Yes, often times people who are crazy smart do happen to be somewhat awkward but it’s not always the case and sometimes, if a writer isn’t careful, it begins to feel like the awkward is forced and on purpose.
I am a huge fan of JD Robb’s (Nora Roberts’) In Death series. I have read them all, some of them multiple times. Some of them have been less than stellar but, in the grand scheme of things, 2 or 3 clunkers out of 30 some books is pretty damn good. But. You knew there was going to be a but. One particular choice irks me. Irks me so bad.
Eve Dallas is a bright, competent woman who happens to be a study in PTSD. I think that’s one of the reasons I’m drawn to her so much. Eve Dallas is also incredibly socially inept and awkward – explained some by her earliest formative years but not so much now after 30 odd books. At this point in the story, having her misquote or misunderstand or question every single idiom used by anyone around her is old, irksome, and just plain insulting to the character. It’s one thing to give a character a quirk but when it begins to push the boundaries of believable, a writer should take a giant step back lest you discover your awesome character has evolved into a less than stellar caricature (looking at you BBT).
Robb has done a wonderful job with the character’s growth – except in this one area and it’s to the point where I don’t buy it anymore and it just puts me off or makes me groan actually out loud. By the time you’re 30, you’ve heard the phrase “devil’s advocate” a million times – the phrase has been around for hundreds of years, I don’t think another 60 or 70 is going to suddenly erase it from use. At this point, it feels like the writer’s making a point at how silly language can be at the cost of her best character.
Quirks and flaws can make characters feel real. They are excellent tools that should be utilized but as our characters grow, we have to be aware how those quirks and flaws might change. Initially, this particular quirk showed the reader that Eve was outside the social norm with a bit of an overactive logic circuit. Now, it feels forced because she’s run out of weird or actually odd or confusing idioms and is plucking at the ones that make sense.
I get people being too logical for idioms – I’m raising one who asks me all the time why things are said they way they are and he’s fascinated by the concept of the idiom BECAUSE it doesn’t make logical sense to him but he’s 9 and once they’ve been explained, the idioms get tucked into his lexicon and used properly.