1. jaebird
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    jaebird Active Member

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    Writing a smart character

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by jaebird, Oct 3, 2014.

    Do any of you find it difficult to write a smart character? I have one, a kid, who has a bully problem that gets him beat up quite often. I want to show the kid's smarts in overcoming the bully, but I'm stuck on figuring out how to do it. Clever little ideas have to come from your own brain, but what if you don't think yours compares to that of your own character?
     
  2. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    A lot of the smarts that I have seen in stories and shows does not really come from an extraordinary level of book smarts but from keen observation, deduction, and adaption skills. You just need to gather enough general knowledge to make it work, primarily in physics and psychology. The rest is up to your own level of creativity to apply the knowledge to situations that you set up for your characters. Fact check often to keep things consistent, and you should be good to go.

    I think one of the ways that you can come up with ideas on your own is put yourself into the same situation and try to find a solution, as if it were a puzzle. Once you have solved it, you can apply it to your story, but your character will seem much smarter because he or she would figure it out almost instantly every time.
     
  3. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, look. I could make a prediction about anything. I don't have to give you all the details of the prediction, just the outcome. If I'm right, I look smart to you. In a novel, you the author always get to determine the outcome, and as a result, you always determine how often your characters are right or wrong.

    If your character knows what your bully is going to do, he can outsmart him.
     
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  4. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    You don't need to be as smart as your smartest characters. You don't need Holmes like deductive powers for your character to say, "He's got white dust on his shoes, he must have come from the old quarry"
    So deducing a bullies fears or embarrassing secrets could be an effective way to make a character look smart.
    There's all sorts of skills which require brains, which you can demonstrate your character having. Computer skills spring to mind. In this age where most high school kids use social media, there's plenty of ways a smart kid could blackmail a bully.
    As the others say mostly you need to work backwards. Think how your specific bully might be motivated to stop bullying. Then think how the smart kid would manipulate the bully to achieve that.
     
  5. Anthonydavid11
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    Anthonydavid11 Member

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    From what I have seen in movies and read in books, you can make a character look smart either by what they say or what they do. You can have another character i.e. possibly a teacher since he's a kid, ask a question nobody else knows and then your character nails it. To go even further, have him go into explaining the answer in depth to the point where the teacher cuts him off. That is the character looking smart by saying.

    A smart character doing would be for him to solve a problem others cannot. Say if a bully backs him into a corner and the smart kid seems way too obliging but in the end, the bully actually backs him up without noticing that the floor is wet, slips and falls down. The smart kid gets away. Not the best example, but usually to show intelligence in action, he needs to look smarter than those around him and possibly vulnerable when he is actually setting a trap. Some might say this falls under making a character sneaky instead of smart, but I thin most smart people are sneaky. Their brains are their weapons and trickery is a mental game.

    Hope this helps and happy writing!
     
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  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I would like to add that intelligence isn't really a factor in bullying. Anybody—even an extremely smart person—can be a bully. Bullying is psychological not intellectual behaviour. Bullies are not all mindless thugs with fists like sledge hammers and ice cream cones plastered to their foreheads. Sometimes they can be managers or owners of large companies. (Robert Maxwell was a good example of this.) So outwitting a smart bully is a bit different—and possibly more difficult—from outwitting a stupid one.

    In both cases, a 'smart' person might attempt the one thing that does seem to defeat all kinds of bullies. If the 'smart' person can get the right people, and enough of them, to collaborate in order to defeat the bully, that always seems to work.

    There are also different types of 'smart.' A person can be uneducated but street-smart. Somebody who observes and calculates, and who isn't fooled by people throwing smoke screens over their true nature. A person can be very smart when it comes to learning difficult subjects like calculus, but can't figure out how to flip a hamburger and get it into the box before it gets cold. A person can be great at working out physical problems, like how to assemble a complicated dress pattern, but maybe can't figure out that the salesman at the door is NOT their friend. So there are all kinds of 'smarts' to work with as well as all kinds of bullies.

