Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Clever Characters

Writing Wednesday

In Orson Scott Card's book Characters and Viewpoint, he says the following about clever characters:

"Notice that I don't use the word intelligence. That's because in our society with its egalitarian ideals, any obvious display of intelligence or erudition suggests elitism, snobbery, arrogance."
"Yet we love a character who is clever enough to think of solutions to knotty problems. Does this seem contradictory? It is contradictory."
This is something that hits close to home for me. It took me a while to learn that my attempts to be precise and thorough were often off-putting in exactly the way Card describes.

I prefer stories about smart people tested to their limits much more than stories about not-so-smart people whose problems are largely self-generated and could be avoided with a bit of sense.

For example, Jurassic Park would have been a far better cautionary tale without the sabotage subplot. But instead of showing that life can't be controlled by even the best and brightest among us, it implies that reconstituting dinosaurs could have worked if people hadn't been greedy.

So what can you do if you want characters that are both bright and likable?

Card's solution is:
"You have to walk a fine line, making [your character] very clever without ever letting [them] be clever enough to notice how clever [they] are."
What do you think?

Deren blogs daily at The Laws of Making.
Image: Michelle Meiklejohn /

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