socialist period, and people with disabiities were shuffled off, away from the mainstream. We talked about the fact that she wasn't used to seeing people who were disabled in any way. It's a matter of bringing the people... and the subject... out into the open and discussing it. The more we discuss it, the more "normal" it is.

So, I have a new question: how many people write people with disabilities into your stories?

Am *I* the "freak" for wanting to bring the topic out into the open???


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GodSpoken
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Elan, my impression of the wording you chose in your post was not remotely hypocrisy. When I am working on a project, I have my head there. I assumed your purpose with these defects is to provide a substrate that will fuel common negative reactions so your reader can join your characters in overcoming them. Your wording would naturally represent what you were researching.

Sounds to me like letting your story speak to you before you let it speak elsewhere.

Thanks for enlightening me to the dangers of "method acting" research. )


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Survivor
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Id depends on what you count as a "disability".
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Elan
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We can nit-pick the language... I don't know that there is a term everyone is comfortable with. Hopefully, you are able to ferret out my meaning of the word without further explanation?
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TruHero
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I have written a story or two with people that have minor disabilities, physical and mental.

I've been working on one lately, where the MC is always making bad decisions, or judgements. If it happens all the time, could that be a considered a disability? Sometimes, I think a character flaw can be a disability. I guess it depends on where you draw the line.

I think the trick is to turn that disability into something positive. The person with the disability, could/should use their disabilty to their advantage, and make it something that enables them to do something great, in spite of said disability. Everyone loves a story where one of the characters overcomes something in order to win in the end, or die trying.

A good example of this is in Terry Brooks, The Jerle Shannara series. There is a mutated character that becomes a hero. I think his name was Truls Rohk or something to that effect. Brooks made that character seem real, and had him progress from a recluse into a hero, by the end of the third book. He was one of my favorites in that series. I won't throw out any spoilers, but this would be a very good character for you to take a look at. Great motivation, emotion, visual description and background that really made you able to get inside the character.


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Elan
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I could never get past the blatant rip-off of Tolkien in the first book of the Sword of Shannara series... by the time I read about his black riders, I tossed it aside in disgust. I never made it to the book you are talking about.
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TruHero
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Ah! But this has very little to do with the original Shannara series. I must say that the original is a Tolkein wanna-be, but the Jerle Shannara series is entirely different. The only thing that ties the two series together is the fact that they happen on the same world, but this is generations later.

After your explanation of what you would like to do with your story, this character would fit the bill nicely. He is a half-breed of sorts, and is hideous to behold, but capable of great things because of his "deformities". You should really check it out.


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Netstorm2k
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I just want to clarify, if any nerves were struck by the freak thing, they weren't mine. I wasn't offended by the freak thing at all.
My point was based around my own experience.

Before my daughter was born, I was always uncomfortable around people with disability, almost a guilt thing, as if I didn't deserve my health or something.

So I tended to shy away from thinking about them. It wasn't until my daughter was born that I was forced to confront that, and start thinking of them as just different people.

You attend a lot of meetings in my situation, and see a lot of disabilities, but you realize they are still just people.

It was a lesson I learned that I was sharing, not offence at the term. Hell, my own daughter is kinda freaky to me.

If you saw how fast that kid can get dirty and wreck a living room, you'd call her a freak too.

[This message has been edited by Netstorm2k (edited April 30, 2006).]


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Elan
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Your post reminds me of a poem I wrote when my kids were small. I call it "Ode To My Child"

It began: "What havoc hath been wrought
by this winsome little tot?
How can anyone this size --
so blessed with sparkling eyes
And cherubic smile lacking aforethought and guile--
Create such a disaster in such a short while?"

I composed it one morning while I was in the shower. It came to my mind right after I heard the crash.

Darned if I can remember where I put that poem. I really ought to submit it.

[This message has been edited by Elan (edited April 30, 2006).]


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Netstorm2k
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That should have been "The Crash."
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Survivor
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My brother had a thing he would say to people who talked about how unfortunate it was that his daughter was born "disabled". I'm not going to repeat it verbatim, but the gist of it was that humans naturally differ in their abilities by a great deal.

My point was more along the lines of considering that, by human standards, I have a fairly severe "disability". From my perspective, it is humans who are defective. At least some of the stories I've written (arguably all) focus on just this ambiguity.

But both issues highlight the fact that whether a character in a story can really be considered to have a "disability" in our modern sense is somewhat moot. A far future character who has had to have his limbs repaired...is that a disability? A fantasy milieu character with bad eyes or a limp...does that count? The nature of a society fundamentally alters both perceptions and standards for what constitutes "disability". Outside of the context of our modern society, the question probably becomes meaningless.


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Elan
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Good point, Survivor.

There is a good article I ran across on the net by Emily Perl Kinglsey, regarding being the parent of a child with disabilities. It's called "Welcome to Holland." I really like the metaphor it uses.

http://www.lmbbs.org.uk/newsletter.htm

[This message has been edited by Elan (edited May 01, 2006).]


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pooka
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Maybe Survivor will have totally normal human children and he won't know what to do with them. I'm one of the aforementioned relatives. I think my kids all fall within... is it the range of deviation? The ones that aren't dead. Standards of deviation? That gets back to my original comments (as Franc Li) that weird stuff has to happen in a uniformitarian way.
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Survivor
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Hah. But I already know how to deal with normal children, I even know what sauce to use

More seriously, it's something that would be normal to worry about, given our family statistics. So I worry about that rather than confronting the issue of whether I'm going to get to have children at all. Because worrying about the future of my children makes me feel like I'm being brave, but wondering whether I'll have any in the first place just makes me feel depressed and sad.


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