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EelKat's Guide to Character Creation:
Using & Writing Mute Characters

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By EelKat Wendy C Allen

"My main character is mute.  He was born without vocal cords, so he knows ASL, and has learned to cope. Any tips so he comes across as more believable and genuine, and can still come across as sarcastic if he wants to? The story's written from his perspective.

However, my MC is interacting with another character, who does not know ASL.  How can I have them interact in a believeable and interesting way, while the secondary character learns the language?"

I have Autism and do not speak verbally, thus I write and type as a way to communicate when face to face with others. I can talk on a limited basis. Speech is very difficult for me. My verbal words are desperately slurred and stuttered and go from either way too fast or way too slow. Most times I know what I want to say, but the words that come out of my mouth are mixed up and in the wrong order so sound like nonsense.

In spite of my having an IQ of 217, folks often consider me "dumb" due to my being near-mute and desperate lack of getting words out in the correct order. I write 7k words a day just as part of my daily non-verbal speech. That is how I am able to pound out 15k a day during NaNoWriMo every year.

It is very frustrating when I want to talk to someone and they pat me on the head and say something like: "It's okay, here have a candy. Poor thing she retarded, can't understand us at all." (Happens more than you'd think!)

Something you might want to include in your story, is the way people respond to mutes: fear, confusion, avoidance.

To make him believable, you would want to have him clenching his fists, wrinkling his nose in disgust, and other such phrases to should his frustration. Sticking his tongue out as a way to show sarcasm, as would flipping them the middle finger.

Your character will be one of the rare few lucky ones if he's learn ASL and has access to enough people who know it to actually be able to "talk" with him using it. He'd have to come from a pretty wealthy family to afford to go to private schools for mutes/deaf/etc, which is how he'd learn ASL. Most never learn it and just do as I do: write/type to communicate, because most simply do not have access to the funds needed to pay for that type of education. His family might hire a private tutor, or possibly he might have had a public school teacher who knew ASL and taught it to him for free? Unless his parents are deaf/mute/etc they will not likely know ASL to be able to teach it too him (and you'd be surprised how few parents are willing to learn ASL to communicate with their child.)

He should be carrying a small notepad and pencil or maybe a white board and markers. Keeping a pad of post-it notes or index cards in his pocket to write on would be a good idea. He may have "business cards" printed up, that read: "I am mute, please wait for me to write down my response" to hand to strangers he meets (store clerks, waiters, etc.) But he may forget to keep this stuff on him, at which point he would use his fingers to pretend to write on his palm, to tell the other person he needs a pen and paper to write with.

Basically, when writing a mute character, unless he has a wicked, super-duper support group of family and friends willing to take the time even spend time with him (which in the real world, just doesn't happen) he's going to be spending weeks, possibly months on end alone - not hours, not days, weeks, and months on end with 100% ZERO human contact. Why? Because to put it bluntly people are scared of people who can't talk. People are scared of these they don't understand.

He will likely develop fears and paranoia of vocal humans at a very early age, a result of being told daily by friends, family, patents, aunts, uncles, cousins, teachers, siblings, and strangers that he is "dumb", "stupid", "retarded", "simpleton", "an idiot" and many other such labels. He will likely have been bullied and beaten up, and he likely will have low self esteem and be very shy and self-conscious..

When writing a mute character, remember that the average person, when encountering a mute person has the immediate reaction of assuming they are dealing with a low IQ person, who has no more understanding than a 6 month old baby. Even if he is an adult in his 40s, strangers are going to pull out a lollipop wave it in his face and say stuff like "Awwww wou wanna a wittle candy-wandy?" They will use the same "goo-goo-ga-ga" baby talk they use for infants. A common phrase deaf folks say is "I'm deaf not stupid!" and this is why.

People will act like the mute character is invisible and they will talk about him "behind his back" while standing right beside him, under the assumption that if he can't talk, he also can not hear, think, or have his feelings hurt. In other words, he and his family go out to eat at a restaurant, the waitress, upon realizing he is mute, will no longer address him, but address someone else at the table when asking what he wants, and a "friend of the family" will see them there, come over and say to the mom/dad "So, hows the little retard lately? I see he's eating well. You should institutionalize him you know. I don't know how you deal with it, I couldn't raise a child like that. You got the strength of Job I tell ya." Whether they intend to be or not, people are rude when they think you can not overhear them.

You may want to have your secondary character witness one of these rude events, happening to your mute character and that be the spark that gets them wanting to learn ASL, once they realize how very lonely and isolated he feels.

One more point: people are impatient, they will not wait for him to sign/write/type an answer. It takes more time to sign/write/type than it does to speak, and most strangers will talk to him, without even looking at him, assume he was too rude to answer, never notice him moving his hands, and stomp off in a huff to tell their friends about the rude arrogant rube they just meet. They will be off doing something else before he gets the first word out, and they will never glance at him long enough to even become aware that he is mute and is trying to answer them without his voice. He will daily feel frustrated and sometimes feel very alone in the world.

