Hi booknerds, it’s time we talked about the hardest character I’ve ever written. Most people would—rightly—assume that the hardest character to write would be one that is the polar opposite of the writer, whether because of gender, sexual orientation, or the oppression they suffered that the author has never experienced. All of that is hard to do, and even harder to craft a believable, well written character that the author has no first-hand experience with in “the real world”. While that is true of me too, the hardest character I’ve written to date is actually in the contemporary fiction, family saga novel I’m working on. Why is this character so difficult? It’s not because I don’t have any experience with what they are going through, but the exact opposite!
In this particular WIP, the main character’s older brother has Asperger’s Syndrome. This diagnosis is something she is unaware of, so because of the issues that has caused in her childhood, she grew up hating her brother and feeling like an outcast to her own family. This, dear friends, is very close to my actual childhood. My brother has Asperger’s which, if you are unfamiliar, is on the Autistic scale and is often misdiagnosed as ADHD in young children—medicating children with Asperger’s with ADHD medication doesn’t help at all, by the way. People with Asperger’s have extreme difficulty reading social cues; they don’t know when people are kidding or, as kids, don’t understand when other children play make-believe games. Making friends for them is very difficult, so they are often lonely and depressed, and don’t know how to communicate that depression, which means it can often come out as a type of violent anger. Like any mental condition, there is a scale of how severe or benign Asperger’s Syndrome can present itself. For my brother, he had one of the more severe kinds and, as a kid growing up in the 90’s where this kind of thing was barely understood and rarely talked about, figuring out what was going on and how to treat it was a battle in and of itself.
I’m really not looking for pity or sympathy here. The purpose of this particular novel is to educate and to give others who may be dealing with similar issues a beacon of hope. It took me years, YEARS to see my brother as more than his condition and to appreciate that my parents were doing their best with the resources they had available to them at the time. I have, with the help of therapy, healed and moved on with my life and have a great relationship with my family, especially my parents. But, deep down, this was a story I felt needed to be shared, especially now given how we as a society still struggle with treating mental illnesses and showing compassion for those who struggle, and those people who love them despite the challenges.
But writing that was incredibly difficult for me emotionally. I had to go back and rely on my past childhood experiences and dig up painful memories in order to create this character and show why she feels the way she does toward her family, without the reader hating her or her brother for it. Of all the books I have written, some of which are still in the editing phase, this took me the longest to “finish”. It was so emotionally taxing; I had to talk to my family and make sure they understood that while this story was inspired by the things we went through, it wasn’t about them, and I had to make sure that come the end, my readers still felt hopeful and like my main character was going to be okay. There were so many instances where I started crying during writing different scenes that it isn’t even funny. Plus, because it is so personal to me, deeming it “done” and packaging it all up so it can move forward in the publishing process was legitimately terrifying for me! So much of this was my life that the idea of someone picking it apart was something I had to work very hard to mentally prepare myself for.
So while, yes, writing a character that you have no real experience with can be challenging, so can writing a character that is so much a reflection of yourself. That line of fact and fiction got so blurred at times and I wanted to make sure that I was portraying everything truthfully, but that it didn’t come across as villainous. Writing these characters, this book, took so much out of me that it’s taken a long time to get my emotional reserves back to a place where I can write happy, or funny, characters again that I can safely say: writing a character based on me was the hardest character I’ve ever written.