The biggest impression Lisa Cron’s Story Genius made in my writing process is to treat a novel as a form of user experience. You need to let your readers live your main character’s life, to get them into his head. Graeme Simsion‘s The Rosie Project opened up Don Tillman’s head to me.
There’s Something About Don
From the beginning, Don’s unique way of thinking will strike you as odd. The awkward way he interacts with others seems abnormal, but then he is a very gifted geneticist. I’ve studied under/with scientists most of my life, they tend to be very project-oriented and organized. But still Don’s categorizing his search for a life partner as The Wife Project is taking dating to the extreme.
When Don’s friend asks him to give a lecture on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the puzzle pieces fall into place. Autism Speaks defines this condition as a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.
The author lets his readers diagnose Don’s condition for themselves instead of telling them that he has it. Show, don’t tell. Brilliant!
Deficiencies in Social Communication & Interaction
Don thinks about how to react to verbal and non-verbal interactions in great detail. Instead of asking women he finds attractive on dates to get to know them, he develops The Wife Project questionnaire to streamline his applicants beforehand. The screening process eliminates Rosie right away, but he latches onto her search for her biological father to keep seeing her. He struggles to understand his own emotions, but he is very endearing throughout the book.
Restrictive & Repetitive Patterns of Behavior
Don cooks and eats the same meal every day of the week. He exercises by practicing martial arts everyday for an exact amount of time. His schedule is planned to the minute, so much so that he moves around tasks like his runs or shopping for groceries when something unexpected happens. He is easily upset by disruptions to his routine or his already set plans.
Part of the restrictive and repetitive patterns of behavior is a tendency to fixate on an interest. Rosie wanted to find her biological father. Don claimed to have fixated on this quest and used University resources he should not have to help her. Of course, it took him until almost the end of the book to realize that it was not the genetics project he was fixated on, but Rosie.
Rosie naively concluded that Don was incapable of loving her. His brain was not wired for love. But this is not true. Don may be different, but he is not less. It may take him more time to understand that he is in love, but he does love just like anybody else and he deserves love too.
Don Tillman will be one of the most unforgettable characters I have lived because of Graeme Simsion‘s incredible storytelling. If you need something to smile about today, I recommend The Rosie Project.