Writing Autistic

Writing Autistic – Perspective and POV – Foreshadowing With an Autistic Main Character

You know what makes me nervous?

Allistics using gimicky tricks to emphasise that their character is Autistic.

Like, only using certain types of camera angles or structuring sentences in a certain way.

I’m not saying it never works, but it always makes me nervous. Because, unless you’re consulting with an Actually Autistic person, you have no way of knowing whether it accurately conveys what it’s like to be Autistic.

At best, it could just be a little off, and at worst it could be completely othering, only driving home the point to any Autistic person watching that you have no idea what you’re doing.

That’s a lot harder to recover from than, “Well, that one scene with the meltdown was a little off…”

So, how exactly should you go about getting the perspective and POV of your story right?

Well, first of all, avoid any gimics unless you’re closely collaborating with an Autistic person. Again, there may be examples where it has worked, but don’t count on that being you.

In fact, the best possible advice I can give in general is count on f**king up.

And then ask Actually Autistic people to tell you where the f**k ups are.

But, back to the specific advice. There are a few things to take into account when choosing POV for an Autistic character.

First Person

So, I started writing a novel with an Autistic main character in first person and I noticed a few hiccups.

First person is really good for being inside a character’s head, so it could help to convey the Autistic style of thinking, but for an Allistic, I think this could just potentially give you more places to mess up.

Stories which are about autism, which are about getting Allistic readers inside of our heads… I don’t want to outright say that no Allistic person would ever be able to stick the landing… But it’s surprising when it happens, put it that way.

Even as an Autistic writer, first person challenged me. You have an even more limited view of the other characters than you would have with an Allistic main character.

For an Autistic person, figuring out what’s going on in the head of an Allistic person is difficult (Remember: This also works the other way around!) and even figuring out what a fellow Autisitc person is feeling can be tricky, thanks to the “double filter” issue (A.K.A. more of L.C. trying to find terms for things and then just making them up).

Say I’m talking to B (my Autistic BFF). She’s learned how to mimic Allistic behaviour, but it’s not quite right. I’ve learned how to kind-of figure out what Allistic’s are feeling from their body language, but I often miss things.

So, she’s trying to filter her behaviour through what she’s learned are NT norms, and I’m trying to interpret her behaviour through what I’ve learned are NT norms (which aren’t nessecarily the same things she’s learned).

I’ve known B for years, so we’ve dropped the filters, but it is something to bear in mind if your Autistic character isn’t particularly close with someone.

First person can help to create a feeling of isolation for your character, but it can also create story-telling hiccups. The story I was trying to tell was filled with a large secondary cast and focusing on everyone with first person became difficult. Characters had secrets and they lied and I realised as I wrote, that there was no way my character would be observant enough to pick up on half of it – mostly because I wouldn’t be.

Even something as simple as talking to another character and them being uncomfortable with a certain topic – like, basic “HERE! BACKSTORY STUFF IS HERE!” writing – becomes tricky. Any level of foreshadowing the motives or attitudes of another character becomes difficult to write because you can’t often have your main character picking up on anything beyond the words directly out of other character’s mouths.

I talked about this a bit in my post on empathy.

Obviously, if someone’s crying and I ask what’s wrong, if they say “fine”, then I clearly know they’re lying, though it might go a bit like this:

I knocked tentatively on Isolde’s door, hearing the sound of muffled crying beyond.

“Yeah?” she said, her voice quieter than usual.

I entered, only to see her sitting on her bed with her knees curled up to her chest, her face red and her eyes puffy. Loose strands of short brown hair stuck to the dried tears on her face.

I shifted my weight awkwardly. I knew I was supposed to comfort her, but I had no idea how. I’d never seen Isolde cry before. Or, well, show any emotion beyond stoicism, really.

“I… Are you okay?” I eventually asked.

“I’m fine,” she answered quickly.

I paused, stumped. Clearly, she wasn’t okay. Did she want to be alone or did she want me to stay? Did she not want to talk about it, or did she just think that I was too young to understand?

So, my main character isn’t picking up on complex expressions. It’s just the surface level stuff. If there is one “gimicky” thing I tend to use, it’s that I don’t say:

Isolde looked pensive.

I would say:

Isolde frowned and I wondered if she was angry, but then I noticed how her jaw wasn’t set in that way that told me she was gritting her teeth. I just assumed that she had a lot on her mind and left her be.

Just to show how reading emotions is a step-by-step procedure, rather than intuitive.

But, in all honesty, I prefer using third person.

Third Person

Third person gives you a bit of a cheat. If you need to convey how another character is feeling, because the audience needs this information, but they’re covering up that emotion and you think that picking up on it wouldn’t be something your main character would do, given how you’ve been writing them, you could always slip it in.

For example:

“So, how do you know the Queen?” Lia eventually asked as they headed out of town, unable to contain her curiosity any longer.

“We were friends a long time ago. I’m surprised she even remembers me. We were practically children.”

Lia nodded, satisfied with the answer, completely oblivious to the way Isolde’s grip on her reigns tightened until her knuckles went white.

And yeah, I know, I know.

But L.C.! I thought you weren’t supposed to give your audience knowledge your character doesn’t have, even in third person.

Yeah, I don’t care.

