In my sci fi story, the main character, whose perspective the entire story is told from, underwent a failed brain surgery. As a result of the failure, he can't speak. He can communicate with his handler via a neural connection device from any distance, but anything else he wants to say he has to use his handler to relay.

How can I effectively write this unique type of character that can only communicate directly with one person, while maintaining the interest that comes with complex character relationships?

  • 1
    "Handler"? Is that proper English? It sounds to me as if we were speaking of a thing, or at best an animal.
    – Divizna
    Commented Mar 8 at 8:34
  • @Divizna Maybe caregiver would be a more fitting term?
    – Ben
    Commented Mar 8 at 9:12
  • 1
    @Ben That's what I'd think. Caregiver, or maybe assistant, helper, or aide. But I'm asking because I don't know if it's considered normal to refer to a disabled person's "handler" or not. At first encounter, it sure feels icky.
    – Divizna
    Commented Mar 8 at 9:17
  • @Divizna I should have been more clear with my language, i just realized there is no context for using that word. Caregiver wouldn't be correct, because ther persons job doesn't involve taking care of him. In this world, handler is used as an umbrella term for people who oversee private military operations that don't involve corporate interests. But if there's a better word for that, please let me know.
    – Gregory
    Commented Mar 8 at 11:41
  • Yes, context would benefit this question vastly. I'm still not sure if we're talking the mute guy's superior or subordinate. You should also mention if he's unable to form the words or can't utter them in speech but has no trouble writing, or if he's mobility-impaired in any way, because "unable to speak" and "unable to communicate" are two different things. (Suppose I storm into your office, throw a document you handed in to me an hour ago on your desk, circle a paragraph, stab my finger in the paper and start impatiently tapping my foot. Do you not hear "explain yourself!" loud and clear?)
    – Divizna
    Commented Mar 8 at 12:28

1 Answer 1


That's an interesting idea, but I don't understand what problems you face. It seems very easy to write to me.

But I'll explain how I would approach this writing task, and maybe from my example you can better explain what you tried and why it didn't work for you.

So, if I wanted to write the kind of character you describe, I would try and imagine what it would feel like to be him, what problems he would face, and what I might do to overcome them.

For example, the protagonist, who can only communicate through his handler, will very likely have to deal with the shock and trauma of such a life changing disability. He will be sad and angry at his fate, maybe have suicidal thought, but there will be resources that help him finally regain his will to live and find a positive outlook in life. These might be his general optimism or the support of his family and friends or his religious beliefs or the importance of a goal he wants to achieve or some other thing like that.

At the same time, he will want to have relationships with friends, family, coworkers and, eventually, a spouse. Since all of this has to go through the handler, this will feel awkward at first. How do you date someone, if you can only communicate to them through another person who will then witness all the intimacy? How will you have sex if the handler is not present and you cannot communicate verbally at all? Maybe it requires a lot of trust and care and empathy and humor.

And what does that configuration mean for the handler? That person will (want to) have a life of their own, too. How will they feel that they have to be around another person almost constantly? Will they devote their life to this task or begin to feel resentment after a while or burn out emotionally eventually?

And is there a way that the protagonist can learn to communicate besides through his handler? Can he write messages on paper? Can he learn to sign with his hands? Can he at least make gestures like pointing that will help him through many situations? Why is the transmission of signals limited to one person? Technically it should be possible to eventually route it through other recievers as well.

Depending on the answers to some of the above questions, how I would write this would immediately become apparent to me.

It is no different than writing an orphan street urchin or a divorced detective: You get into their minds and imagine what life would be like for them. It is the fundamental task of every writer in all stories.

So what difficulties do you face? I cannot imagine any.

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