Sunday, December 2, 2012

World AIDS Day…Writing a Character That is HIV Positive

Welcome to Indie Author, Robin Nadle, speaking on writing a character who is HIV positive.

Nobody wants to read about a character who is HIV positive, pick something else.

People aren't going to care about a character they can't relate to. You're setting yourself up for failure.

Why on earth would you write about something so depressing?

These were just a few of the questions I faced when I began to shop my series to readers. When describing the story, many were intrigued until they heard about the main character. Beautiful, talented, intelligent, famous, and HIV positive. My heroine was not typical. She was a survivor and she was worthy of love and attention. I needed people to give her a chance.

Having your main character deal with a disease such as HIV was a gamble and I knew it. I have had many people tell me that a story dealing with a rape and a woman who is HIV positive will never sell. I was encouraged to change those aspects and it was the most frustrating part of the development of the series. Having HIV is who Brittany is, and unfortunately for the many people who also deal with this disease, they wish it wasn’t there, too. However, wishing it away doesn’t make it go away and I decided that Brittany would be the character who showed everyone that she was still someone worthwhile. She was still someone who deserved a chance and more importantly, she deserved love. 
Yes, she is HIV positive, but she is also so much more.

I am almost certainly asked more about Brittany than any character I have created. She is also probably the most frustrating character I have written. She is deeply flawed, but profoundly giving and at times, those two traits are in direct conflict. She doesn’t handle everything the right way. She doesn’t trust in her ability to be loved, and she doesn’t think she’s worth the effort. That’s not to say she is weak, but sometimes it takes the love of someone else to help us become who we are supposed to be. For Brittany, that’s Tommy, a man who in his own way, was just as closed off.

The idea for Brittany came years ago, before there was any thought of a series or of ever finishing a novel. She was a character I needed to write and a story I had to tell. It was a challenge to develop a character that had been through something so completely tragic and horrific in its intensity and its cruelty. I needed to be sure that as much as her attack changed her, Brittany wasn’t defined by that moment, as many of us have survived moments that shape who we are, and are not all we are.

Making a character HIV positive was a gamble from the beginning, and I knew it would be a hard sell. Creating a character that was HIV positive as well as a doctor was even tougher. It was important for me to show how HIV is not a death sentence and people deserve to live their lives safely in any way they choose.

I love when people look at Brittany as a strong woman and an inspiration. She is that, but she is ultimately real in her thoughts, actions, worries, triumphs and failures. As famous as she was is as undeserving as she feels. So much in our lives can make us or break us, and although it is a daily choice, I hope Brittany can serve as an example to all, that with love and hope, anything is possible.

As much as I adore Brittany, her journey would not have the impact I wanted if not for Tommy. He was simply the perfect match for her. He was just as stubborn as she was and the love they developed through their story continues to be one of my most favorite things to write. They both have a vulnerability that comes with being left behind and although both are wildly successful and confident in their professions, underneath the surface, they are floundering.

Brittany is such a complex character. I try to go for complete accuracy in her health concerns and although it seems like she is constantly in the hospital, someone in her condition would face many struggles and obstacles and although it’s hard, I want to show her continued fight. Her fears are real and her concern over the stigma of her disease is valid. She is a hero and she is my honor to write.

There is much more to her attack that continues to be explored throughout the later part of the books. It was important to me to show her therapy and the support she has from Tommy. He isn’t perfect in how he reacts, but his intentions are completely honorable and he desperately wants her to feel loved. He is ultimately her protector and the one thing she never had, was that very thing. He is her hero, her strength, her lover and her equal.

I view these characters as a responsibility. Living with HIV comes with so many issues; public criticism shouldn’t be one of them. I also wanted to show that not everyone who lives with a disease is required to be a spokesperson. We all bring baggage into our relationships, both personal and professional, but as long as we realize that at the heart of all of us, we are human beings who deserve to be respected and valued.

Whatever your views about HIV and AIDS, it is our responsibility as human beings to treat each other with respect and understand that no matter what, we are in this life together. I know that one day a cure for HIV is possible, but until that day, education is the key to survival and tolerance.

Thank you for reading and for more information, please check out my blog:

1 comment:

  1. It is novels like yours that put the face on this disease, humanize it, show both the struggles and the triumphs. You write the character brilliantly, and best of all, when you think about the character the fact that she is HIV Positive is not the first thing that comes to mind--so important! Thank you for your work, and this portrayal.