There I was, watching Inspector Lewis on PBS and half-listening. Then, amazingly, I heard that snippet of scientific jargen that sounded two-thirds familiar.
Forensic scientist: It's a linear polymer "something."
Detective Lewis: Speak English, please.
Forensic scientist: Corn starch.
Da da da dum.
Well, it was supposed to be a da da da dum moment anyway. Truthfully, I have no idea what big revelation corn starch had to do with anything plot related. I should have been paying attention. *sigh*
This brought up several thoughts, including my attention deficit disorder. But first, I had that little thrill. Wow. I almost knew what the brainy scientist was talking about. Two-thirds anyway. Me...little old me...recognized a corn starch by its scientific description. I should almost get my geek club card or something.
Okay, back to earth. It's strange, but that thrill of knowlege isn't supposed to be there. In a blink of an eye, that dialogue serves a few purposes, but it wasn't meant to be understood. One character knew the lingo as comfortably as English while the other needs clarification..."speak English, please." What is the purpose? Authenticity perhaps? Humanizing the great detective by showing he's "just like us" and doesn't know everything? All possibilities. Granted, the significance of the clue (the corn starch) was also important. (Oh, I did mention I didn't get that, right?)
But did it matter? Yes and no. As a viewer, I still enjoyed the performance of the mystery even if I flat-out missed some of the clues. I shrug it off though. In the end, I'm satisfied. In fact, in what I've missed I have additional admiration for the cleverness of the characters. They are, indeed, smarter and more observant than I am. That's okay. They're supposed to be.
As a writer, this is the intimidating part. I must know the details. Even the snippets of brilliance of secondary characters. It has to make sense and be factual. Who knows, afterall, who might catch my mistakes? My goodness! (*starts to hyperventilate at this new thought*) As my creations, must I be as smart as ALL my characters? For that matter, is it even possible to write a character who is smarter than myself? (*confused now, contemplating this paradox*) That isn't possible is it?
Wait! I'm not throwing in the towel just yet. Inspector Lewis didn't get an inferiority complex, right? No, he just asks, "speak English, please." I suspect there's a clue here for how a writer goes about presenting brilliance.
The point is, the main character surrounds himself with experts. He doesn't know, but finds out. Just the same, when we do research, we can present this information through, indeed, characters smarter than ourselves but filtered through the lead character. And the information imparted is brief and serves many other purposes. So, maybe there's no need to panic. Some day readers will also be thinking your characters are smarter and more observant than they are. They might even associate the characters' cleverness with you, the author. (If they only knew! Shhh.)
As for getting that observation part down, well that's another problem...(What the heck was so important about the corn starch, anyway? Never mind.)
Do you write characters smarter than you? :)