1. mashers
    Offline

    mashers Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2016
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    82

    I identify with my character better after making him autistic

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by mashers, Jul 4, 2016.

    This morning I realised that one of my characters would work well as an autistic adult. I've spent some time rewriting some dialogue, and adding in some description of how he is interpreting, processing and understanding (from his own POV). I've become so much more involved in his story arc since making these changes and have a lot more empathy for him. While this is obviously a good thing, it does lead me to a few concerns.
    1. Am I only identifying with him so strongly because we share a common trait (I have aspergers) and will the reader feel the same if they are neurotypical? I realise this isn't exactly answerable, so to put it another way, how can I make sure a non-autistic reader can empathise with an autistic character who may seem odd or unusual in the way they perceive things?
    2. How do I avoid falling into the trap of your novel really being about you? I don't want this to happen, but the more I empathise with the character the more I invest in him personally.
    3. This has made me realise that I feel distant from my other characters. I realise this is probably for a different reason, but do other writers ever feel this way? I care less about my non-autistic characters and I'm worried that this lack of empathy comes from a lack of identification with them, and that this might even be because I don't actually understand my own characters

    Reading back through this message I realise these are probably not questions others can answer. But I've typed it now so I may as well hit submit, and if anyone has any insight I'd appreciate it :)
     
    Simpson17866 and jannert like this.
  2. I.A. By the Barn
    Offline

    I.A. By the Barn A very lost time traveller Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2015
    Messages:
    967
    Likes Received:
    733
    I just write my characters and see how they turn out. To me they are just people and yes, technically they may have a-typical tendencies, they are just people who act a certain way. Though I look up how someone may act with a certain condition it will never say so and so has condition x. I may make my main character on the autism spectrum by accident too, I don't know but unless it is needed for the story I wouldn't state it. I just write people who are just how they are. But at the end of the day its up to you really. Good luck!
     
    Oscar Leigh likes this.
  3. mashers
    Offline

    mashers Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2016
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    82
    Oh I haven't stated it. I don't want the reader to make assumptions about him due to a label I provide for them. I'm making him appear that way by his thoughts and actions, and it will be important to his arc later on as he will have to overcome some anxieties related to his autism.
     
  4. I.A. By the Barn
    Offline

    I.A. By the Barn A very lost time traveller Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2015
    Messages:
    967
    Likes Received:
    733
    I hate assumptions. They are the bane of my life. Sounds good!
     
  5. mashers
    Offline

    mashers Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2016
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    82
    Thanks - I hope so :) I might post a few paragraphs for feedback if that's ok?
     
  6. newjerseyrunner
    Offline

    newjerseyrunner Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Apr 20, 2016
    Messages:
    304
    Likes Received:
    231
    I like to connect to my characters by associating them with someone I actually know or a celebrity who I'm interested in.
     
  7. mashers
    Offline

    mashers Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2016
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    82
    That's a good idea - build a connection with a fictitious character by linking them to a real person. I don't think I know anyone well enough to do that, and most celebrities are annoying, but I'll try it. Thanks :)
     
  8. apollonaris
    Offline

    apollonaris New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 14, 2016
    Messages:
    9
    Likes Received:
    5
    Location:
    Winnipeg, Manitoba
    I think a nice way to allow readers to empathize with your character is to offer some level of explanation behind their actions. You don't gotta spend a paragraph explaining every habit or quirk, but just a simple "she checks the mailbox five times every day; every time she walks past the door, it's an involuntary muscle reaction" or something like that. A small habit that readers can identify with. Regardless of whether or not your reader is autistic, they'll empathize with a character who does things for similar reasons that make sense to them.
     
    izzybot likes this.
  9. mashers
    Offline

    mashers Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2016
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    82
    That's a great idea, thanks! I had already alluded to some of that but I'll consider expanding on it. Here's a paragraph I've just added. What do you think? Edit - DYAC!

     
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2016
    Iain Aschendale and Oscar Leigh like this.
  10. I.A. By the Barn
    Offline

    I.A. By the Barn A very lost time traveller Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2015
    Messages:
    967
    Likes Received:
    733
    I like it!
     
  11. mashers
    Offline

    mashers Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2016
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    82
    Thanks! I realise one short paragraph is insufficient, but I'm hoping the reader will also like him. I am aiming to make his autistic traits a mixed blessing (as they often are) with some representing special skills and others obstacles to overcome.
     
  12. izzybot
    Offline

    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2015
    Messages:
    868
    Likes Received:
    957
    Location:
    SC, USA
    Hahah, I already like him because I totally have the same leaving-the-house mantra.
     
  13. mashers
    Offline

    mashers Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2016
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    82
    Thank you! I'm glad you're were able to identify with him! Perhaps autism is less obtuse when it's written down...
     
  14. Oscar Leigh
    Online

    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2016
    Messages:
    4,426
    Likes Received:
    1,983
    Location:
    Australia
    I totally do that. Wallet, phone keys is a very sensible routine for leaving the house.
     
