So, StoryBundle had a writing bundle back in November.

Ever since I cancelled my KU subscription, I’ve been hurting for ebooks, so, while I mostly bought the bundle for the more business-oriented books, I’ve been making my way through the writing advice ones. I also check out writing advice blogs from time to time, but they can be hit-or-miss.

And, yeah, I know this is a writing advice blog, but I’m working in a specific niche here, and I’m mostly acting as an educational tool about autism in general through a writing-oriented lens.

So most writing advice boils down to three categories:

  1. Solid advice that’s either universal or where the writer acknowledges that different things will work for different people.
  2. Advice that works for them, but is by no means universal.
  3. Advice that is so bad my eyeballs bleed.

I would just like to say right now, if a piece of advice seems off to you, check the credentials of the person giving it.

I’m giving advice on how to write autistic characters. I am autistic and I have written well-received autistic characters, so you know that I have at least some idea of what I’m talking about.

This whole post was prompted by a piece of advice I saw from someone who had no business giving writing advice.

The advice was basically, “If you belong to a minority group, you shouldn’t write main characters from that group.”

Just…

What?!

Their reasoning was that you may struggle to be “objective”.

Objectivity is a nice idea, but it’s ultimately a fallacy. People from the privileged groups don’t think of their bias as bias because it’s so accepted. It’s just the way things are, so they don’t have to think critically about it.

They think they’re objective because, from their perspective, everyone else shares their bias.

They also said that you may end up writing a character who is a bit of a self-insert.

I will admit that that probably becomes a bit of an added risk.

(But the endless novels about abled, white, cishet men with English degrees thinking of having affairs aren’t self-insert fantasies at all. /sarcasm)

Here’s the secret with self-insert – it’s okay.

No, really, it is.

The problem with self-insert is that you might be a little more likely to fall into the same trap as any other writer – you might make your main character too perfect.

If you end up writing a character similar to you, there is the risk of you avoiding writing them with flaws. After all, no one likes to focus on their own flaws.

That can be honestly tough. If you’re going to draw on your own traits, you need to draw on both the good and bad.

I’m not going to pretend that that’s an easy line to walk.

The thing is, though, as long as you’re conscious of not falling into that trap, it’s perfectly possible.

Autistic people can write autistic characters.

I’m proof of that.

So don’t let any old asshole tell you otherwise.

So, like many of my posts, this is something I’ve been stewing over since a post popped up on my Tumblr dashboard.

The post in question was an anon ask to another autism blog, asking for advice on autism coding in a novel they were working on.

They realised, reading back, that the character came across as autistic, which was unintentional.

Which is fine, such things happen, but the most common response I saw was “if you didn’t mean to do it and had no malicious intent, it’s fine”. Which brings me to the death of the author.

That sentiment should be true. If someone had no malicious intent, the end result shouldn’t matter.

But it does.

Now I’m not having a go at this anon. In the grand scheme of things, coding isn’t that bad as long as it’s not being used to make autistic people the butt of the joke while avoiding culpability.

It was the consistency of the response that I want to address.

Telling an author in the writing process that their intention matters more than the final product helps no one. There are arguments for and against taking into account author intention when criticising a work, but it’s best as an author who is worried about a specific piece of criticism to assume that no one will.

And, honestly, when it comes to criticisms of a work that say that work is racist or ableist or sexist or homophobic, etc., authorial intent is usually only taken into account if the author belongs to the group in question or if they had malicious intent.

If someone creates an offensive piece of work, no one cares that the author didn’t mean it.

Again, this example wasn’t about a piece of work that would have been offensive but that response of “you don’t mean harm, so it’s fine” is one that shouldn’t apply, regardless.

Am I saying that authors should pander to imaginary future critics?

I’m saying that authors have a responsibility to not be racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, etc., in their work and authors should be aware that it doesn’t matter what their intent was if that’s how the work reads.

At the end of the day, the reader doesn’t have a telepathic link to you. All they have is what’s on the page.