    I'm reminded of squirrels— animals a lot of people think are very smart. I've watched them defeating all sorts of mazes and booby-traps in order to get at the nuts in the bird feeder. I have also watched them taking 15 minutes to bury an apple in the dirt, as well as chewing the plastic coating from live wires. So you decide? Smart or stupid...
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2014
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, bullies have been beating up smart kids in school since forever; if there were a way for smarts to beat the bully, that problem probably would have been solved by now. So I feel that the problem isn't so much writing a smart character, as solving a real-world problem that has yet to be solved.
     
  8. Shayla
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    Shayla Member

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    How smart is smart? I would engross yourself with books and films that involve smart people.
    You could watch Sherlock or The Social Network as they have characters. Note down phrases or dialect that stands out as particularly smart and see if that helps the flow of your work!
     
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  9. Darkkin
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    Darkkin Reflection of a nobody Contributor

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    Smart can stem from a basic intuitive leap, and more often than not, it's the average joe who makes the connection. One of the down sides about being massively book smart, is you tend to be a little short in other areas. Whether it's simple things like common sense, memory, attention span, or social behavior.

    Believe me, I speak from experience. As many can attest, I don't have the common sense God gave a goose, as my grandma once said. Some have a tendency to overanalyse a simple situation and come up with a convoluted solution. Many are ill at ease in a social situation. Some have the ability to recall some obscure fact, but you ask them where the keys are and they won't have a clue. Ask them about a project they're working on and you'll end up with a dozen different tangents all stemming from some innocuous point.

    Another point to take into account is whether they are introverts or extroverts. Extrovert smarts tend to be a bit more rounded than introvert smarts. Their inherent love of people makes them far more at ease in a social situation. Introverts retreat and watch, often resorting to silence. If one does strike upon a subject known to an introvert smart, it's like a switch goes on. You can't shut them up about the subject.

    They can be stubborn to the point of blindness on some things. Trying to force a viewpoint onto one isn't going to work. They respond much better to logical arguements. State a point and defend your arguement. Most smarts are willing to listen, but be prepared for know-it-all auto-correct.

    It is the mechanism, almost an instinct that makes one blurt out a correction when faced with fallible information. This includes, but is not limited to, grammar, mispronounced words, misquoted pop cultrure references, and the correct chronological concordence of some event. They love the minutia that would drive most people to tears with boredom.

    Keep age in mind, as well. Many times, smarts don't fit in with their peers. Much of the time they empathize with those who are younger than they, but they also can relate very well to adults. They often don't understand their peers, being ahead of them mentally, but lacking on an emotional level. Often they will appear either younger or older than their chronological age.

    Depending on the smart's pesonal traits, another major contributing factor can be impulse control. If your character is more A type, success driven, then impulse control takes on a whole new meaning, they have trouble giving it up. These kids can be the control freaks. The B type is just the opposite, they are willing to follow, but can go careening off on their own tangent if an idea strikes. Impulses to them are like chocolate, they must be sampled.

    I know I'm prattling, but I'm speaking from the POV of a lifelong smart. Over the course of my education I've learned that there are a few teachers who can be just as cruel as the bullies. Intelligence is a blessing and a curse, it can frighten those who don't understand it.

    - Darkkin, the Tedious
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2015
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  10. karmazon
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    karmazon Member

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    123456789 is right. Raymond Chandler does it a lot in his detective novels. The protagonist figures out the mystery before the readers ever get a chance and it makes him look smart.

    It shouldn't be that hard to figure out how he can outsmart a bully - it's been done in many stories. Have the MC send the bully a text message pretending to be an attractive girl interested in him, telling him to go over to her house and come in without knocking - the bully proceeds to walk into the principal's house, holding a sixpack of beer and gets expelled from school.
     
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  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That is an incredibly insightful analysis of what a person who is 'smart' tends to be like. I'd have to agree with you, Darkkin-Anything-But-Tedious. I'm not particularly smart myself, just average, which gives me some advantages. No, I'll never build a rocket to the moon, but I'm maybe more at ease in social situations that the person who has a really high IQ - if that's still a marker of intelligence. But having known a few people in my life who were on the genius level of smart, I realise they didn't all have an easy time of it.

