If you go to an online group for writers and creative people with Asperger Syndrome, one common topic is whether an Aspie writer can write scenes of social interaction well enough to pass muster. After all, we have a deficit in social interaction skills in real life. We commonly miss nonverbal cues and that can make a social interaction go wrong. So how can we write social interaction?
One factor is the fact that we actually have social interactions all our lives. We may not fully understand them, but neurotypical people also have social interactions they don’t fully understand. Every time we interact with another person, they have things in their head that affect the interaction— and they may not reveal even important things either verbally or through nonverbal cues.
But the most important reason we Aspies can write good fiction, including social interaction scenes, is that it is FICTION. And social interaction in fiction is governed by rules.
Social interaction in fiction takes place in the form of scenes. Each scene in a work of fiction has a purpose— it advances the overall plot in some way. And each character that acts in a scene has a purpose in that scene. He brings an agenda to the encounter.
For example, take the first scene in the novel ‘Gone With the Wind.’ In the first scene there are three interacting characters— Scarlett O’Hara, a sixteen-year-old Southern belle, and two of her many beaus, Brent and Stuart Tarleton.
It seems like an ordinary social call, but all the characters start off with agendas. Scarlett prides herself in being a popular girl with lots of beaus, and she doesn’t want to lose any one of the beaus to the other girls. She flirts with the Tarleton twins even though she has no intention of marrying either one, since her heart is set on her neighbor, Ashley Wilkes.
Brent and Stuart want to rise in Scarlett’s estimation and become the chief members of Scarlett’s string of beaus. They probably have a vague idea that in time one or the other of them will propose marriage to Scarlett and she will accept. But the boys haven’t thought far enough ahead to even figure out that they can’t BOTH marry her and that this fact is likely to lead to a future conflict between the brothers.
Brent and Stuart have an immediate goal in the scene. A barbecue at the Wilkes plantation will be held the next day. There will be dancing, and the boys want Scarlett to promise them as many dances as socially possible.
Scarlett doesn’t want to give the boys the encouragement of too many dances. She has lots of other beaus she wants to dance with. And she wants to spend time with Ashley, the man she believes is her One True Love.
The Tarleton boys have a secret, though. They’ve previously visited the Wilkes plantation and were told a secret: Ashley’s cousin Melanie Hamilton will be at the barbecue, and the Wilkes family intends to announce the engagement of Ashley to his cousin Melanie.
Brent and Stuart think that revealing this will get them what they want— Scarlett’s attention. Girls like to know secrets, and they love hearing gossip about who is getting engaged, especially when they hear it before it becomes common knowledge. Surely this will win them lots of dances and attention from Scarlett at the barbecue!
But because Scarlett loves Ashley, she is distraught. It can’t possibly be true! Her attention has turned firmly away from the Tarleton boys. She absently promises them dances and other attention at the barbecue, but then she leaves without inviting them to dinner, which would have been common good manners.
You can see that it would not require lots of knowledge of real world social interactions in order to write a scene like this. Only a knowledge of what each character in the scene wants— and you, the author, gets to decide that.
Now, you will note that not everything in the scene is normal and typical of social interactions of the period. It is odd for the Tarletons to be chasing the same girl, and it’s odd of Scarlett to accept the brothers both into her circle of beaus. It’s also odd for Scarlett to forget her manners and not invite the boys to stay for dinner. But readers accept that. People don’t always live their lives according to the etiquette books. Because the characters have goals, and they act to further those goals in the scene, their behavior is accepted.
The scene, the first in the book, serves the purpose of introducing the main character, Scarlett, and the major threat to her happiness— her love is apparently about to marry another. This situation is central to the major conflicts of the novel right until the end.
So for writing effective scenes of social interaction, it is more important to know writing rules than the rules of real-world social interaction. And most Aspies with an interest in writing will be able to learn those rules by reading books like James Scott Bell’s book ‘Plot and Structure’ which will help you learn to create plots which follow the three-act structure, which in turn will help you to write valid scenes.
Blogs I’m reading:
Dawn Witzke: Review: A Pius Man by Declan Finn – I just finished reading Dawn Witzke’s book last night. An intense dystopian novel with a Catholic touch. And here she’s reviewing Declan Finn’s thriller A Pius Man (Pius like the popes of that name) which basically shoots up the Vatican but in a Catholic-friendly way.
Josephine Corcoran: Ignoring blog comments – Josephine tackles the topic of how the blogger should respond to certain types of blog comments, particularly those on very old posts.