Like, I use this sparingly. It’s not an every paragraph occurance. But sometimes you have to screw the rules to keep your story interesting.


[gif of Seto Kaiba saying “Looks like the rules… just got screwed” as he puts on sunglasses. It then cuts to the Yu-Gi-Oh! the abridged series title card with “YEAHHHHHHHHHHHHH” written underneath.]

Multiple POV

Of course, another way to get around it is to just jump around between scenes or chapters. This way, if a character misses something, the audience only has to wait until the next scene/chapter to realise what’s going on.

But I only do that with ensemble casts and I’ve only got one of those going right now (out of, like, six or seven WIPs).

Originally posted to on 21/6/15.

Writing Autistic

Writing Autistic – Avoiding Tropes vs. Stifling Creativity

Can we please get over the mentality that tropes are the devil?

I write a lot of YA and the YA community online is so full of people declaring that you’re never allowed to use certain tropes.

And I talk about tropes a lot on here, (if you’re confused because you don’t feel that I have, it’s probably because I’ve not yet finished moving the archives over from and I try to give alternatives and make it clear that I’m not saying that the trope should never be used ever but sometimes things get lost, so I thought I would do a whole post just about tropes in general.

I’m going to be very upfront in saying that when dealing with any minority group, there will be tropes that are hands-down terrible and should always be avoided (unless you’re subverting them and even then, take a look at the hate John Green gets for writing Manic Pixie Dream Girls before you commit to that path).

With autism, these include cure stories and stories where we’re framed as a tragedy. Also, stories where a lack of empathy results in criminal behaviour (not that these two can’t co-exist, but there’s a difference between co-existence and causation).

Others you don’t have to subvert, you just have to appreciate why people are tired.

For example, I’m mathematically minded and my IQ is in the “superior” range, and my General Ability Index is in the “very superior” range. But I am sick to death of the “autistic genius” trope.

You know why?

Because they’re all cis, straight/ace, middle-class, white dudes.

Give me a confirmed autistic Felicity Smoak or Curtis Holt (this is an Arrow reference, for those who don’t watch) and I will love you forever!

Or hell, give me a cis, straight/ace, middle-class, white dude with a gender-nonconforming special interest!

Just give me something a little different.

More Abed, less Sheldon.

L.C. Mawson is currently trying her best to learn that throwing her book at people while yelling “BOOK MOTHERFUCKER!” isn’t an effective marketing strategy. For the sake of all of the randomers she meets, please check it out here.

If you’d like to make sure you don’t miss her weekly advice on how to write autistic characters, she also has a weekly newsletter to keep you up to date.

Writing Autistic

Writing Autistic – Baiting, Coding, and the Importance of Being Explicit

Even if you’re fairly new to certain kind of media critique, you probably know the phrase “queer-baiting”.


The idea is that they spend a large amount of time hinting that two characters of the same gender are into each other, but the creators insist that they’re straight and “just bros”, and nothing ever comes of it.

This is also becoming a common tactic with autism.


Obviously, with autism they don’t use relationships with other character so much as they use coding.

Autism-coding is where a character is given autistic traits that are obvious to autistic people, or people with a lot of experience around autistic adults.

This, much like real life autistic people, tends to be missed by everyone else.

“But, L.C., surely that’s just an accident, right?”

There is an argument to be made that the bumbling, socially-awkward scientist archetype originally came out of observations of undiagnosed autistic people.

Hell, Sherlock Holmes was based on a real person who everyone pretty much agrees must have been autistic.

But, here’s the thing: we know better now.

And I don’t mean that the autistic community knows better, but no one else does. I first heard about the “socially awkward scientist being based on autism” thing from a Movie Bob video.

And yet, Sherlock is never called “autistic”. Neither is anyone else.

The way I see it, something might start as accidental coding, but anything that goes on like this for more than half a season (or a single instalment in a book/film series) is pretty deliberate. It’s the creators trying to have the best of both worlds.

In the case of autism, they want autistic people watching and identifying with the character, because it creates enthusiastic fans, (or, if we’re assuming the worst, they want to make fun of autistic people) but they don’t want the liability that comes with the label.

In the case of queer-baiting, they don’t want to lose the middle-America viewers. In the case of autism-baiting, they don’t want to lose the viewers who have a mental block, preventing them from thinking of autistic people as, well, people.

This is a common problem with disability in Hollywood. People don’t believe that disabled people are capable, which leads to disabled people having to be portrayed in an over-exaggerated way (listen here if you want more on that).

“So, let them do it. Best of both worlds.”

Except, as I covered in last week’s post, it pushes these characters into the realm of headcanon, and if you hadn’t seen it, you wouldn’t believe the vitriol allistics sometimes throw at us for those headcanons.

It also makes this problem worse. Having coded characters without a diagnosis reinforces the idea that autistic people who pass as neurotypical can’t really be autistic. They’re just quirky.

Like Sheldon.

Or Sherlock.

This idea is why they’re never diagnosed on screen, but the fact that they’re never diagnosed on screen reinforces the idea.

Something has got to give.

The point, dear reader, is that, even with the best of intentions, not being explicit with your character’s neurotype is harmful.

It doesn’t count if you don’t make it clear that you intend for them to be read as autistic.

L.C. Mawson’s YA paranormal novel with an autistic protagonist, Hunt, is available now.