The Autistic Writer: Choosing Point of View
Perspective is crucial to understanding life on the Autism Spectrum. Because Autistic people are not a monolith, it can’t be assumed every Autistic person’s perspective on daily life is identical. It isn’t. The concept of perspective, however, the nature of how any given person with ASD perceives and experiences the world around them is key.
Spoilers: It’s usually not the same as those that are neurotypical.
Authors deal with perspective all the time in their fiction. In fact, nine times out of ten it’s the very first choice they make before beginning a new work. Only in the writing world, we refer to it as the point of view. (POV for short, and because writers like slang.)
Literary point of view has evolved a bit over the generations. Nevertheless most sources will describe either three points of view with some subcategories, while others will declare five distinct possibilities.
Do any of them specifically appeal more to the Autistic writer? Let’s go over them one at a time.
Fiction narrated by a character directly. “I woke up.” (Every now and then, “we woke up,” but that’s another topic.) The main character is telling the reader the story themself. Ergo, only those things the character knows, experiences or thinks can be known by the reader.
My current work in progress is in first person. Only one previous novel of mine has been so. If you believe some of the stereotypes about Autistic people, this POV might seem the ideal choice. After all, some of us do enjoy talking about ourselves, at times to the detriment of those around us. Besides, isn’t everybody’s life lived in first person?
Yet the character isn’t the author in most cases. Unless it’s a memoir, the author is no more immersed in their own thoughts in first person than they are in any other POV.
It’s interesting to note that I tire more quickly when writing first person. As with real people, I have to accept a certain intimacy with my fictional character in first person that isn’t present in the other POVs. Extended intimacy with most real people drains me. I suspect this as a reason “pretending” to do someone else’s feeling for them in first person has a similar effect. It won’t prevent me from using the POV in the future, but it’s different.
This is when the reader is the character. One is instructed how one feels and acts by the unseen godlike force of the author. A reader’s entire history and identity while reading is decided.
“You wake up in the middle of the night, sweating and afraid.”
I have written exactly one short story in second person in my entire career. It’s becoming more popular in some circles these days, but remains the least used POV for fiction with reason. As an Autistic person, I despise being controlled, or told what to do. I value my independence and my self-determination to what some may call a rabid degree. Most people do. But so intense is my need to make my own decisions I cannot even enjoy reading second-person fiction. Not that it can harm me, but I feel secondary resentment at the presumption of even being asked to accept some external force telling even a fake me what I am thinking.
It’s challenging for me to slip into this experience as a reader, and I try not to write the sort of fiction I can’t stand reading. I find Second Person invasive, not immersive.
Third Person Omniscient
This point of view features a narrator who is not part of the action in the story, but nonetheless is aware of all of it, everywhere, including the thoughts of every character. They share this with you, the reader. In many cases (not all) the narrator will also editorialize on what they are describing.
“Unlike his brother Lee, the sexiest man you would ever want to meet, poor pathetic Calvin lacked a six pack as well as charisma. Lee relished in this difference; Calvin lamented it daily.”
I have never used this point of view, and I don’t see myself ever doing so.
By nature, it’s chaotic. It’s all I can do in life to keep my own thoughts straight, let alone those of everyone else I interact with. One swirling pandemonium of a mind is enough for me. Thank heaven that is all I need to manage in life. I choose to keep it that way in fiction, in no small part due to the nature of my Autistic focus. (Or lack thereof if I am tired.)
Much like second-person, I don’t like reading it, so I don’t write it.
Third Person Limited
By a long shot the POV I both employ and read the most. Indeed, most of Western fiction up to this point in history engages in Third Person Limited point of view.
An unseen narrator sits on the “shoulder” of the character, and knows the thoughts and plans and experiences of that single character, and nobody else.
“John was sick and tired of dealing with this customer. So he chose to quit the job, right then and there. He walked out without saying a thing.”
For me, this is the ideal distance between narrator and character for the majority of stories. It allows just a tad bit more freedom to me as an author, and to some extent takes a gram of pressure off of the reader. A full story is being told in the way we live our lives—one at a time. But the story is being told to us, not lived BY us or THROUGH us. That arm’s length is the Autistic part of this POV to me.
Third Person Objective
In the fifth and final type of POV, we have the most clinical of them all—Third Person Objective.
In it, the narrator still perches unseen on the shoulder of a character. (At times more than one character), only without knowledge of anyone’s thoughts. Though the reader is privy to private moments of the characters, it’s completely observational. The reader alone must decide the meaning of what they are watching. Like a closed-circuit feed on every location in the character’s life.
“Henry walked into the room, book in hand. He held the book up toward his sister, who watched him in silence. He tossed the book on the coffee table. She started to speak, but he held up his hand and she stopped.”
What’s the plan here? The emotions? The thoughts? Your guess is as good as anyone’s, because the narrator doesn’t know in third person objective.
I’ve played with this POV in short fiction. I’ve have written an entire novel in it. I couldn’t, if I want my characters to stand out the most, as I have discussed in previous posts. Show, don’t tell, sure, but in this POV we run the risk of telling no story at all. It works for many readers who consider any other POV “spoonfeeding.” To me however, I am clinical enough in my everyday life, sometimes when I don’t intend to be. I want my fiction more expressive than my average day in my Autistic life.
So which point of view is the most Autistic? Answer: all of them. Just like everything else I have discussed, there is no one inviolable answer to “what is an Autistic writer?” I flatter myself to think I have pointed to some trends in this and other pieces, but another author just as Autistic as I am could very well feel differently about each of the POVs. If so, I’d love to hear their perspective.
- Posted in: Writing
- Tagged: autism, autistic writer, fiction, writing