How to write a character who's smarter than you
A Blog by arabella k. federico
Are you a genius? Is your IQ in the top 5 percentile? Do you even know about Reality Transferring? Yeah, me either. Though, if you’re in the market for whipping up stories that require a smarty-pants character who has to be smarter than you, but you yourself aren’t a theoretical genius; how the heck do you write that character? Well…let me tell you some things.
Book smarts VS street smarts VS all types of smarts
To begin, there are many different types of intelligence. Most people, when clicking on this specific blog post, are probably thinking about the most typical and well-known type: Book Smarts. They wanna write a Book-Smart character. Though I will primarily focus on this type of character today, it is important to realize that there are several different types of “smarts” out there. Also, that a character doesn’t have to be traditionally “book smart” in order to be or be seen as “intelligent”. That’s a common misconception IRL, so let’s make sure not to make that same mistake in our fiction, as well. We’re too evolved for all that nonsense….
They're so much smarter because...
Firstly, give this smart character some backstory that shows the audience their credentials. The reason why they’re so smart in the first place. Did they go through some insane college program? Awarded the top prize in their industry? A born prodigy? Did they defeat some unstoppable dragon in such a clever way that therefore made them famous? Did they read a thousand books on Quantum Physics? What’s their deal? Figure that out. Secondly, once you’ve found a unique backstory for this character you’ve probably narrowed down a topic or specific area that they specialize in. Make that extremely clear to the readers what that thing is.
Look Who's Talking
As authors, we’re constantly told to SHOW and not TELL-and I completely agree with this. Definitely show this character being smart and doing those smart things, but also use the characters around them to BOLSTER that fact. Have a couple characters talking about how smart this character is BECAUSE of X,Y,Z. Have their peers marvel at their intelligence, compliment them on their quick wit, and so on. A warning with this one: don’t over do it. It can get annoying to readers to be constantly hearing other supporting characters saying the same damn thing over and over again. Spread this out, put those compliments in specific, meaningful areas where you either A- Want to emphasis their intelligence or B- Bring it to light where it otherwise wouldn’t be shown or explained. A good example of this is in Harry Potter where Hermione is often told how brilliant she is.
YOU have the ability to see the future, but your characters do not-not even the smarter ones
As the author, you get to see the entire spectrum of story events. Furthermore, you get all the time in the world to plan out scene. Your characters, bless their hearts, don’t get that luxury. They are experiencing their lives in real time, just like the readers are. It’s only YOU who gets to travel through time in a meaningful way, therefore you get the opportunity to analyze them in a way that’ll make your character appear their smartest. It’s the advantage of seeing the scene from all angels that allows you the set-up to make this specific character look good. Sure, in the midst of a stressful event a typical person (your readers) would NEVER be able to come up with such a clever way of solving a dire problem. But you, as the goddess or god that you are-have all the time to work this out.
A bit of psychology for ya...
Something I’ve noticed in these types of characters is either a “Smart Ego” or “Smart Insecurity.” The former is much more common, and is usually a stereotype in males. For example, Tony Stark as Iron-man, has an incredible ego about his massive brain. I’d say by now, this type of character is becoming a stereotype. Is a smart character with a huge ego really all that interesting anymore? I’d say, if you wanted a “Smart Ego” with your character, do it in a fresh, unique way. Perhaps, give a female character a “Smart Ego” instead? Or a kid, even? Switching up what you’d expect from a typical stereotype is a great way to excite readers. Or, take your alpha-male who’s incredibly intelligent for example, but then give him an massive insecurity over that intellect where he believes himself to be dumb instead of how brilliant he actually is.
do you feel like you're ready to write a character who's smarter than you?
I feel like most writers, me included, overthink this character. I know I did. But when I really thought about it, they’re not truly that hard to write about as long as you think about them and the scenes they’re in before hand. A smart character is a character who’s walking about with some type of feelings regarding their “super smarts”. That alone is a great catalyst for conflict. A smart character can save the day-as long as YOU, the author, give them the set-up and specific path to walk down in order to showcase their intellect. In a flattering way-OBVI. As I researched this topic, I found that “intelligence” is a narrow term, one that doesn’t describe how broad the human brain actually is. This blogpost truly dives deep on how you can psychoanalyze your characters to truly pinpoint their special type of intellect.
- There are lots of different types of intelligence. From traditional books smarts, to emotional intelligence, to street smarts; everyone is different. Maybe try dipping your toe into the pool of the other types of “smarts” if you’re looking to write a character smarter than you.
- Make sure to give your Smart Character a background that explains and shows they’re actually considered smart within the story. This includes schooling, accolades, winning something challenging, etc. Also, make sure you give this character one or two specific topics or specialties to be an expert in. Nobody knows everything about every topic, and we all know what it’s like to be around people who act like they do…
Out of all the characters in the pictures here, who is the smarter in your opinion? Tony Stark, Spock, Hermione Granger, or Amy from Sailor Moon? Fight it out in the comments!
- Have other characters affirm this character IS smart. Praise, compliments, ooohhs and awwwes; however you wanna do it. Just do it-but don’t OVER do it.
- Give this Smart Character a “Smart Ego” or a “Smart Insecurity”. They either KNOW they’re really smart and tout that as their self-worth, believing themselves to be better than others because of it. Or, they have incredible self-esteem issues and don’t believe they’re smart at all. Either way, make whichever one you choose a deeply rooted flaw within the character and infuse it into their backstory. This leads to realism in your Smart Character.