We all might have come across this in fiction at one point or the other:
The genius layman outwitting and baffling the experts, the layman finding the (obvious) answer no one else even thought about…
It’s one of my least favorite tropes, I’ll say this ahead of time.
Now, I’m not talking about an outside perspective leading to the solution of a problem. I’m talking about characters that are made out to be much more clever, skilled, competent… then they actually are. Sometimes this can go by unnoticed (mostly). Other times one might sit there, wondering just why the heck no one else thought of that at all/how they are baffled by this turn of events.
It’s a problem of a ‘sliding scale of competence’:
In reality an average person would be the zero on a scale going from -10 to 10. Leaning towards -1 or 1 in some fields here and there. But nevertheless, this is where you’ll find the average person in terms of skill, knowledge etc.
Talent is up to 3, everything beyond that is training and skill, even with ‘geniuses’.
Even if we’d have superpowers IRL, the scale wouldn’t budge, cause you still need to know how to use them. Being immensely powerful means nothing if you don’t know how to use things.
In fiction, however, the scale often gets nudged down to make one or two characters (sometimes even more) appear more skilled, clever etc than they are.
Where the average person suddenly seems to be a -5 or such, while what the hypergenius did is… not all that clever at all.
One way for authors to notice they did that is the sentence
‘Experts are still clueless how X achieved this’ (or similar)
That is one big warning sign, because what this sentence is meant to tell the reader is simple:
Char X, whether ordinary person or hypergenius, baffles the EXPERTS.
What is (subconsciously) shows the reader (or can easily come across as) is that the author didn’t hold much interest in writing this thing to make sense, even in-universe.
It can lead to the reader feeling as if the author thought they wouldn’t understand anything more complex then:
X is the hero and thus more clever than everyone thus X wins.
On way to avoid this is to put more work into worldbuilding:
- why would the experts be baffled?
- why could no one else come up with that solution?
and give answers that go beyond ‘X is a genius’.
It is more work, but it helps greatly with a story.