Basic Tips To Write Better Geniuses, Scientists, & Intellectuals

There are a lot of misconceptions about what "smart" people are like and what they do - so this page aims to clear some of them up. It doesn't matter whether your character is a scholar who received the highest standards of education in the finest universities, or whether your character is a farm mechanic with no higher educational credentials than a GED - there's something for just about any and every smart-type character.

First, know what science actually is. If you're going to write a scientist or a person with scientific inclinations, this is absolutely essential. Science is a method of discovery, not a philosophy or a belief system. It does not nor has it ever claimed to have all the answers - rather, it's a method used to find the answers.

If you actually know what the scientific method is and how it works, the concept of "harmonizing science and magic" sounds about as exciting and revolutionary as harmonizing spiral binders and poetry. There's nothing "opposite" about them in any sense, and spiral binders are a good way to keep your poetry organized. Likewise, the scientific method would be a good way to figure out how magic works and doesn't work.

If magic existed as depicted in most fantasy stories, there would be a branch of science dedicated to figuring out just how and why it worked. Scientists would not deny its existance simply because they had no explanation for it yet - they would spend years, even lifetimes working on figuring it out. A real-life scientist of any decent quality would not see something magical and think, "That's impossible because the laws of science say so!" Said scientist would be thinking, "Well, that looks like magic, but everything we always thought was magic turned out not to be, so this probably isn't magic, either. So what's really going on here?"

To get a basic idea of what the scientific method is and what it entails, go here.

Know how logic actually works. When people try to imagine a "logical" character, they very often think of someone like Spock who does completely ridiculous and even ultimately detrimental things in the name of logic - EG, fail to take important factors such as other peoples' emotional states into account when making decisions. "Logic" in and of itself does not state half the things people often say it does. For example, logic does not in itself "dictate" that fairies don't exist. However, it does dictate that just because many people believe in fairies doesn't make them any more likely to be real, because we know large numbers of people believe things that aren't real or true all the time.

To get a better grasp on what this logic thing is all about, I recommend you head over here.

Don't have them know everything about everything. You know the Reed Richardsian genius who can engineer an aeroplane at breakfast, sequence a genome at lunch, and examine ice cores at dinner? That type of person does not exist in real life. Every scientific body of knowledge takes a lot of time and dedication to learn in-depth, and and there simply aren't enough hours in the day to get to know them all thus. Anyone hoping to pull off something truly innovative or do something particularly remarkable in xir chosen field will need to have in-depth knowledge, and what's more, will have to spend considerable time keeping abreast of the latest discoveries and developments in order to remain relevant in it. Then there's the fact that they just might not be all that interested in other branches of science - a marine biologist just might not care all that much about astrophysics or the chemistry behind making a perfect beer. And they might actually prefer to actually have time to spend time with friends and family or go on vacations and whathaveyou.

Let them be wrong before finding the solution. It's very rare that "smart" people ever find the right solution to a large or complex problem at first try. As Gil Grissom of CSI (and a genius by any definition) so succinctly put it when someone made a jab about him being incorrect, "I'm often wrong. It's how I get to right." Even the smartest and most educated of people have to go through a lot of trial-and-error when it comes to solving tricky problems, often in part because they don't initially have all of the facts. In fact, the main purpose of a scientific experiment is to weed out the things that don't work so that one can ultimately find out what does.

Don't make them all dry and dull. Smart people and scientists come in every personality type there is. Sure, there are those who couldn't crack a joke if their lives depended on it, but on the other hand there are people like Neil DeGrasse Tyson who can make death by black hole absolutely hilarious, or the playful Adam Savage best known for his role on Mythbusters.

Don't use big or obscure words where they don't belong, unless your character is supposed to be pompous or pretentious. If you're combing the thesaurus for no other reason than you think a character needs big words to use to look smart, you're doing it wrong. Generally, intelligent and educated folks choose large words over smaller words when they are more precise and descriptive than the latter. If you're going to use a large word, ask yourself whether it actually helps to clarify what the person is saying, or whether it just muddles it. Also, if your character is ready to volley an insult, don't flip through the medical dictionary to find the Latin word for 'butt' - just use 'ass.'

Remember that scientists and intellectuals do appreciate the beauty of the world and the universe. A popular misconception is that these type of folks fail to see the wonder in a flower or a rainbow. The truth is, they do - and they're so impressed and captivated by what they see that they want to learn more about it. Learning what makes rainbows shine and flowers blossom only adds to their appreciation. Not investigating or researching them makes about as much sense as putting birthday or Christmas presents up on a shelf forever just to go on wondering what's in them.

Remember that real scientists and intellectuals often enjoy entertainment with bad science. When it comes to science fiction that plays it fast and loose with science, Doctor Who probably takes the cake. But guess who fanboys about Doctor Who on his blog? NASA astronomer Phil Plait, that's who. The man even built a snow dalek in the winter of '09. Neil Degrasse Tyson stated that if the director doesn't care whether the movie is scientifically accurate, then he doesn't care. He also described the movie Armageddon as fun, even though the asteroids did have really good aim.

Remember that they enjoy the same things as everyone else. Michio Kaku enjoys ice-skating. Phil Plait posts pictures of his cat. While most of them will enjoy doing things that challenge the noodle a bit more than average, many of their interests and likes won't be much different from anyone else's.

Remember that smart ≠ bookworm. A person can be highly intelligent, but have no serious interest in reading. Someone might prefer hands-on experience, or might prefer gaining knowledge through another means - EG, audio or video. And even if someone does like reading, it doesn't follow that this person will want to read any book - someone might eagerly devour every book on reptiles that comes along, but still be bored to tears by paranormal romance stories. Or someone might like reading romance stories with well-laid plots and complex characters, but easily pass up on ones that aren't so well-written.

Remember, the name of the game is curiosity. The type of people who become scientists and intellectuals are highly curious folks. They poke, prod, explore, and ask questions (and hopefully, have the social skills to know when doing so would be inappropriate). Because their ever-hungry brains are almost always looking for something to graze on, they tend to observe and analyze what's going on around them. This doesn't mean making observations on the level of Sherlock Holmes, but they will tend to notice more things than the average person, particularly if these things relate to their interests somehow. They might also read or watch a lot of non-fiction material, such as how-to/instructional material, material that sheds light into some topic they're unclear on but would like to know more about, or material that relates to their interests in general.

See Also:

Things About Skills, Talents, & Knowledge Writers Need To Know
Things Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Should Know About Science
Things About Computers & Hacking Writers Need To Know
Things To Know If Your Character Will Be Augmented Or Experimented Upon
Things Your Fantasy Or Science Fiction Story Needs
Yet More Tips to Write Intellecuals/Geniuses/All-round Brainy Folks (offsite)
Basic Tips To Be Witty And Funny
On Writing & Roleplaying Wise Characters

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