These are all things you want to carefully consider when you are writing a mute character if you want to make it believable. Life is no bed of roses when you have any sort of speech, hearing, or sight disorder. People treat blind-deaf-dumb people like shit. If you are mute they will call you dumb no matter how smart you are, like they think your brain doesn't work if you can't talk. Your mute character is going to find life hard and frustrating.

The Twighlight Manor Series: More Thoughts on Mutism

Near-Mutism and Semi-Mutism are common occurrences in The Twighlight Manor series. Roderic Swanzen of course being the Near-Mute character used most often. Roderic can talk, but not well. Roderic has Autism, resulting in a desperately slow, slurred, and reversed speech that requires listeners to have more patience than the average person normally has, in order to translate what he is trying to communicate to them.

Roderic posses a unique problem, however, see Roderic also has no hands. In other words, not only can Roderic barely speak, but he also has no way to use either sign language or writing as an alternative either. To make matters even more difficult, the accident which cost Roderic his hands, also cost him most of his face, so a listener can not judge what Roderic may be trying to say, by attempting to read either his face or lips, either.

Roderic is a man who lives in deep internal frustration because he is not a dumb or stupid or retarded as most other characters assume him to be. He desperately wants to be "part of the group" and including in "the gangs activities" but he attempts to say this are often translated as pitiful attempts at trying to mimic intelligent speech.

Roderic's mind is fraught with turmoil and we often see him throw his body against a wall (at times hard enough to cause serious injury) out of sheer frustration at trying to get someone, anyone to pay attention to him long enough to figure out he is trying to speak.

There are times when Roderic has flung himself against a wall hard enough to crack his ribs, resulting in him crumpling to the floor in agonizing pain, eyes filled with tears, and howling from the sharp stabbing sensation shooting through his side, and the other characters do nothing but point, laugh, jeer, and talk among themselves in a conversation that sounds much like this:

"Uh, there he goes again, acting up."

"Just ignore him, he'll stop after a while."

"Why does he do that?"

"He's not right in the head, he never knows what he's doing."

"Should we get the doctor, sounds like he's in pain."

"Nah, he always does that. Poor thing, he's too stupid to talk."

While Roderic lays on the floor crying, a character will walk over and kick him in the ribs, causing the already cracked bone to break, sending searing pain down his side. The others laugh again, not giving any thought to the fact that Roderic may actually be hurt, nor do they consider the act that a man with no hands is unable to get back up off the floor and needs someone to help him backup.

Another Semi-Mute character in The Twighlight Manor series is Roderic's butler/house keeper/care taker Al-Keeme.

Al-Keeme was born with a cleft palate. Outwardly there are no physical appearance of the cleft as it does not extend to his gums or lips. However most of the roof of his mouth is taken up by a vast hole. The result is Al-Keeme suffers from having a "snake like hiss" when he talks. He learned to limit the "hiss" by avoiding all words with an "S"sound in them, resulting in his often awkward phraseology while speaking.This combined with the fact that he is a Lutino (an Albino with yellow eyes) caused people to bully him very badly at a young age, with both adults and other children keep their distance from him, claiming that he was part serpent.

In addition to the hiss (caused by the open passage between his tongue and nasal cavity, Al-Keeme also has "growl" when attempting words/sounds requiring the tongue to rest on the roof of the mouth, such as "D", "L", or "N". Al-Keeme is a very bold man, until required to speak and than he becomes withdrawn, shy, self-conscious and embarrassed. He is deeply ashamed of his speech disorder and his boldness in other areas is a direct result of attempting to overcompensate for his lack of proper speech.

Al-Keeme was the result of incest-rape and was beaten, abused, and twice nearly killed by his own mother during his infancy and early childhood. He was still a small boy when she locked him in an "Iron Maiden" like devise , leaving him there to die, abandoning him. After several days, his mother returned to check on him and deeply disappointed at finding him still alive, set out traps to capture rats, took said rats and locked them in the iron maiden with him. When the boy was discovered a week later, he was covered in bites and gnaws and left badly scarred over most of his body from the rats chewing on his flesh. It was an attempt to cover the rat bite scars that was the reason why Al-Keeme later had every inch of his body tattooed with serpents.

Al-Keeme grew up bitter and hateful, and went on to become The Lansquin (the most wanted criminal in the known universe, known to White Rock Asylum as Patient 1313; a serial killer suspected, but never proven, to have kidnapped, killed, and raped 15,000 young girls between the ages of 12 and 17). When his own family was murdered by another serial killer (The Red Dragon) Al-Keeme changed his identity and went into hiding, seeking refuge with the only person he knew who he could trust to keep his dark secret: Roderic, Lord of the Twighlight Manor.

