Writing Characters That Are ‘Smarter’ Than You

Posted on

I didn’t make Mira smarter than I was just because I wanted a challenge. The story demanded it. Her trauma manifested as a need to validate the world through intellectualism. Her cynicism and emotional instability emerged from this form of validation. Once I knew this, I realized I had to put myself in her shoes. I also knew that it would be an artificial process for me, but one that had to flourish authentically on the page. All this to say: allow your story to demand a character’s abilities and worldview first and then research accordingly. 

Prepare to temporarily rewire your brain

My process of rewiring my own mind took about 2 months. This was a period of time I filled a thick notebook with handwritten notes. I watched youtube videos on philosophy and history for hours. I read articles, processed names and dates, and  jotted down eras and influencers of certain time periods. In order to soak in the information I was hearing  or reading online and in print, I had to write it down. For these two months I was another person, a person who could read and listen to subject matter I would not have had the patience to go through on a regular basis. I reread my notes everyday, letting the information sink in while simultaneously wondering how Mira would use this information to build her world view.

Ditch most of your research and new knowledge as you write 

When I started writing again I was an expert on both world wars and could teach a college level introductory level philosophy class. But as I wrote, I found that I had to position very little of that knowledge in the book. A super well read person in real life doesn’t necessarily go about their day spurting excerpts and factoids they’ve read. In real life, knowledge builds our approach to life and how we communicate with the world. Mira is a bit of an intellectual show-off and she uses a significant amount of her knowledge to impress someone she is falling in love with, so there were areas I had to write that in. But mostly, my research allowed me to build Mira and her worldview authentically. Today, 3 years later, I can’t remember even a quarter of the things Mira knows in the book. My brain is not naturally equipped to think or remember like her. When I go through my own book now, it’s like I am learning again from Mira. It’s surreal to think I was the one who wrote it.

While it does take patience and a commitment to process, you can write a character that has been informed in a way dramatically different from your own. And in the end, it will be your writerly imagination that needs to have the confidence to break free from the chains of knowledge and let your characters be who they are.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *