Thursday, July 12, 2012

On the Autistic Character I Want To Write Someday

I've talked a lot about our son Zack and his autism. This blog isn't exactly about him - although an update is overdue - but more about how I've wanted, for a really long time, to write an autistic character into some of my fiction.

Writers often draw from personal experience in crafting their fiction. Some of the most powerful stories, I believe, are drawn from the well of personal experience. This is not to say, however, that writers transcribe fictional events directly from real life events, but rather channel thoughts and emotions and memories to inspire elements of fiction based on personal events.  Because award-winning author Gary Braunbeck put it best in his recent writing memoir, To Each Their Darkness, "Great fiction doesn't give a damn how it REALLY happened."

Case in point: several years ago I wrote a novella for my graduate school thesis, about a man whose autistic son dies, and afterward he's haunted by what he's done...and maybe, by his son. I've had to re-write it, however, because the original version was too close to how it really happened. Which, when you bog things down with lengthy passages on diagnoses, treatment options, trying to take things that happened to us and turning them - exactly as they happened - into don't get very good fiction.  At least, not for me. SO, I shelved that for two years, and am now slowly re-writing it, also removing the boy's autism.

Because I think Zack's autism is too close to me.  I can't find the distance to write about it as a STORYTELLER first, and parent of an autistic child second, or even third. I get too ranty, and that doesn't make for good storytelling.

Also, lots of people have written about autistic children, at this point.  In very realistic, and supernaturalistic (they have powers, are savants, etc) ways.   Another case in point, I recently changed a child's condition again in a work, because the "autistic-child with super-freaky psychic powers" HAS been done, by now. Lots.

But I still want to create an autistic child character with "special" talents. Probably in the next novel.  But I want him to be severely autistic, and perhaps have severe speech and communication limitations.  How can he communicate with others, how can he form thoughts and ideas, however?  This is something I struggled with for awhile.  Then, I had a brainstorm. Believe it or not, it came from Transformers 3.

Yes, you heard me. Transformers 3 (Because I grew up with Transformers, and they are good, explodey, action fun)I found my inspiration in this one scene with Bumble-Bee.  Jump to 2:05 to see it.

I've always thought of Bumblee-Bee as autistic, in a way. Very cliche, I know, only because he can't talk...but, call me an overwrought emotional sensationalist (and you'd be correct), I find something very poignant in a character that can't speak, but must us a hodge-podge semblance of speech from others' words.

And that's the idea I have in mind. Sorta. An autistic child that's largely non-verbal, read to all his life, and the only way he can think and express his ideas and communicate is through snippets of poetry and literature. (Peter Straub did something similar in A Dark Matter, though the character was traumatized and living in an institution, not autistic).

Anway, I'm not quite there yet, so my ideas may change.  And no - especially considering Brian Keene's blog this morning - I'm not afraid someone will steal my idea.  Mostly, because I'm still tinkering with it.

Tinkering. That's me, always tinkering....