I have a question about writing from characters’ POV (3rd limited) – specifically from very clever characters’ POV. Like Soo-Won from “Akatsuki no Yona” or Lelouch from “Code Geass” – I really like these types of characters, and I want to have similar ones as my main POVs, but I encounter several problems.

One is that my beta readers often tell me that those characters feel too calm or emotionless, and that it’s difficult to sympathize with them because of it.

The other one, since they are clever, most of the time they’ll come up with solutions to problems rather quickly. Since it’s their POV, I feel like I should share their plan with the reader, but then I worry if I can hold tension when it comes to executing it. It’s easy to write them as side characters, since then I don’t have to disclose what they are thinking or what their true motive is, but I can’t hide these things when they’re supposed to be the MC.

Needless to say, visual media such as anime doesn’t have these problems.

So. Do you have any advice on writing such characters? Any tricks to bypass these problems? Or is there no other way but to put this archetype into a secondary role?

-Passerby

Hey there, thanks for writing in!

While I’m not familiar with either Su-Won or Lelouch, I recently went through a number of stories about an earlier example of this trope: Sherlock Holmes. You’re absolutely right that if the POV character figures out the solution to a problem, and you conceal that solution from the reader, it’ll cause problems. The reader will feel lied to and probably find the actual plan unsatisfying. That’s why the Sherlock stories are told from Watson’s POV, so that the good detective can make his clever deduction and then reveal it to the reader at his leisure.

Now, you could always use a Watsonian POV character, but I wouldn’t recommend it. This kind of setup usually makes for a main character who’s a major show-off; otherwise, they would just explain their realization when it comes to them. That kind of character was acceptable in Sherlock’s day, and it can still work on modern TV with a really charismatic actor, but in book form such a character will often come across as arrogant and annoying.

Instead, there are a couple of standard options for writing a smart character without giving away the plot too early:

  • Deny the character the critical piece of information until the moment of realization. They may have figured out that each of the victims was killed by a different kind of blade, but they won’t realize what that means until they see that the villain’s knife can change shape.
    • In this scenario you’ll need to foreshadow that such a weapon is possible, usually by establishing its tech or magic in some other context, like a new wonder-fabric that changes shape to fit any wearer.
  • Give them all the clues, but don’t have them put the clues together until the climax. This is tougher, since it requires clues that aren’t obvious to the reader but make sense when they’re all put together for the first time.
    • In situations like this, it’s helpful to research whatever topics are relevant to the clues. That way, you know what clues can stay in the background but will also make sense when the hero puts them together.

Either way, if the mystery is the main conflict of the story, the protagonist should probably figure it out in the climax. Otherwise, there’s no satisfaction for the reader. You might also find this post helpful: Six Types of Turning Points for Climaxes.

Now, to the issue of making a smart character not seem emotionally distant or detached. In this situation, I think the best advice is to remember that intelligence is not the absence of emotion. While emotions can sometimes lead us down the wrong path, they are critical for decision making. You might have a character who is motivated to find solutions by their anger at injustice or their compassion for the suffering of a close friend. You can also go the other route and have a smart character think past less productive emotions, like when they need to figure out the best way to deflect an oncoming asteroid despite the fear of what happened to their best friend on the original landing party.

Both of these options will help give your character emotional depth. You might also find this article useful: Conveying Character Emotion.

Hope that’s helpful!

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