Character Trait Entry: Clever

Definition: Resourcefulness marked by inventiveness or originality

Characters in Literature: Master Kronos (The Cabinet of Wonders); Nin Redstone (Seven Sorcerers); Hansel & Gretel (Hansel & Gretel)

Common Portrayals: Thieves, inventors, lawyers, criminals, pick pockets, con artists

Clichés to Avoid: Clever antics bordering on either risky or absurd, yet they still succeed

Twists on the Traditional Clever Character:  

  • Trip your clever character up by using his ego and focus level against him. Have the antagonist direct his attention to a red herring task in order to distract him from the real danger.
  • Nothing stirs up trouble like a little competition. Great things happen when two clever protagonists friends face off with only one winner…but what if losing means something dire or dangerous, something neither wants the other to pay? 
  • Is cleverness innate, or learned? Put your amnesiac clever character in a situation where free thinking is discouraged and find out! 

Build a worthy protagonist with a mix of unique strengths that will help him overcome obstacles and achieve meaningful goals.

This sample, along with the rest of the character trait entries, has been expanded into book form. Together, the bestselling NEGATIVE TRAIT THESAURUS: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO CHARACTER FLAWS and POSITIVE TRAIT THESAURUS: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO CHARACTER ATTRIBUTES contain over 200 traits for you to choose from when creating memorable, compelling characters. Each entry contains possible causes for the trait, as well as positive and negative aspects, traits in supporting characters that may cause conflict, and associated behaviors, attitudes, thoughts, and emotions. For more information on this bestselling book and where it can be found, please visit our bookstore.

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About ANGELA ACKERMAN

Angela is an international speaker and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also enjoys dreaming up new tools and resources for One Stop For Writers, a library built to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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14 Responses to Character Trait Entry: Clever

  1. Khaalidah says:

    I like clever, but I like quiet taciturn and deep even better.
    I think I’m pretty clever and I see myself in a lot of the above description, especially the part about not wanting to be told how to do things. I have my own way to get a thing done.
    Clever = stubborn(ish)?

  2. I’ve always enjoyed clever characters. Thanks for the breakdown and what to avoid.

  3. I see clever people as somewhat lonely and I’m not sure why. Clever puts you out of the realm of normal people. I can see a clever person being a bit socially misfit and therefore somewhat lonely.

  4. Leslie Rose says:

    I loved The Invention of Hugo Cabret because both its main kid characters were both clever and full of heart. Great story to show kid readers their potential.

  5. I think of Hermione Granger, and I just love her as a character. She embodied all the wonderful aspects of being clever with a delightful quirk of being a little dumb too – like leaving hats for the house elves. I also agree that writing clever people is difficult because they can end up seeing stuck up and full of themselves.

  6. Oh, I just watched the Hansel & Gretel episode of Once Upon a Time last night. Definitely clever children.

  7. Mary Witzl says:

    Those negatives don’t just apply to clever people: I felt my cheeks burn, just reading your descriptions. I’d be a lot further along in this process if I just listened and learned — and followed a few of the rules.

    What you wrote about clever people getting caught up in their own cleverness reminds me of the protagonist in ‘The Social Network’, who becomes so obsessed with outthinking everybody else he really loses sight of the big picture.

  8. Ooh, I really like this one. Clever can be very fun.

  9. Angela Brown says:

    This character description puts me in the mind of Artemis Fowl as well.

  10. Mirka Breen says:

    It’s actually tricky to make the clever ones lovable. Some have gone about it by making them not show their cleverness, but the reader is privy to it via inner-dialogue.

  11. Kelly Polark says:

    I always thought of clever as being only positive -not thinking of the negative aspects! Way to make me think! Great post!!

  12. I like clever characters! Great round-up of what it means to write one. Awesome post!

  13. Jemi Fraser says:

    Great list! My mom always uses the expression ‘clever hands’ – which apparently I don’t have! – for people who can sew, fix things, knit… Good descriptions 🙂

  14. Great post about the positives and negatives of a clever person. I always love your suggestions for twists on these character traits. Thanks so much for all of them.

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