Character Trait Entry: Modesty

Definition: Humility, freedom from conceit, a moderate attitude toward of one's own abilities.

Causes: Growing up in a balanced and unpretentious environment; a lack of drive to take advantage of capitalistic opportunities for self-serving gain; a lack of confidence or lower self esteem; a deep understanding of the wide world combined with a heightened sense of one's own worth in the big picture.

Characters in Literature & Pop Culture: Forest Gump (Forest Gump); Dr. Watson (Sherlock Holmes, book); Samwise Gamgee (Lord of the Rings)

Positives: Modest characters tend to have very realistic expectations of others and can be incredibly supportive of friends and family. Modests are contributors, seeing their actions and accomplishments as doing their part to add to the whole. Characters with this trait are responsible and take ownership, providing what is needed to those around them as well as those who lead. Modest people are respectful and especially connect with other people with this same character trait.

Negatives: Modest people can delve too deep into humility, refusing accolades or praise for their accomplishments. This can lead to a feeling of frustration or guilt in others who are trying to recognize them for their hard work and dedication, making them feel like they are taking advantage. Modests can also be self-effacing to the extreme, which can allow those without scruples to absorb credit for themselves instead of giving due. Modests may also judge others by their own humility stick, unfairly condemning those who openly show pride when hard work leads to reward. 

Common Portrayals: Female characters living during historical or medieval times when humility and modesty were prized; the hard working employee grateful for a job rather than trying to be a corporate climber; Executives or Political Players who use false humility as a play for affection or approval from those in power (be it higher ups, or voting constituents); socially reserved people (or children) who do not like attention and avoid it.

Clichés to Avoid: the historical 'chaste and modest daughter' trope as a bid for suitors; the falsely modest corrupt character so transparent that readers see through them immediately yet the other characters involved do not.

Twists on the Traditional Modest Character:  
  • To stay out of the 'unassumingly Modest and therefore invisible' cliché, give your character strong goals. Modest characters can have big dreams just like anyone else!
  • Modesty does not have to be equated with 'weak' or social ineptitude. Give us a character who strives to achieve but views his gifts and talents as being a part of who he is rather than making him special or 'better' than others, and we'll root for him all the way.
Conflicting Characteristics to Make your Modest Character Unique or More Interesting: Competitive; Persistent; Wounded; Eccentric


Natalie Aguirre said...

Great tips on how to portray a modest character. I love the twist suggestions.

And I love Forest Gump and Samwise. They're great examples.

Traci Kenworth said...

Modesty can be a winner: Samwise's character shows this but you're right, it's best to use care with this type of character to avoid cliches.

Donna K. Weaver said...

I live this. Great examples, too.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I love the trait thesaurus. Awesome stuff as always. :D

Susanne Drazic said...

Great post. Wonderful examples. Forrest Gump is a good character example.

Jemi Fraser said...

This works for one of my characters right now. I think she's strong too - but I'll keep it in mind as I go. Thanks!

The Golden Eagle said...

Female characters who are stereotypical, modest individuals always bother me. Modesty is an interesting trait, but it can't support a character on its own.

Great post!

Lydia Kang said...

Awesome post! It's easy to spend only a few moments on a trait like this. It's so much more complicated.

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