I want you to imagine a scene, as if it were a part of a novel you were working on:
A single mum of three tunes into her local news broadcast for the latest update on the sudden 6-day lockdown her state has been thrust into at a moment’s notice, due to Covid-19 rearing its ugly head after seven months of no cases. The authorities immediately sprung into action to lock the city down, for the greater good. She bites the inside of her cheek, awaiting the dire news of the day: additional cases? the need for extreme testing? greater quarantines? The announcement that came was a complete shock:
“The man at the centre of the pizza shop outbreak lied. The threat is not as great as first anticipated; some restrictions will cease immediately, and full lockdown will end at 11.59pm Saturday evening.”
If this were your novel, how would you proceed to write the character’s reactions? Generally, most would have her and her children burst into excited and thankful whoops of joy and rapture! Phew! The lock-down is finished! Our lives can return to normal!
That’s the overall expectation, right?
Well, this was my morning last Friday. I am that single mum of three boys, and I can tell you, that was not my reaction.
I burst into tears. Not joyful, “hooray, lock-down is over!” tears. These were tears of overwhelm, of exhaustion and frustration, and thoughts of “here we go again.” More changes. More planning. More fixing of plans and routines that I’d just managed to fix when they were so suddenly broken just a few days earlier.
It’s okay, I’m not sharing this to throw a pity party, (that is done with, the chocolate has been put away and I am once again adulting as well as I usually am). I did, however, want to use this situation to raise an interesting discussion around the characters we write, or read of, in modern fiction.
Most are written from what I would call a neuro-typical mindset, that is they think and act in ways that are the social norm; happy events bring on happy reactions and emotions, sad events see them sad, exciting see them excited. It’s just what is expected. Right?
What if they didn’t? What if one of your main characters reacted to good news the way I did? What if they didn’t rejoice at being set free from a terrible situation? What if they laughed at tragic news, or didn't cry or acknowledge the situation at all? What if they displayed character traits that were not what we expect in society? How would that go down with a person reading a novel? And why is this even important?
I believe it’s important because we read to connect with characters, and there is a significant proportion of society who don’t always get that chance, because they are neuro-diverse. Think of the quirky work mate, or cousin, or maybe even yourself! These people often see the world differently, through glasses perhaps tinted with OCD, Autism, ADD/ADHD, anxiety, or depression, or even manic episodes; some have brains that think too fast for their mouths to form the words so they stutter, or remain silent, or babble incessantly; some appear to not do well at school, or at work, yet they have IQs of 140; many suffer greatly from social anxiety, and cope in ways that most don't even see.
There really aren’t that many examples of neuro-diverse people in mainstream media, or in literature; perhaps the most identifiable is Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, and that is such a cliché, narrow, and not always positive, representation of neuro-diverse people.
We have the opportunity, as writers, to be inclusive in our writing, by depicting characters with these wonderful neuro-diverse traits. Beautiful, funny, sad, clever, hilarious, angst-ridden characters where their differences are celebrated, rather than being swept under the carpet of neuro-typical normality.
You may feel a little in the dark about this, and that's understandable. May I suggest an excellent way to learn about neuro-diversity is to chat with those who live with ND traits, such as Autism, ADD/ADHD, OCD, Anxiety, and so on. If that isn’t possible, or feels a little intrusive, then perhaps google articles written by people who share their everyday lives and experiences as an neuro-diverse person living in a neuro-typical world. There are some incredible stories of strength and resilience around.
I am very new to creative writing. I have so much to learn about crafting a good story, and all the ins and outs of character development and story creation, and so forth. So, I cannot possibly speak on what makes a good novel, or how to write with proper technique, though I hope to learn these things. But above all, I hope when I do write, that I would include wonderfully real, neuro-diverse as well as neuro-typical characters who are beautifully themselves, quirky and dramatic, or quiet and reserved, in the most extraordinary ways. That I can show the love of God for all people, and that faith is a real struggle for many who find it difficult to find their place in the church because of they perhaps don't fit the typical Christian ideal. And that people reading my words could identify as the awesome, strong, beautiful leading lady, or the suave, debonair hero.
And you better believe that at least one of the characters will be, in part at least, autobiographical.
Psst: She’ll be the character drinking loads of coffee, looking for her keys, and purse, and phone, and running ten minutes late...or quite possibly a week early!
God, investigate my life;
get all the facts firsthand.
I'm an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I'm thinking.
Psalm 139:1-2 The Message