Roderic took Al-Keeme in but knowing his true idenity, Roderic took advantage of Al-Keeme's willingness to do anything to bury his past. Thus the once proud, wealthy, aristicrat free-man, became the indebted slave answering unquestioningly to Roderic's every whim, eventually becoming Roderic's most trusted servant.

Al-Keeme and Roderic bonded because of the similarities they both had. Both had lost their wives to violent murder (both unsolved), both had speech difficulties preventing them from communicating effectively. As Roderic became more disabled in later/elderly years he grew to depend almost entirely on Al-Keeme for his care.

A few years before losing his hands, Roderic in a rage attacked Al-Keeme with a shovel, nearly killing him. This event cost Al-Keeme most all of his teeth, resulting in his already slurred speech becoming far more difficult, the embarrassment of which resulted in him going from limited speech to not speaking at all for quite some time (throughout most of "The Wild Years", when he was frequently seen but not heard.) Roderic later, feeling guilty for having injured his dearest friend so horribly, paid to have Al-Keeme's teeth repaired. It is after this point when we see Al-Keeme beginning to speak more often, because the dentures/false teeth, also fixed the cleft pallet as well. This is why in later years, Al-Keeme no longer has the "hissing" speech (which I write into his dialogue and actually results in the reader not being able to understand him any better than the other characters.)

After this attack of The Traveling Shovel of Death, the bond between Roderic and Al-Keeme grew stronger developing into a sexual relationship between them.

The other significantly "silent" character is Razzbury Swanzen, owner of original book-version of The Dazzling Razzberry. Razz sufferers from PTSD after witnessing one of the Lansquin murders. Razz is erratic, high strung, jumpy, nervous, and talks super fast, like an auctioneer. Razz became addicted to drugs and went from abused child to child abuser and eventually ended up in prison. Though horribly abused in his childhood, Razz had spent most of his free adulthood living a fairly uneventful life. During his 41 years in prison (his life sentence was shortened when family that had accused him, dropped the charges) Razz (accused of child rape) was treated mercilessly by both the prison guards and the other prisoners. His PTSD resurfaced and in order to prevent his being killed by other inmates, Razz was put in solitary confinement, where he would remain for 20 years.

It is upon his release from prison, that we see the silent, deeply depressed, emotionless Razz, who spends the next 20 years doing nothing but sitting on a piano bench in front of the giant pipe organ which sits in the front pallor of The Twighlight Manor. Razz sits, unmoving reading and reading the same page of the same book, over and over again 10, 12, 16, 20 hours a day, day after day for weeks on end, without saying a single solitary word. Razz is a broken man so detached from reality that he no longer speaks at all. On what few occasions one (usually Etiole) is able to get him to speak, it is very disjointed, nonsensical talk about piranhas attacking, pink penguines running by, and chocolate pudding talking from it's bowl, intersected by stutters and ticks. Coherant speech has all but disappeared from Razz's vocabulary.



I Love Roderic!
A List of Every Page on this Site
Where I Talk More About Roderic

It is no secret that Sir Roderic Lincandonia Swanzen, owner of The Twighlight Manor, is my favorite character, and you don't have to read very many blog posts, articles, site pages, etc to realize, I talk about him A LOT. While you see him mentioned in passing on just about every page on this site, there are some pages where I go into vast detail about his life. I am going to make a list of them all and tack it to the end of each of those pages, to make it easier for readers to find them all. And here they are:

Roderic Swanzen

Developing Character Backgrounds

Using a Character with a Mental Illness

But Is It Erotica?

Toilets in Fiction

Twighlight NOT Twilight!

The Twighlight Manor

Characters To Fall In Love With

TSoD: The Traveling Shovel of Death

Mental Illness in Fiction

Cliches To Avoid

Descriptive Writing

Incest In Fiction

Agoraphobia

Schizophrenia

PTSD

Mute Characters

Characters With Disabilities

NaNoWriMo: How Do You Pick Which Story to Write?

Enhance Your Creativity To Become a Better Writer

Fantasy World Building

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More of Your
Character Creation
Questions Answered:

  1. When naming your characters, do you give any thought to the actual meaning?
  2. Is the main character a reflection of you, if yes, how?
  3. I'm creating my own character and does it matter what I call her, even if it sounds slightly odd?
  4. What inspired you to use a mentally ill person as your main character? 
  5. Creating mute characters.
  6. My character is too much like myself, how do I change her?
  7. How do you pick what mental illness to write about? 
  8. What jobs did Medieval servants have?
  9. Should I write incest in my stories?
  10. How do you make sure you get your character accurate or true to life when dealing with mental illnesses?
  11. How to Develop Your Characters When Writing a Fiction Novel
  12. Why Character Development is Different for Short Stories

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