Definition: brainy, clever, intellectual. Disclaimer #1: There are other closely-related words (such as clever or knowledgeable), but for simplicity's sake, this entry will focus on the character who is innately intelligent.
Causes: natural predisposition. Disclaimer #2: The debate rages as to whether or not intelligence is a fixed trait, as opposed to one that can change over time. For instance, some would say that the child who is exposed to many experiences has a chance of higher intelligence than a sheltered child, and therefore, experience contributes to intelligence. Others would argue that the innate intelligence is there regardless of experience. I'm clearly not highly intelligent myself, or I'd be able to ferret the truth out of this tangle. For simplicity's sake, I'm sticking with the former argument. Please don't fling flaming bags o' poo at me.
Characters in Literature: Hermione Granger, Sherlock Holmes, Ender Wiggin (Ender's Game)
Positives: Highly intelligent people have a lot of knowledge, and can therefore offer information when it's needed. Most are also good problem-solvers, which is always helpful in a pinch. Really smart people have a lot of experience researching and therefore are good at getting to the root of things. They aren't often led astray by slant or biased viewpoints. Intelligence is a highly-respected trait, so intelligent people will often be admired and emulated despite their many negative characteristics.
Negatives: Because intelligent people are able to think quickly, they often become frustrated with those who can't keep up. The range of emotions they feel for those less smart can range from impatience to contempt and scorn. Smart people know they're smart; for a person who just wants to fit in, this can lead to negative behaviors such as hiding their intelligence, underachieving, and settling for mediocrity. Intelligent people are often exceptional in a certain area; this can lead to an underdevelopment in other areas, causing an imbalance.
Common Portrayals: computer hackers, nerds and geeks, scientists, mathematicians, doctors, spies, idiot savants, child prodigies, serial killers
Cliches to Avoid: the socially-awkward genius, the know-it-all school girl always showing off what she knows, eccentric scientists, the loner computer genius who secretly yearns for a connection with others
Twists on the Traditional Intelligent character:
- Your nerd doesn't have to be greasy-haired and bespectacled. For a twist, give her an attractive physical attribute--hair, eyes, legs, dimples.
- Intelligent characters always seem to be surrounded by those less intelligent. How about pairing up your highly-intelligent character with people who are smarter than her? Talk about your tortured heroes...
- Instead of making your genius socially backward, make her deficient in another area where those of even low intelligence excel: driving a car, baking, sticking to a budget, reading
Conflicting Characteristics to make your intelligent character unique or more interesting: adventurous, sweet, angry, athletic, humble, subservient, domestic