  15. Oscar Leigh
    Online

    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2016
    Messages:
    4,426
    Likes Received:
    1,983
    Location:
    Australia
    1. Readers and other audiences constantly have to sympathize and empathize with characters who are different to them. And autism spectrum has already appeared in many works. You're good.
    2. The best way to make sure he's not the same is simply look at the differences. Think of the most central and impactful traits and compare them. They're especially important. But even if the character is quite similar, that's not bad. As long as it's clearly not you, it doesn't really matter.
    3. There's absolutely nothing wrong with identifying more or less with a character based on similarities, it's pretty much how identifying works. And empathy is naturally connected to that understanding.
     
  16. Iain Aschendale
    Online

    Iain Aschendale Contributed Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2015
    Messages:
    1,055
    Likes Received:
    1,024
    Location:
    The Hopton Stoddard Home
    I like that brief sample paragraph because of how it does what it does. To do a quick check of one's necessities is something most of us do, but then it shows that this is something the MC had to practice. Then it lets us know that there's been some major event in his life, such that those items are no longer necessary for survival, and finally it reveals that he suffers from some sort of mental difficulty*. I don't know that I'd recognize it as autism right off, but you've accomplished a lot of character development in that little bit of writing. I'd certainly be interested in reading more.

    *I don't know if this is the current accepted terminology, but I mean no offense by it if it isn't.
     
  17. mashers
    Offline

    mashers Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2016
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    82
    Thank you for this feedback. I can't explain how encouraging it was to read what you wrote. Character development is something I don't feel comes naturally to me but I do think in getting better at it, and your comments really helped. Thank you! As for not immediately recognising that he is autistic from this extract, that's probably because there are many other explanations for that type of behaviour. I hope that as the reader learns more about the character it will become apparent in a subtle way.

    Don't worry I wasn't offended, but I appreciate that you have said this. I'm not really sure what the exact term would be, but 'difficulty' is definitely acceptable. Generally, at least here in the UK, we avoid the word 'mental', though it does occur in legislation (e.g. the Mental Capacity Act). 'Cognitive' would probably be the best substitute.
     
  18. jannert
    Online

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,828
    Likes Received:
    7,358
    Location:
    Scotland
    I think this is a fantastic idea. Many people write from a perspective of a character they can identify with as themselves or part of themselves.

    Have you got any plans to let the readers know fairly early on that this character is on the autistic spectrum? Or do you want the readers to discover it as they read?
     
  19. mashers
    Offline

    mashers Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2016
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    82
    Thank you jannert. I had assumed that this would be frowned upon, but it's good to know that it can be a positive thing to do.

    I won't be stating explicitly that he is autistic. But I will be talking about a condition he has, and will give clues as to what it is through the way he understands things and interacts with other characters. For example, I've written a few paragraphs where he is trying to understand a situation and conceptualises it as a computer programme so he can understand the situation. I've then digressed to a flashback about how this was responded to when he was a child, how he had misunderstood what adults were talking about when they talked about his 'condition', and how he later learned to love this aspect of himself and use it to his advantage. I hope it's not too direct though.
     
    Iain Aschendale likes this.
  20. jannert
    Online

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,828
    Likes Received:
    7,358
    Location:
    Scotland
    That sounds perfect. It's a situation that interests me, actually. I think many autistic people have SO much to offer the world. They conceptualise things differently from the rest of us, and while this might be awkward in social situations, where so much that goes on is unwritten and intuitive, they can also see things we can't, and can do things we can't. I think we're letting ourselves down as a race if we don't attempt to understand autism and value it for what it is and what it can do. It is a gift, actually. The only problem seems to be that some people don't understand the gift.

    I believe a story like yours will go some way to getting folks interested, and helping us to understand how things work for an autistic person.
     
  21. mashers
    Offline

    mashers Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2016
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    82
    @jannert
    Thank you, that's wonderful feedback. I also completely agree with your view of autism (not least because me and my nephew are both autistic ourselves!) I've actually just worked out the ending for my book and it's because this character thinks and behaves differently to others that he is able to succeed where others could not. I'm really tempted to post a chapter in the workshop for critique but I'm worried about copyright and things like that should I ever be in a position to try and publish.
     
    jannert likes this.
  22. jannert
    Online

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,828
    Likes Received:
    7,358
    Location:
    Scotland
    Apparently posting a chapter for critique is okay. Posting the whole thing would be a mistake, though.
     
  23. mashers
    Offline

    mashers Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2016
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    82
    Ok thank you, I'll consider posting something shortly :)
     
  24. apollonaris
    Offline

    apollonaris New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 14, 2016
    Messages:
    9
    Likes Received:
    5
    Location:
    Winnipeg, Manitoba
    I love that excerpt, it definitely allows for the reader to relate to the character more after offering some explanation. Again, some people have weird habits that they developed a long time ago and hold onto even though they're no longer relevant, and I think that paragraph shows that perfectly. Great job!
     

Share This Page