A Touch of Darkness

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How to write respectful and realistic physical contact with blind characters

By Annelise Knop

Sparks fly even when you can’t see them. It’s been a pleasure observing the increasing inclusion of blind characters in books of all types as a necessary and potent reminder that we experience the full range of human experiences, too. It’s good to see blind heroes, blind villains, blind makers and movers and leaders, and lovers. It’s been a pleasure, but also painful.

When I first read a description of a blind woman feeling compelled by a sense of attraction to tenderly explore the contours of a man’s face because of a deep yearning to see what he looked like, my jaw almost hit the floor.

“Do sighted people really think we’re romantically compelled to grope their faces? Seriously?”

Then, I encountered it again — and again and again — in movies and books and TV shows. And I just kept thinking, “Wow, sighted people are so weird.”

Touch and eye contact are perhaps the most potent, and certainly the most common, vehicles for communicating the intensely intoxicating, terrifying power and teasing delights of romance in written fiction. But when half the duo is blind, the author must feel her tools have been reduced by half, too. This has caused many authors to flail aimlessly with the second tool in ways that a little common sense could coach into a truly beautiful language. However, as any romance author ought to know, improper and unskillful use of touch can do both the characters — and the readers — a great deal of harm. It’s worth taking the time to learn how to give your blind romance just the right touch.

Resources for Inspiration

In one short article, there’s no way any writer could cover a complete list of guidelines for how to wield touch in a way that channels heat and passion and not harmful and awkward stereotypes. But, I trust in the creative genius of authors. Below, I’ve collected some resources that should provide ample inspiration. Read and learn, and let your muses flourish under the challenge of incorporating this new perspective into your own unique styles of story.

First, I invite you to consider the origins of attraction, and how it must necessarily manifest differently in different bodies. In this blog post, Deborah Klee (author of contemporary women’s fiction) shares how she learned to shape the romantic subplot of her blindness-themed short story by considering both the blind person’s appreciation of touch and that of the sighted partner.

Then, I’d like you to contemplate how we learn about touch. In a world where we primarily educate with pictures, how might your blind character learn about gestures and contact that you take for granted? First times matter. How might a first kiss be different for a blind teen?

Finally, study the experts. Some of the best writing advice I ever received was to read every day and to focus on identifying my favorite elements of my favorite books and stories. It’s not uncommon advice. I’m sure most of you have heard or read it before. But, it can be a challenge to find really well-done romances with believable blind characters. You can Google lists of romances with blind characters, but be sure you ask a very important question: Who curated that list? To save you some time, I asked some blind writer friends of mine to share a few of their favorite sources of inspiration. Hopefully, seeing how one or two other people got it right will inspire you to develop your own uniquely wonderful take in your own works.

  • Temptation by E M Lindsey. This author writes well about people living and loving with several disabilities.
  • Books by acclaimed romance author Sassy Outwater, who draws on her own life experience to make blind characters believable to both blind and sighted readers.

The often-misunderstood advice “write what you know” doesn’t mean sighted people can’t write blind characters. What it does mean is that sighted authors who want to play with blind characters need to make sure they know what they’re doing. Writing, like acting, can be a unique opportunity for cultivating empathy with unfamiliar kinds of people, which is one of the many vital roles art plays in the mending and healing and thriving of our society. But empathy isn’t just an instinctive trait; it’s a learned skill. And, of course, a truly great romance is comprised of the perfect balance between passion and skill.

Anneliese Knop was born with a congenital retinal degenerative condition into a world that constantly underestimates and overlooks blind people. She was also born with a vivid imagination, the gift of storytelling, and an instinctive belief that she was meant to change the world. So, she grew up to become a mental health counselor and a novelist.

As a mental health counselor, Anneliese has developed a deep connection to human pain, passion, and joy. She pours this experience into characters who struggle with themselves and each other in relatable ways.  She believes strongly in the power of peoples’ choices and relationships to ultimately lead to happy endings.