Autism Informed Writing

I showed a friend my outline for the talk on autistic protags in fantasy I wanna do in October and she liked the angle of how the protag being autistic informs/should inform their reading. And then she asked, if I didn’t wanna do a bit on autistic writing style. How the autism informs the writing.

I am excited and devastated.

Because, yes, yes! It exists. I have seen it. I was privileged to read it. I totally want to talk bout that.

But I don’t know if I should because it never survives into published books. Autistic traits in writing are generally considered bad writing. And in the books I will talk about, those traits were not noticeable to me. (I shall definitely do a re-read with an eye out for that.)

I’m not saying the traits are all good or even useful. I am saying they exist and are informed by how we process and experience things differently. How we look at the world differently and translate those differences into the way we write.

So, what is it that I noticed?

1) Descriptions

We often don’t describe things. We focus on what is important and display that. In conversations, we have “talking head syndrome”, our characters walk and act in white rooms. I totally get that because when I focus on a thing, everything else might as well not exist.

This can be difficult to follow. I understand this when I read other people’s work. The author knows exactly how the surroundings look and filters out that noise. Thank you. Unfortunately, as a reader, I do not know what is around, so a leg up is appreciated.

I don’t think this is a characteristic that will ever make it into published work wholesale because while common, it is confusing. What I do think, though, is that we can get by on a lot less description than is currently expected. And a floating head or two hasn’t killed anybody yet.

I’d love to get to a point where “just enough description to keep you tethered” is a valid writing style.

2) One Word to Say it All

Tied to the above, when we try to describe stuff so our readers don’t get lost, we repeat words. A lot. Because we like to be precise and concise. I have a scene where a mage draws magic lights onto walls in swirling patterns. I use the word pattern about every other line. Because that is what it is.

We’re all trained to catch word echoes. This is not a helpful trait for keeping the vibe of the description. If I add another descriptor, that one has to be pertinent and significantly add to what the thing is. And the thing may not even be important

Which leads to another reason we repeat words, often generic umbrella terms: the thing we describe isn’t really important. We’re in a city. There are many houses. So. Many. Houses. It doesn’t really matter what the houses look like (see point 1). So we say “house” and move on.

I don’t see why this should be a problem when the things described are unimportant according to point 1. If anything about the house was important, we’d tell you.

3) Focus Words

I know you prefer to call them something else, but I have found them in the writing of autistic people and since you assume they are there because of untrained writing, I may as well assume they are there because they have a function. For us at least.

Ever heard how things can get overwhelming for autistic people? That there can easily be too much especially when there’s people involved? I find it very hard to focus when there is a lot going on. I know I may chose the wrong thing to concentrate on.

Enter the focus word. It will let me know exactly where to put my effort. Expressions containing “hear, feel, see, notice” point me in the direction of the important thing going on. (For me they also work like a close-up.) The party may be loud and overcrowded, but when I “feel a hand descend on my shoulder” I know this is where the focus should be.

Something I have no insight on outside myself, is tied into point 1 again. If I don’t consciously focus on a thing, it’s not there. So saying something is a thing I hear/see/feel makes it real and turns it into something that exists and that I consciously notice.

Motivation and Agency 😤

We don’t really need it. “Because it was the right thing to do” goes miles and miles. “Because it seemed like a good idea” has a lot of legs to stand on. As does the belief that this is something is the Done Thing. We may not understand why because it comes from neurotypical rules. Accordingly application may be more or less successful.

Many of us have learnt how be reactive. Our instincts of what to do were proven wrong (for NTs) too often and there were repercussions. We react. We let the other side start the script because that gives us a leg up on successfully getting through the interaction without crashing it.

Agency is a big deal in publishing. But it is also a privilege and that needs to be considered.

I’m sure there’s more if you look closely. But these were the ones that immediately came to my mind. And I’m not saying this needs to be in our books 1:1. But we should be allowed to write less descriptions, more constructions that reflect our experiences, and protagonists whose agency is closer to our won.

Angy nd out.

A Roborovski dwarf hamster is running in a red running wheel. Suddenly it is caught by the wheel and spins around in, flipping over and over.

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