Turning Physical Disfigurement into Fictional Gold

Writers are often asked the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” Much less often, they’re asked, “Where did you get the inspiration for this or that trait of your characters?”

The main protagonist in my novel, Corpse Pose, is a former lead homicide detective who’s been been facially disfigured by a bullet to his jaw. Obviously, I gave Lafe Larson that characteristic for fictional reasons – to build sympathy for him, to give him another obstacle to overcome, and so forth.

But I also disfigured him for a personal reason – I knew what it felt like to have people recoil at disfigurement. No, I’ve never been shot (fortunately), but years earlier, I underwent a surgery for a non-malignant acoustic neuroma (tumor) inside my head and near my ear. For about two weeks after the operation, the right side of my face was paralyzed. I looked like a milder version of Two Face – one side was perfectly normal; the other held a rigid grimace.

I had no idea of the effect this could have on some people until my wife, daughter and I went grocery shopping. We were at the check-out counter when a woman came out of an aisle and saw me. Her eyes widened in fear, she turned pale, and immediately ran back out of sight.

I thought, “Wow, it’s not a good thing when people turn and run from you!” I felt like a social pariah and was highly embarrassed and wanted to go hide where no one could see me.

The paralysis subsided as the doctors said it would, and eventually I realized the dross of the experience could be turned into fictional gold. So, that’s how Lafe ended up with that physical characteristic.

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