How an autistic writer's approach to character can be different from a neurotypical's.
This is analysis I have needed - I think many of us have needed - so badly, so thank you. There's so much I could respond to here, but I found your point about agency particularly validating.
One recurring criticism our work had when submitting was that of a female protagonist not having enough agency. I see where they're coming from - popular media is glutted with women who are just there to be saved, or die to motivate someone. We don't use those tropes unless we can tinker with them, but they form the structure to which such critiques are responding: we go from "There's too many disempowered women," to an unwritten rule that no female protagonist can ever be disempowered.
Don't get me wrong - some of those stories needed rewriting. But one of just them sold, as it is. And due to my life experience (lots of medical trauma, undiagnosed til 37), my reflection is, "What about the readers for whom that experience is relatable? We who need to see it on the page, even if it's against the rules of storytelling?" And for us, traditional media's objectified women also won't do, because we need deep engagement with powerlessness from within a character POV, not fridged/captive women seen from a distance.
This was super interesting! I have some similar experiences, some different, and some you didn't mention (yet?), but it's all great insight into the way (some) autists think and write. Specifically, I do relate to the thing about struggling to give characters agency, and it's validating to hear you saying that it's fine not to conform to mainstream expectations about it.
On the other hand, rather than struggling to think of my characters in terms of traits, I often construct characters using an abstract list of traits and motivations, and then struggle to have them actually act out those traits within an actual narrative. Maybe I've internalized the neurotypical advice about traits, but it's just not serving me well? But also it's probably because I'm a visual artist/cartoonist as well as a prose writer, and it's easy (for me) to draw a character who looks (to me) "cheerful" or "anxious" or "determined" or whatever without actually having to make that character do anything but exist in one image. (If there are any autistic artists/cartoonists reading this, I'd *love* to go back and forth with you on autism and drawing in general!)
Also, one quality of my writing that I feel is very representative of autism, and that I'm super insecure about: I tend to inject tons and tons of internal monologue into dialogue scenes, especially when I have an autistic narrator who I can envision (relatively) clearly. I do this because I picture my characters constantly judging and second-guessing their every comment, and anxiously analyzing and doubting the subtext behind everything other people say, and getting distracted by intrusive thoughts, and a zillion other things reflecting the stress and labor that emotionally-fraught conversations hold for me. (And I do enjoy writing emotionally-fraught conversations.)
Anyway, I'm conflicted about this writing style because I really go all in on the monologue to the point where it's longer than the dialogue, and I don't really see anyone else write like that. I'd like to think I'm capturing how I (and characters a lot like me) think- but maybe it's so laborious to follow a conversation and also in-depth thoughts that it's tedious and annoying to read? See, I don't actually know, because I second-guess these pieces of writing so much that I don't show them to anyone... maybe this relates to the fact that my only autistic writer friend is always too busy for me to ask things of them? And like you said, neurotypical readers might not help, and might even set me back. That's what I'm scared of- being told not to write in the way that comes naturally to me.
Anyway, even if you didn't mention that specific trait of autistic writing (at least, my autistic writing) it makes me feel better to hear you validating that autistic differences in writing are okay. It could be possible that I'm going somewhat over the top with the amount of monologue in my dialogue. But I'd like to think that my basic impulse to narrate my autistic characters' constant social balancing act isn't inherently bad writing. So, thanks- I really appreciate these thoughts!