    I did have one friend—from high school till just recently, when he died of motor neurone disease (miss him!)—who managed to overtop his genius with an outgoing, personality-charged nature that was amazing to watch. He loved people—all kinds of people—and was able to speak his mind freely, but he always remained kind, even at his most incisive. He was wildly popular, and nobody ever considered bullying him, because he would have just taken it in his stride and laughed it off. However, most of the other 'genius' people I've known did suffer a bit of trouble when it came to social interactions,. A few were, indeed, bullied.

    I knew extremely intelligent people who seemed to have difficulty engaging with mundane topics. They were willing to try, but usually struggled to keep it shallow, as required in social situations. This, of course, made them targets for unkind and ...stupid ...people. There are people out there who are frightened of intelligence, on a very basic level. Instead of admiring it, they try to kill it. Not sure why. It's not as if intelligent people are a direct threat to them in most instances. In fact, if an intelligent person is given a chance, they will usually use their intelligence to help others in some way. But no. That's not enough, sometimes. That pack instinct takes over, and whomp. Anybody who isn't 'like them' becomes a target for removal.

    Anyway, thanks for giving us such a complete and eye-opening insight. I'm sure the OP will find this helpful.
     
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  12. jaebird
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    jaebird Active Member

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    I had a physics teacher in college who was probably the smartest person I ever met, but incredibly socially awkward. I never even thought about things like that coming along with intelligence, so thank you Darkkin. Relationships to other characters (not just the bully) would be different based on how the character's smart affected him, and the "repercussions" if you will, of having a higher intelligence than his peers.

    You guys gave me a great deal to think about with this character. Many of you mentioned what kind of smart the kid is, and I'd say he's a good problem solver. Good at critical thinking, evaluating a situation, thinking outside the box, that kind of thing. And definitely an introvert. In fact, he barely says anything at all. Even figuring out that bit of information helps a lot in discovering how he would go about dealing with his problems.

    I'm still trying to figure out how to solve this bully thing, but I'm thinking something along the lines of public humiliation. I think that fits best with how the character has been developing so far. Thanks everybody, for your input and ideas, I really appreciate it!
     
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  13. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't want to claim I'm "smart" in the sense this thread seems to mean, but there's an experience I've had many, many times in my life when I've at least been the smartest person in the room at the time:

    Sometimes a discussion is going on, and I want to make a point, but I don't. I know that if I make that point, I'll have to explain it, and I can't do that unless I explain something else first, and then something else before THAT, just to try to move the discussion along. I wind up feeling like I'd have to talk for half an hour just to make a ten-second point, because nobody in the room will get what I mean.

    So I don't bother. It's not worth the time and effort. I just keep my mouth shut and let everyone else have their say.

    For this reason, I have often come across to people as painfully shy, but I'm really not. It's just that I don't want to go to all the effort of explaining my thoughts, so I don't talk. I have no problem talking endlessly with people who are smart, but I shut up when I'm around others.

    You might want to write your smart character as someone who just doesn't talk much - someone who comes across as shy, not because they're behind everyone else, but because they're ahead of everyone else. You could give that a try.
     
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  14. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think it's so much that the bullies are beating up "smart kids," as that they are beating up physically weak and/or socially awkward kids. As @jannert pointed out, bullies can be very smart. There's not a real dichotomy of physical strength and aggression versus intelligence. It's become kind of cliche, because it's often been portrayed that way. I think it's usually given this less-nuanced view, because the dynamic is often set up in children's books, and it's kind of an easy way to set up a 'smarts triumphs in the end' kind of story. The bullied person needs to show that they've got a redeeming quality -- that is, their intelligence, so that's what's played up.

    I've read that it's harder to write a character smarter than yourself. But all my characters are smarter than me.

    If you want to explore the whole shyness thing @minstrel and @Darkkin discuss, check out the book Quiet.
     
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  15. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I certainly agree that physical size has nothing to do with intelligence. But I was never working with that idea anyway.

    I'd say that bullies are beating up easy victims. Being unpopular tends to make a kid an easy victim. And I'd say that certain kinds of smartness TEND to make a kid unpopular.

    As background for that belief, I've always liked the essay "why nerds are unpopular"--easily found by Googling that phrase. The premise is essentially that nerdy kids don't care enough about being popular to put in the effort to be popular. Edited to add: Actually, the premise is much more complicated than that, but that's part of it.
     
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2014

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