How Can Dumb Defeat Smart?

One Piece

So, we talked about smart characters on Monday.  Today, we’re going to talk about the opposite side of the coin.  Not in how to write them, but in how they can be the ones to come up on top.  Many people act like ‘dumb’ characters will always lose against smart ones, but that isn’t always the case.  How?

Much of it comes down to personality and habits.  Just look at how they are depicted in fiction:

Smart–  Thinking several steps ahead of everyone and taking into account every logical possibility.  They are knowledgeable and able to use what they have learned or figured out to solve nearly every problem.  If they run into something new, they eventually adapt and become a master of it unless the plot says otherwise.

‘Dumb‘- Don’t really know what is going on, but they are following what their smarter allies are doing.  If they don’t have that then they are following their instincts.  Whatever seems right, they’ll do it unless a trusted person says otherwise.  Even then, they are prone to be unpredictable and come up with their own paths of logic even adapting on the fly.

See the words that are bolded?  These two types of characters work off different sources.  A ‘dumb’ character isn’t usually a true, helpless idiot too.  They are the impulsive and simple-minded ones who follow their hearts and whatever ideas they come up with.  Sure, they can be outsmarted, especially in a prolonged fight, but they are not always destined to lose.  We like to think that way because society puts intelligence on a high pedestal to the point where it’s seen as the only mental stat worth having.  So, we overlook the ‘dumb’ people who have their own ways to succeed.

The unpredictability of a ‘dumb’ character is what can give them an edge.  The plans of smart characters try to take in every possibility, but it runs off a logical path.  A character who doesn’t act in such a way and functions off impulsive reactions will have an advantage once they shatter that plan.  People tend to expect the smart character to predict the unpredictable, but that reaches a level of author manipulation.  Even a genius can be caught by surprise by someone who doesn’t use any form of known logic.  One can also argue that you can’t predict the exact action an un predictable character will take beyond nothing it will be a surprise.

Of course, the ‘dumb’ character can be a hindrance to their own side.  Any structured plan can be destroyed by their actions.  Allies tend to factor in the surprises by using this person as a distraction or leaving a lot of opens for adjustments.  Of course, these adjustments take time, especially if one needs to communicate.  So, the ‘dumb’ character will be able to move and act faster than changes can be activated.  This is why many stories will have these characters end up on their own while the rest of the heroes go off to do whatever they need to do.

Will it usually be the ‘dumb’ defeating the smart?  That really depends on who the author favors.  Many treat smart characters as perfect and able to change plans in an instant, which makes them unbelievable.  Just like with a ‘dumb’ character who always gains victory by being random.  So, their strengths also have to be played off as weaknesses at times to prevent them from being seen as infallible.  This is why it pays to have these characters in the same story because an author who doesn’t play favorites can their differences to make them deeper.

So, what do you think of ‘dumb’ characters defeating the smart?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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13 Responses to How Can Dumb Defeat Smart?

  1. L. Marie says:

    A very interesting post! 😊😊😊Many of the fairy tales adapted by the Grimm brothers and Howard Pyle feature characters (usually the youngest brother) who is known as “simple Hans” or some other moniker. This character is discounted by the other family members, but usually winds up winning the hand of the king’s daughter or getting the treasure that the “smarter” members fail to achieve. I read several the other day in a book called THE WONDER CLOCK by Howard Pyle.


  2. I think back to the old Colombo detective series. Colombo would act dumb in order to trick a “smart” perp into making a mistake. I see that a little with a ‘dumb’ character. If they are being naturally themselves and the smart character makes a mistaken move which the dumb character takes advantage of I think it makes the story much better.


  3. This is a cool concept and would add a fun element to a story.


  4. I feel like it’s the smart characters who are flexible and can change quickly, while the dumb ones are narrow minded and can’t adjust to circumstances. But maybe it’s the author’s way of making a hapless character more sympathetic?


    • Depends on your definition of smart and dumb. I’ve found many people who claim to have high IQs are the ones who handle plan disruptions the worst. They have trouble accepting that they made a mistake. Those considered dumb end up going with the flow.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. V.M.Sang says:

    An interesting post, Charles. I hadn’t thought of a ‘dumb’ character as being unpredictable, and possibly a loose cannon that could disrupt plans made by either, or both, sides. Much food for thought.
    And I agree that as a society, we put too much store on what we see as ‘intelligence’. Take a person from a society that has never encountered ‘civilisation’, and put them in a large city, or even a small town. They would be lost and not know how to behave, nor even how to get food as they haven’t seen shops. They might be seen as not very clever.
    Then take a person from that city and put them in the village in the forest. They would, to the people of that village, seem unintelligent as the person would be unable to find, or grow, food, not know which plants are safe to eat, nor which could be used as medicine.


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