If you’re autistic and like me, it can be a little difficult to capture what fear and similar emotions feel like in words. I’m not just saying that as a general term. Autistic people, for whatever reason, tend to find it harder to describe their feelings even when they’re feeling it. And that’s been measured in scientific studies.
If you’re autistic, and that’s you, you’re not the only one out there. Even people without the disorder find it difficult sometimes. Also note that it has very little to do with empathy. Empathy has more to do with whether you can understand it, relate to it once you’re able to identify what the emotion is, and having a concern for other people. Autistic people actually do have that ability, even when autistic people have difficulty expressing it in a way that someone without the disorder would recognize. Genuine lack of empathy is a trait of people with antisocial personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder, not autism.
Now that I’ve got that cleared up, here’s what has worked for me in terms of the point of this post: writing about suspense.
Suspense is basically where you’re building fear in your reader over what’s going to happen next. And it gets built to the point where you just have to see what is going to happen next. Alfred Hitchcock did that very well with such films as The Birds and Psycho. The Silence of the Lambs is another one of those classic horror films precisely because it uses suspense. Any effective horror, thriller, or other genre to that effect is probably going to use some sort of suspense.
If you don’t know how to write suspense, this is where you’ll need to do a good amount of reading in such things as horror or thriller. Look at how other people describe such moments. There’s nothing quite like finding out what other people are doing.
Writing prompts are probably a good idea too. That way you have a little something to use to practice in your journal. And you have a way to not embarrass yourself to the entire world. Instead you can expose your writing to a trusted professor or friend, who can then critique you and probably let you know where you’re messing up.
And don’t ignore how other people describe terrible emotions like fear to each other in daily conversation and what their body language looks like. They’ll probably describe a pounding heart, and their faces will probably be contorted in strange ways. They’ll also probably include some inner monologue about what was going on at the time that the terrifying incident took place. Remember—most people don’t think in ways that autistic people do. And if you’re writing, chances are non-autistic people are your primary audience. So you’ll probably need to describe suspenseful moments in a way that non-autistic people will recognize.