The Autistic Writer: Story Structure
Structure of any kind can make a strange bedfellow with Autism.
On the one hand, a majority of Autistic people thrive on structure. Forcing them to break with their own structure can result in meltdowns for some, and mere irritation in others. Though the Autistic significance of structure is an unfortunate source of derision and stereotyping against those on the Spectrum, fondness for structure and routine are about as close to a universal for Autistics as one can find.
Yet the same individuals that crave or even require a high degree of structure often balk at having too many rules. Some will want a full explanation of any rule presented to them. Others will be unable to comprehend a rule’s application to themselves. Still others will bristle at the very notion of rules existing. To them, rules of the road, if you will, are confining—a deprivation of their freedom.
Feelings of being without control, or forced conformity can also, (and I know it sounds contradictory) lead to meltdowns, irritation, or isolation for the Autistic person, depending on their needs.
To an Autistic author such as myself structure can once again present as a double-edged sword.
Outside of experimental works, randomness doesn’t work in fiction. If I just throw sentences and scenes, words and plots onto a page as they come to me naturally, I have a poor outline, not a narrative. The swirling, at times intrusive nature of thoughts for many Autistics don’t come about in a neat pattern for outside consumption. They require a story structure.
Now it could be any number of structures. Three act, five act, epistolary, and so on. Choices abound. But those cats must be herded.
However, structure for an Autistic writer can also frustrate us. As I mentioned in my previous post about finding a story’s climax, blind following of a writing formula can stifle me to such a degree I can actually feel muscle tension in my neck as I write it.
“I don’t want that to happen in Act 3. I don’t see the need for rising action if I’m telling a good story. And what if my murder mystery requires the body to not show up until chapter 8? Am I not worthy of writing it?”
I am never 100% pro or con tight structure in my stories.
Not do you have to be.
I have found though that to err on the side of structure brings more benefits than punishments for an author that wants to share a story with the world.