Hello! How are you? How do I write a character that is very smart bookwise and has good ideas, but doesn’t have common sense/acts very silly?

Atlas

Hi Atlas,

That’s a wonderful question. The key is to identify exactly what areas are a weakness for your character. 

A common and useful distinction is to have a character that is well-read but low on experience. They may have a great understanding of how everything works in theory, but they aren’t great at coming up with practical solutions or adjusting their ideas to fit the current situation.

For instance:

  • Your character might recognize a sickness can be cured by a specific herb, but that’s not useful because no one has the herb. Later, the character might realize many people actually do have the herb, but naturally they don’t call it by the scientific name, they have a local name for it. 
  • They might tell people to put structures on stilts to keep them above the water during floods, but the local ground is too soft for structures using stilts to stay upright. 
  • Perhaps some instruction they read sounds easy to do, but when they try it, it takes a full day of hard labor. At that rate, it might not work at a big scale.

Another option is to have a character that knows a lot but doesn’t have much in the way of social skills. Maybe they’ve been cloistered away while they were learning, and were never taught any etiquette or given exposure to other groups.

They might not know:

  • What clothes to wear to formal events or how to address nobility.
  • That they’re supposed to haggle when they go to the market instead of accepting the named price, much less what prices are reasonable.
  • That many people in the city don’t know how to read like they do, causing them to make privileged and rude assumptions.

Ultimately, this approach comes down to uneven knowledge. If you focus on knowledge, you can get the effect you want without worrying about ableism.

Happy writing,
Chris

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