How my Autism affects my Characters

As a woman with autism, also known as ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) or Asperger’s, this condition affects pretty much every part of my day to day life, including my writing. From writing emotional scenes to building and developing characters in my stories, I can struggle quite a bit and often turn to the internet or friends and family for help. However, when it comes to writing my characters, I don’t struggle as much as I thought I would, after I realised that I have a specific habit. Almost every single character has a little bit of *me* in them, both good and bad characters. There’s basically one exception, which is Sasha’s father in ‘Imaginary’, but other than that every character has a little bit of me inside.

Ultimately, the reason behind this is that it makes the characters much, much easier for me to write. As a person on the spectrum, empathising and sympathising can be very difficult; I can feel it very strongly or not at all. I feel it more so if I can directly relate to that character. For example, with Charlie in ‘Immunity’, she was very easy to write because she classed herself as a bit of an outsider and is quiet and withdrawn, something I can heavily relate to.

I’m sure this is the case for most writers- that it’s easier to write a character that you can relate to. But for me it’s almost essential. Even for the characters with more negative traits. In my 5th book that I’m writing currently, one of the protagonists is very ignorant due to his social status, which causes him to accidentally be rude to others. In my life, I’m very lucky to be privileged and I acknowledge that and try my best to avoid taking it for granted or rubbing it in others’ faces. Even so, I used to be quite ignorant about the lives of people living in more difficult situations, such as people in care, young people living on their own at 15, or people living on the poverty line. Since I could not empathise with these people at all most of the time, it meant I could be rude on accident sometimes. I didn’t even think about this while I’ve been writing this book- it felt very automatic and easy to write.

What this all does is essentially make my characters real. It makes them flawed, quirky, unique, individual, yet relatable and very real. They have traits or personalities that are 3D and can be seen in other people in your life. I’m not basing them entirely off of myself, that would be egotistical. However, by adding a touch of myself into each character, it adds to the real-world feel to them and means the reader can empathise and sympathise easier.

I know this has been successful too. People and readers that I’ve met in person have told me they that can identify with certain characters or tell me that a character is very much like someone they actually know. A reader at a school absolutely loved the characters in ‘A Shot in the Dark’, and even Feryl’s character in ‘The Last of the Missing’ (who also happens to be autistic) has charm that others appreciate.

That’s where my autism helps my writing. It’s not all good though- I frequently struggle with emotional scenes because I can’t naturally relate facial expressions or actions or connotations to emotions. This is why I’m always incredibly happy when someone tells me my book was emotional and hard hitting, it shows I am more than the restrictions of my autism.

That’s all for today though, just a quick blog post about my mind as I write characters.

Published by Alexandra Killworth

I'm Alexandra Killworth, YA author, freelance artist and photographer and mental health activist.

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