Hi! This is a question for Fay, hope that’s alright. :-)
I have a protagonist that loses an arm named Soup, and they happen to be the main focus out of their group. I have done some research, and I have come across a slight problem. It takes a very long time to actually recover due to the shock (3-8 weeks), and there is the other obstacles of getting a prosthetic, making sure the body doesn’t reject it, getting used to using the prosthetic, etc. This takes place in a world full of magic and technology, but the article I read says that even if you DO have a high tech world, loosing arm would still take a while to get used to. Because Soup and their group are trying to get a Mac Guffin and they have a time limit, this raises a problem: the main protagonist is recovering from something that takes a while and their group is fighting for the Mac Guffin.
I see a few options: One, use magic and technology to speed up their recovery a bit. However, I’m not sure if this would be cheating and making it seem like disabled users are faking their recovery and the struggles of recovery. I do not want to downplay that in any way. Two, I could just show them recovering while they are fighting, and then have them claim the Mac Guffin when they are done recovering. Problem with this is, there’s no reason for them to even claim the Mac Guffin when their teammates, who are viable candidates for having the Mac Guffin, are right there. Three, I could remove Soup as the main character (which is drastic, and I do not want to do at all). Or should I do something else entirely? Thanks!
Thank you for your question. Keeping a recovering character involved in the main plot without erasing their disability can be tricky. First of all, it’s great that you love your protagonist! Having a well-researched disabled main character is awesome and there is no reason to set them aside. This is a solvable plot problem.
When it comes to representing your main character’s disability, there is a myth that you are working around that is worth discussing. This is the myth that sufficiently advanced healing will “cure” all disabilities. Underneath its optimistic surface, this myth is about perceiving disability as a terrible thing that won’t exist in an optimistic setting. Not only does this send a negative message about disability, it also erases disabled characters from optimistic futures so that we can’t participate in that optimism. In addition, it glosses over the complex reality of disability, including disabled people who don’t want to be “cured,” such as members of the Deaf and autistic communities.
I’m bringing this myth up because it seems like you are reacting to it by wanting to make sure that disability isn’t erased, which is important. However, it is also important to envision how advanced healing benefits people with disabilities. Disabled people deserve to be included in that optimism and wish fulfillment.
When it comes to the question of how long it should take for the character to recover, it is all about finding a balanced portrayal that fits the setting. Because this setting has advanced healing, it feels like disability is being weirdly singled out if that advanced healing applies to everything but disability. The challenge is to find a balance between having advanced healing benefit the character without erasing their disability.
The key to finding this balance is clearly defining what the advanced healing can and can’t do. For example, it might be able to drastically speed up the physical process of healing while not being able to change the speed of adjusting to the loss or adapting to a prosthetic. Defining limitations, costs, side effects, and tradeoffs for treatments and assistive devices also help. For example, if the character has an advanced prosthetic, what are its limitations? Does it have a power source? Are there any risks or side effects that come with using it?
Once you have figured out how the magic and technology of the setting affect the character’s recovery process, it is time to figure out how to keep the main character involved in the central plot. Because recovery will take some time, even if it is sped up, there needs to be a way to keep them involved while they are recovering. The easiest way to approach this is to find a reason that Soup needs to be physically present with their teammates as they continue the quest for the MacGuffin. Once Soup is physically present, you can find a different reason for them to be at the center of the action.
Please notice that Soup’s reason for being present doesn’t have to put them in a central role. For example, Soup could take on a support role, such as a translator or tech person. All that reason needs to do is get Soup present in the location where everything is happening. Then when the action starts, the rapidly changing dynamics of action scenes can put Soup in the central role, even though that wasn’t their team’s original plan. For example, if Soup is a support person who doesn’t immediately get involved in fighting, they can be in a position to notice something crucial or act on an opportunity that their other teammates aren’t aware of. Just make sure that they have agency and that they stay involved in the main plot events.
One reason for a character to stay involved is that they have an essential skill or knowledge that the group needs. Alternatively, there could be a story event that makes the character essential. This is why main characters so frequently have magical connections to important people and objects – it means that the character can’t be replaced. However, this can get contrived, and there are other options. For example, Soup could be the only one to have witnessed something, such as being the only person who saw the face of, or heard the voice of, a secretive antagonist. Now they are needed to help the group identify this important antagonist when they come across them again.
If the reason for the main character to stay involved is weaker, then you can keep them involved by having the plot come to them. Maybe they have an important object and don’t know it. Or maybe their team needs to do some research to figure out their next step and they are doing that research in the same city where Soup is getting their treatment. A person who is recovering can still reasonably help out with library research, so Soup can join in. Then when something goes down at the library, Soup is right there and can get involved.
Alternatively, you can change the situation in which Soup becomes disabled so that they can’t leave their team. For example, if their team has access to advanced healing but is isolated in the middle of nowhere, Soup might get basic healing but have no safe way to leave the group, so they have to stay and help out as best they can while they are recovering.
It’s all about figuring out what option is going to work best for your story. I hope that this helps! Good luck with your writing project,
— Fay from Writing Alchemy