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winetraveller
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21 Nov 2011, 11:49 am

I run a restaurant in Normandy, France, but it’s not my only line of work. A couple of years ago we employed a young man, called Jonathan, who has Asperger’s Syndrome. He proved to be a very capable member of the team, and he was a pleasure to work with. His Asperger’s certainly never held him back. Well, he’s moved on to bigger and better things, but he made quite an impression on us. Which brings me to my other job; I’m a wine & travel writer, and I’ve just published my first fictional work. One of the main characters in the book is an 18-year-old with Asperger’s. Although he’s not the central character, he has a much bigger role to play in the book’s sequel (which I’m currently writing). I need to give his character much more depth, but I don’t want to revert to stale or obvious stereotypes (positive or negative). Well, that’s my job as a writer, I suppose. But what I’d like to know is: are there any Asperger’s related traits which would be considered boring, clichéd or down-right insulting in a work of fiction? Conversely, are there any aspects of the syndrome that could be positive, exciting or even crucial to a story’s plot? I would be very grateful for any suggestions.



LexF
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21 Nov 2011, 1:04 pm

Speaking as a writer myself, I think the Aspie thing only gets to be boring, clichéd or down-right insulting if this is used in the sense of defining the character. You don't want him to come across as one-dimensional -- i.e., "this is all there is to him." The condition is a part of who he is, it's not the totality.

I know there is sometimes a tendency with some writers to present characters in a very black-and-white framework -- the bad guy sneers, twirls his mustache, wears a black cape, etc. This is great for satire (or Dudly DoRight cartoons), but not so good in a legitimate story.

If I was writing an Aspie character, I would keep the condition on the back burner, for the most part. It doesn't need to be thrown in the reader's face every third or fourth page; if they're paying attention, they'll get it.

I would focus on his interactions with the other characters. He might come across as "different" without being scary or off-putting. Someone the other characters come to see as intelligent and positive and valuable in his own right, although some might never see this, and others might take longer to get there.

Depending on how prominent I wanted the character to be, I might make him essential to the resolution of the conflict -- maybe he has a skill that is rare and esoteric, but just fits in perfectly with this particular situation. ("And you all thought I was crazy to have a friend like him, but I don't look so crazy now, do I?")

I'm just making stuff up off the top of my head here. But there are certainly positive Aspie traits that could be utilized in a story like this, and this could be done in a way to minimize the stereotypical misunderstandings that so many people have about Aspies.



SilverShoelaces
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21 Nov 2011, 1:47 pm

Since Aspies are diverse in the expression of their symptoms, I think it is important that you don't use every symptom or aspie trait available to describe the character. Perhaps he has a special interest, but doesn't stim. Maybe he has a language difficulty, but it manifests in awkwardly formal speech or precise usage rather than a pure lack of knowledge about how to use language correctly. Perhaps he expresses his emotions poorly and is misunderstood, but actually has a good sense of empathy. Stuff like that might add some of the necessary character depth.

I guess the most important thing is just to not make him a flat character. Figure out which Asperger's traits fit the characterization you've given him already and build other traits into him.

Since your character is 18, interaction with his peers in grade school is an important thing to think about, even if it does not figure heavily into the story. Even the most high-functioning people on the spectrum have had difficulty interacting with their peers, especially in the harsh context of a school. You might want to consider whether the character was bullied, hazed, or encouraged by his "friends" to bully someone else. Or everyone could have left him alone, thought he was weird, and ignored him. Consider whether he is an introvert or extravrt, and how much he desires friendship of his peers. Some people with autism don't want friends in the first place, and many of them are jealous that neurotypicals can make friends relatively easily. Of course, that is unlikely to be the focus of your story, but it is still good to consider.



Woodpecker
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21 Nov 2011, 3:39 pm

I agree make him a character which happens to have AS rather than a person with AS who happens to be a character in the book.

You might want to consider him having a deep understanding of a rare subject such as the biology of rose bushs or the electronics associated with microwave ovens, he might use this understanding to his advantage.


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winetraveller
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21 Nov 2011, 5:08 pm

Many thanks to all three of you for your very helpful replies. That certainly gives me a lot to think about. As I mentioned in my initial question, the character in my first novel isn't that central to the plot, but I did try to write him as a facilitator (he has a gift for languages and a rare form of olfactory synaesthesia - he sees smells - both of which propel his early career as a French winemaker). In my next book he starts college, and I intend to give him a beautiful Moroccan girlfriend. I know, it all sounds a bit weird, but it all makes sense.



CommanderAspie613
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26 Nov 2011, 9:10 pm

winetraveller wrote:
Many thanks to all three of you for your very helpful replies. That certainly gives me a lot to think about. As I mentioned in my initial question, the character in my first novel isn't that central to the plot, but I did try to write him as a facilitator (he has a gift for languages and a rare form of olfactory synaesthesia - he sees smells - both of which propel his early career as a French winemaker). In my next book he starts college, and I intend to give him a beautiful Moroccan girlfriend. I know, it all sounds a bit weird, but it all makes sense.


I am having a hard time picturing that but it seems very interesting. Whats the story about? And when is it available?



winetraveller
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27 Nov 2011, 2:29 am

CommanderAspie613 wrote:
winetraveller wrote:
Many thanks to all three of you for your very helpful replies. That certainly gives me a lot to think about. As I mentioned in my initial question, the character in my first novel isn't that central to the plot, but I did try to write him as a facilitator (he has a gift for languages and a rare form of olfactory synaesthesia - he sees smells - both of which propel his early career as a French winemaker). In my next book he starts college, and I intend to give him a beautiful Moroccan girlfriend. I know, it all sounds a bit weird, but it all makes sense.


I am having a hard time picturing that but it seems very interesting. Whats the story about? And when is it available?


Hello Commander!

The book is called Broke the Grape's Joy. It's about a widow with bipolar disorder who gets through a year of her life with the help of, among others, an 18-year-old boy with Asperger's. There's also murder, wine, food, the French countryside and even a bit of sex too. The title is from the Dylan Thomas poem This Bread I Break (about the conflict between religion, fate, destiny on one hand and free will on the other). It's available on eBook and Kindle formats on amazon UK (amazon US coming soon) and smashwords. You can download the first few chapters for free. I'd be glad of any feedback - as I said, my asperger's character has a much bigger role in the sequel.

Happy reading!