Monday, March 12, 2018

Dr. Wesley Britton Shares How Blindness Can Become a Writing Tool

Today one of the subscribers to my #SharingwithWriters mentioned that his blindness had become a writing tool.  I was immediately intrigued because blind charities have always been one of my favorites. I had a grandmother and a favorite aunt who were blind (both now deceased) and loved seeing how they adapted.  But this was a new one on me!  I hope you--I figure all of my blog subscribers and visitors are writers-- are as intrigued by his story as I am and take a minute to read the "More About the Guest Blogger" section to see how prolific he is, both in print and online!

 When Blindness Becomes a Writing Tool

 By Dr. Wesley Britton

For this blog post, I had planned to write about how my own disability, my blindness due to the genetic disease called retinitis pigmentosa, had helped shape my main protagonist of the Beta-Earth Chronicles, Malcolm Renbourn. After all, the launching point for the entire series was my wondering what would happen to a human who is blinded when he’s drug through a barrier separating the multi-verse and taken to an alternate earth. How could a blind man turned into a blind alien cope with a planet where he doesn’t understand the language, see anything at all around him, and adapt to a culture completely different from anything he has ever known?

Rather than delve into those matters today,   I thought I’d share with you a writing lesson I learned a few weekends ago.  For my ghost-loving grandson, we went to see the movie Winchester for his birthday. Unless you’re blind yourself or have gone to the movies with someone who is blind,  you probably don’t know about the headsets that provide audio descriptions of whatever movie you’re seeing.

I’ve been relying on audio descriptions for years, but at Winchester I was really struck with the depth of details I was hearing.    Perhaps that’s because the mansion where the story is set is so strange that the audio track had to be very vivid. The narrator had to describe long hallways with boarded up rooms and staircases that went nowhere. He had to describe strange faces and appearances by spirits that weren’t human. Well, at least not alive.

But in addition to the weird, the narrator also had to describe normal curtains blowing in windows, what items were on tables or cabinets, what things were hung on the walls or dangled from the chandeliers.   He had to describe what the characters looked like, what they were wearing, and what their expressions and movements conveyed to viewers. If they looked pensive, that’s the adjective he used.  Or aggressive, resolute, all manner of terms on the emotional spectrum. 

In the theatre, blind viewers got every scene and setting painted for us in colors, lighting, cleanliness, atmosphere, sizes, you name it. In short, the audio track had to do just what we authors need to do for readers on the printed page.

So I’m proposing that a useful exercise for authors is to pretend we’re creating a narration for an audio description    when we’re creating our settings, characters, meals, movements, anything visual a reader would want to see in their minds.  For a blind writer, this was a good lesson as I’m naturally not visually oriented.  For all the things I needed to describe in my books, I had to rely on very old memories or emulate imagery from my reading.

Since my stories are set on a different planet, I didn’t have to try to capture any recognizable places. Instead, I had the challenge of world-building,      that is, crafting settings largely from scratch. To make them believable, recognizable or not, the descriptions had to be vivid and multi-sensory.  Whether I was successful or not, that’s your judgement to make. Whether you’re successful or not in your own writing, well, why not consider how a blind movie-goer would experience the time and place where your characters are doing their things?  

This essay first appeared on Britton's blog,


 Dr. Wesley Britton is the author of The Beta Earth Chronicles and reviews books for are other ways for you to learn more about him: 



Howard-Johnson is the author of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. She is also a marketing consultant, editor, and author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers including the award-winning second editions of The Frugal Book Promoter (where she talks more about choosing and the advantages of winning contests and how to use those honors)  and The Frugal Editor. Her latest is in the series is  How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically. Learn more on her Amazon profile page, Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers is one of her booklets--perfect for inexpensive gift giving--and, another booklet, The Great First Impression Book Proposal helps writers who want to be traditionally published. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including one she encourages authors to read because it will help them convince retailers to host their workshops, presentations, and signings. It is A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. In addition to this blog, she helps writers extend the exposure of their favorite reviews at She also blogs at all things editing--grammar, formatting and more--at The Frugal, Smart, and Tuned-In Editor ( )

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