Why I cut off my character’s legs, why I gave them back to her, and why I didn’t focus on her recovery by A.L. Davroe
One of the things that sets the main character of Nexis, Ellani Drexel apart from other YA heroines is that she has no legs. I did this on purpose. I took a character who was at a severe disadvantage from the get-go and made it ten times worse for her.
I originally did this wholly to fulfill a need to have a Cinderella character who loses legs instead of shoes and gets really cool ones to replace them. So, I started writing Nexis, put Ella through the ringer and then it blew up into something way bigger than the Cinderella story that it was meant to be.
I took away Cinderella, the prince, the fantastic new legs. But, I kept the missing ones.
And I did it to make a point.
And my point is that we take things for granted.
When we’re young we tend to focus on the small petty things. Things like acne and having the same prom dress as someone are monumental and life-altering to us. And, while they are truly things that shape us, they aren’t very big when you look at them in perspective. But, we eventually learn what real trauma is. It’s a coming of age trope that’s common in YA, but I wanted to take it one step farther.
Often a YA heroine’s male counterpart loses something physically and the heroine has to deal with that. It’s creating adversity for her, but not putting her under attack.
Sometimes she loses a body part that’s not as important – a finger maybe. It’s awful and makes the reader sympathize, but it doesn’t often create too much hardship to the main character in the long run.
Sometimes she loses only one of something – an arm or an eye perhaps. It’s very hard to deal with losing one leg or one arm. Now, imagine how much harder it is to not have either?
Often she’s set upon and her body or psyche are somehow broken – be it from rape or a physical attack. These are equally as awful, for certain, but I feel like these have been done and, in some instances, in bad taste (don’t get me started on rape as a plot device).
Sometimes she loses something important and the book becomes all about it – an issues book about loss and recovery, breaking and coming back together.
But let’s face it, the girls who read issues books are often not the ones reading swashbuckling adventure. And I think that both sides are missing out by not reading the other. Why can’t we have both issues AND adventure? These are things that happen in adult novels, so why not YA novels too?
I chose the loss of the ability to walk because I think that, as humans, we take for granted our ability to walk upright. To explore, to see new things, to run, jump, play. To look someone in the eye… I wanted to explore the harsh reality of suddenly not being able to get up and go to the bathroom -- of sometimes having to wet your pants. I wanted it to be poignant and real. Because this happens to some people and we don’t think about it often, nor do we understand just how hard their lives become by this loss – to be trapped in an immobile prison.
I’m certain that some people are going to be like, “Well, why did you give her legs in the game? What about the legs at the end?”
My answer to this is simple: Because some issues are deeper than their solution. Leglessness is an issue that Ella has to learn to deal with in the book. Her desire to have legs in the game – to be something other than what she is – is a subtle hold-over of her desire to be like everyone else. It shows that even though we may progress so very far beyond something, there is still a little voice in the back of our head whispering all the insecurities. It’s evidenced in her inability to meet Guster in Real World because she’s not whole. And it’s what drives her to cause a huge problem at the end of the book – just to have those legs she wants so bad.
Her getting legs in the game doesn’t solve the problem of her needing to deal with not having them in real life. And her getting replacements in real life doesn’t solve the problem of her still needing to deal with the fact that she is not whole. And this issue will continue to haunt her throughout the series as her legs keep getting given and taken away from her. Is this mean to do to Ella? Perhaps, but by continually being put into and taken out of the fire, Ella will become stronger – like a finely honed sword. Ella is a character who embodies the metaphoric struggle of dealing with loss and trauma. It keeps rearing it’s ugly head, but every time you battle it, you’re stronger and more well prepared for the next bought.
Another question I get from readers is, “Why don’t you realistically portray Ella having to learn to use her prosthetics?”
Rest assured, I’m fully aware of how difficult it is for an amputee to learn to use a prosthetic to the point that Ella so freely does almost immediately after receiving them. I have two reasons for not covering this reality in the book. One is the simple reality that, while unrealistic seeming, it would have taken too long. This story spans over a year and the end of the book needed to happen in rapid succession. Two is that this book is futuristic with incredibly advanced technology and it is my hope that one day amputees will be able to receive prosthetic limbs that will allow for a turn around as rapid as Ella’s. While the book doesn’t deal with the poignant reality of the adjustment period required of learning a new prosthesis, it’s also not an “issues” book, it’s an adventure story so I need to focus on advancing the plot not the person. Though, I think Ella does a good job of both!
ABOUT THE BOOKNexis by A.L. Davroe
In the domed city of Evanescence, appearance is everything. A Natural Born amongst genetically-altered Aristocrats, all Ella ever wanted was to be like everyone else. Augmented, sparkling, and perfect. Then…the crash. Devastated by her father’s death and struggling with her new physical limitations, Ella is terrified to learn she is not just alone, but little more than a prisoner.
Her only escape is to lose herself in Nexis, the hugely popular virtual reality game her father created. In Nexis she meets Guster, a senior player who guides Ella through the strange and compelling new world she now inhabits. He offers Ella guidance, friendship…and something more. Something that allows her to forget about the “real” world, and makes her feel whole again. But Nexis isn’t quite the game everyone thinks it is. And it’s been waiting for Ella.
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A.L. (Amanda) writes both YA and adult speculative fiction. She prefers revisionist tales in paranormal, romance, Steampunk, and fantasy. She is the author of Salvation Station (adult psych horror), The City Steam Collection (adult psych horror), For Your Heart (YA Paranormal Romance) and her YA Sci-Fi novel, Nexis, is coming out with Entangled Publishing December 1, 2015!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
By day, Amanda lives in Connecticut with her two feline hench-creatures. She's a terrible blusher, has a weak spot for cuddly animals, loves Laffy Taffy and Cadbury MiniEggs, and she's a huge advocate of alternative healing methods. Amanda also wears purple shoes and corsets...Though not always in the same ensemble. She's a Capricorn, a Hufflepuff, a bit gothic, and a few nuggets short of a Happy Meal. Amanda also suffers from Resting Bitchface Syndrome (RBS), so even though she might look like she'll tie you in a knot if you come near her, she's more afraid of you than you are of her (see blushing problem above).
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-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers