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blog Writing Neurodivergent Characters in Fantasy

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Black Dragon, Sep 12, 2021.

  1. Featured Author

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    Featuredauthor submitted a new blog post:

    Writing Neurodivergent Characters in Fantasy
    This article is by Emma Lammers.

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    Author’s note: neurodivergent is term used to refer to people whose neurological functions differ from the norm because of an innate or acquired condition. Examples of these conditions include autism, learning disabilities, mood disorders, traumatic brain injuries, and more. People who do not have any neurodivergent conditions are considered neurotypical.

    To the delight of many readers, more characters in fantasy literature reflect aspects of real-world people than ever before. Today’s heroes can be people of colour, people of any gender or sexual identity, people of nearly any age. Writers are answering the call for more diversity in their work, and oftentimes they do it well, portraying realistic, nuanced characters from marginalized communities.

    Some people, however, aren’t as likely to see themselves accurately reflected in the pages of a fantasy story. I’ve searched long and hard to find literary characters who experience autism, anxiety, and sensory processing disorder as I do, and very few of these characters show up in fantasy – a detriment to my favourite genre. Villainous characters are often portrayed as neurodivergent because writers think that this will make them scarier, and you will encounter the occasional hero with post-traumatic stress disorder, but these depictions tend to lack accuracy, diversity, and...
    Continue reading the Original Blog Post.
     
  2. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

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    One thing which isn't really discussed here is the impact the setting has on the character. In a setting where diagnoses of these sorts don't exist (as would be the case for my dyslexia in a medieval setting) the character concerned may not know what is causing their problems. Neither does anyone else. That leads to a very different character from one who knows why they aren't the same (eg a soldier who got a terrible head injury in battle and has had problems ever since). Acceptance will be an issue, and it will vary - a military veteran injured in battle will probably be accepted in a way that someone with an undiagnosed condition might not be. In a society where most people can't read and write someone with dyslexia won't stand out and so will be accepted as relatively normal. So in addition to doing the research you need to think about how your character would develop in the setting you have created - and here it might be good to seek out older people diagnised late in life, because their experiences will be quite different to young people who were diagnosed early and got support..
     
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  3. FifthView

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    In addition to Mad SwedeMad Swede's observations, another very important aspect going unaddressed is how the neurodivergence is written into the story in the first place when the setting might include none of the terminology and none of the recognition our modern world would have for the particular neurodivergence.

    I suppose the question of whether it is written into the story—somehow made explicit, or left implicit, with all the shadings in between being possibilities also—is important.

    I understand that some neurodivergent readers may wish "to see themselves accurately reflected in the pages of a fantasy story," but herein there be dragons. Metaphorically speaking. If the setting has none of the terminology and recognition for the neurodivergence, then the characters might have none of this for themselves and for others. A character might recognize her own difference and comment upon it clearly enough and frequently enough to make the neurodivergence explicit in the story. Alternatively, a character might allude to the existence of some difference, leave a lot unsaid, and thus make representation implicit. This might be especially true if the neurodivergent character is not a point of view character.

    Considering the fact that some neurodivergent experiences might be shared between individuals who have different neurodivergent conditions, leaving things implicit or only hinted either a) fails as an example of representation or b) succeeds as an example of representation for readers who have different neurodivergent conditions.

    This is problematic when considering accurate representation. There be dragons here. If the condition is not made explicit, some readers who key in on one hint or two might find other aspects of a character to be wrong or out of place. Alternatively, there is the issue of difference between neurodivergent individuals who have been diagnosed with the same condition; not all are affected equally in all ways. So who is to say that X character is...a bad representation, a failed representation, a so-so representation, a good representation?

    Naturally, fully explicit descriptions, especially those set in a modern or future setting in our real universe, make this issue a little easier to handle in the actual writing.
     
    Mad Swede likes this.
  4. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    You don't need terms in setting so long as you, the author, know what you're writing. Also, actually write with a condition in mind. As successful as the Big Bang Theory was it was still annoying how Sheldon was presented as generically neurodivergent at times.
     
  5. Mad Swede

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    No, you don't need terms. But they do make it a bit easier, because then you can concentrate on making the character(s) individuals. Not using terms and having a setting where the condition isn't even known makes for a very big writing challenge. As the author you have to convey the characters many nuances and differences without making the character unsympathetic, at the same time as making it possible for neurodivergent readers to identify with the character. Thats a fine balance which is very difficult to pull off, and it may be why there are (so far) relatively few neurodivergent authors out there.
     
    FifthView likes this.
  6. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    Well by know what you're writing I mean have it in your author notes or something. Don't necessarily need it in the story itself.
     
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