Writing Characters That Are ‘Smarter’ Than You

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Flickr Creative Commons: Steve McFarland


We are so excited to welcome our newest contributor to Writer Unboxed – Rheea Mukherjee! Rheea is the author of The Body Myth, which is releasing this month from Unnamed Press. Rheea is the co-founder of Write Leela Write, a design and content laboratory in Bangalore, India. You can connect with Rheea at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

I spent the first fifteen years of my life thinking I was quite stupid because I didn’t do well academically. It took as many years to rewire this thinking and understand how wide the spectrum of intelligence is. It took even longer to identify my own intelligence on that spectrum, which happened to be emotional intelligence. This is precisely why I’ve added quotes to the word ‘smarter’ in the title of this blog.

When I started writing my novel, The Body Myth, it quickly became apparent that Mira, the protagonist, had a certain bookish intelligence that I did not possess. Mira had read a wide variety of dense philosophical books and could link historic dates and anecdotes to present-day issues. The memory of everything she read was living and breathing and on the tip of her tongue. I panicked when it dawned on me that Mira was way smarter than I could ever be. While I had the same curiosity she had, especially about the past in context to war, oppression, feminism, and culture, I hadn’t read as fastidiously as she had, nor did I have the ability to connect the dots of the past or explain philosophical ideas and theory to a layperson.

How do we write characters that are different from us intellectually? Here’s what I did to create a character that was smarter than me, or rather had a capability that was very different from something I possessed. While the jury is still out on my success, I certainly learnt a lot about what a writer is capable of and tested my own preconceived limitations.

Study the conviction you have in your character

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