How to Write About Characters Who Are Smarter Than You

“Like many stories, this one ends with a funny circularity. My first book had been about a genius novelist: Arthur Conan Doyle. I then wrote a movie about a genius mathematician: Alan Turing. In doing so I used Conan Doyle’s genius for inspiration. And then — after five years and lots of Hollywood twists and turns that could be the subject of another article or two — we finally got to make our Turing film. And who was the actor who gamely strode in the front of the cameras to bring Turing to vivid, passionate life? It was Benedict Cumberbatch, an actor who had just come from playing Sherlock Holmes.

One day we were all on set. We were shooting a relatively technical scene, involving a bit of business with an Enigma machine and some quick dialogue about mathematics. Right before the cameras started rolling, Benedict called me over and told me that he thought I’d made a mistake. I was embarrassed, of course, and I asked him what the mistake was. He then went on a long and highly technical monologue about the mathematics behind Enigma machines, and how the machine’s rotors were connected. Were we describing a three-rotor Enigma, or a five-rotor Enigma? How many plugboard cables was the German navy using at that point in the war? Should the very large number referenced in the line of dialogue have eighteen zeroes or nineteen zeroes? Was there a mistake in my multiplication?

The two of us went back and forth a little, each trying to do the math in our heads. Finally, as he was explaining his reasoning — which incidentally turned out to be correct — I had to stop him for a second as I struggled to keep up. I blurted out: “Wait. Ben. Say that again.” “

By Graham Moore, Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Imitation Game​ – Excerpt.

Full article here.