6-types-of-courageous-characters

What I Learned Writing Dreamlander: 6 Types of Courageous Characters

What’s the secret to creating characters readers love? There must be a secret, right? Some magic formula that will make readers fall as madly in love with our characters as we have with other writers’ larger-than-life heroes and heroines.

You’re probably thinking I’m going to say, “Sorry, but no, there’s no magic formula. Just hard work and luck.” But, actually, that’s not so. Actually, there is a magic ingredient.

And that is bravery.

Readers adore courageous characters. We’ll forgive a character just about any flaw, but never cowardice. In the words of Dwight V. Swain’s immortal Techniques of the Selling Writer:

Don’t try to make virtue take the place of courage. Admirable qualities are fine as subordinate characterizing elements. But fascination is born of valor, not virtue…. A saintly character … may fall ever so flat—not because he’s saintly, but because he doesn’t, in addition, challenge fate.

In writing my fantasy novel Dreamlander (coming December 2), I got to explore six different kinds of bravery:

1. Heroic Bravery

When we think of heroes these days, we generally think of those who qualify for heroic bravery.

What is it?

This is the kind of bravery that makes a character do crazy dangerous stuff, either to protect others or to advance a cause in which he passionately believes. He’s not a fool. He knows what he’s risking, but he believes the danger is worth it.

Examples: Spider-Man, Captain America, Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker. The vast majority of blockbuster, action-adventure, and fantasy heroes qualify for heroic bravery.

2. Steadfast Bravery

Steadfast bravery isn’t as flashy as heroic bravery (although it exhibits bursts of heroism), but its patient doggedness challenges fate every single day.

What is it?

This is the kind of bravery we see from someone who is enduring a bad or dangerous situation day in and day out. A POW, a soldier in the trenches, or an informant in enemy territory will probably exhibit steadfast bravery.

Examples: Courtney (in Dawn Patrol), like so many soldiers on the line, grits his teeth and holds fast in the face of death every single day.

3. Quiet Bravery

This one is perhaps the least flashy of any type of bravery. It can even occasionally be confused with cowardice.

What is it?

Quiet bravery gives a character the courage needed to endure bad situations with grace and patience. It’s basically an offshoot of steadfast bravery, but it usually surfaces in situations that are less physically dangerous. Cancer patients, overworked single mothers, and trod-upon servants who maintain their sense of self-worth and hope all exhibit quiet bravery.

Examples: Literature is full of plucky orphans who endure their hard lots with a smile. Amy Dorrit (in Little Dorrit) and Sara Crewe (in A Little Princess) both qualify.

4. Personal Bravery

Not all brave characters are going to face death or save the world. Sometimes the bravest thing a person can do is take a chance to advance his own lot in life.

What is it?

Personal bravery demands characters reach for the stars and chase their dreams. Instead of remaining in a bad situation and taking it and taking it, they risk everything for a chance at a better life. Personal bravery is perhaps the most common kind of bravery of all, since it’s something every single one of us chooses to exhibit at one point or another in our lives, whether it’s in dreaming of a better education, a better career, or just a life-changing trip around the world.

Examples: Jane Eyre, Jo March, and David Copperfield, among so many others, challenged their unappealing fates by braving the world and forcing themselves into uncomfortable positions with the hope of creating better, more fulfilling lives for themselves.

5. Devil-May-Care Bravery

Here we find the domain of the anti-hero and the fatalist.

What is it?

Devil-may-care bravery isn’t bravery so much as a cynical realization that death (or whatever the worst-case scenario may be) will come no matter what we do, ergo let’s meet it with arms stretched wide. Characters who have nothing to live for can often exhibit insane courage, but they’re doing it from a place of negativity.

Examples: Durzo Blint (from The Way of Shadows), Riddick, and my own Marcus Annan all fall into this category. They’re powerful in their own right and they don’t care too deeply about what happens to them, which makes them recklessly and dangerously courageous.

6. Frightened Bravery

Finally, we have the most dichotomous, and often the most compelling, bravery of all.

What is it?

Frightened bravery finds the hero a knee-shaking, gut-churning, terrified mess. But he rises above it. He enters the fray in spite of his terror, and, in so doing, becomes the bravest of all characters. Frightened bravery can go hand in hand with any of the other types (save perhaps devil-may-care bravery), since the very act of overcoming fear is what makes a character brave.

Examples: Harry Faversham (in The Four Feathers) is a particularly good example, since his entire story is about his wildly courageous attempts to blot out his own cowardice. The Youth (in The Red Badge of Courage), Lee (in The Magnificent Seven), and Danny (in The Great Escape) would all qualify as well.

None of these categories are exclusive. A character may well exhibit all six types of bravery during the course of your story, and often you’ll find the categories overlapping. In creating a strong character, it’s important not only that he  qualify for at least one of these types of bravery, but also that you identify which is the strongest category, so you can further strengthen it on the page. Once you’ve done that, it’s almost a cinch readers will find your character fascinating.

***

Don’t forget to vote for which prize you’d like to win in the Dreamlander Launch Party Grand Prize Drawing on December 2!

Tell me your opinion: Which type of bravery does your protagonist predominantly qualify for?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. My character uses quiet bravery in Still Rock Water. Nobody else knows she helps people in distress with only whispered thoughts during her visions.

  2. My character, Emma Jean, uses personal bravery to transcend outdated notions of herself, notions she didn’t even know she was holding onto. Congrats on the book release!

  3. @Francene: Great title!

    @Charlotte: Sounds like a perfect example of personal bravery. That’s often one of the most compelling types of courage.

  4. My current WIP character, Zamora, wants nothing to do with bravery or war or any of the situations she finds herself in. But because of the situations, ends up revealing a great amount of personal bravery and frightened bravery! Also, your description of Steadfast bravery is very descriptive of my comic relief character – who turns out to be one of the bravest and strongest of all. :-)

  5. Funny characters who are also brave are usually some of the most compelling. We not only love them, we respect them.

  6. Numbers 1 & 6 are the ones I prefer to use.. though I’ll use any form of bravery if I feel like it. ;)

    I’ve also found that a character who displays cowardice, but later learns a lesson FROM that cowardice.. often has greater strength than a character who “has no fear”. IMHO…

  7. Flawed characters are always more compelling. If the character learns a lesson (Aesop fable-ish as that may sound), it indicates a character arc. And that’s what it’s all about.

  8. I also tend to use a mixture of 1 and 6. Though in this case my character qualifies more for type 6.

  9. One and six go together well, since you’ve got two extremes. Once the character overcomes his fear, his heroics only seem that much greater.

  10. Jinxx is steadfast and frightened. She scares easily, knows she’s physically vulnerable and has no desire to be a hero. But when faces with danger or the need to help others, she manages to multiple a pair of numbers to cam her mind and soldier on. She would probably be horribly uncomfortable if anyone pointed this out.

  11. My hero in my medieval novel is pretty steadfast brave in taking on his new ‘job’, but he chafes under the weight of it and when he has an opening, he is devil-may-care brave, because he doesn’t really care much about his situation at the beginning. As the story progresses and others start sacrificing for him and he starts caring for those he is taking into danger, he becomes more cautious. When he is faced with danger, he is heroically brave.

  12. @London: Humble heroes – gotta love ‘em. Of course, I also like the occasional cocky hero, but they’re usually just begging to *be* humbled.

    @Amelia: I actually love the devil-may-care heroes. They may even be my favorites. They have so much room for growth, and usually so much interesting junk to explore in their backstories.

  13. My MC qualifies for Personal Bravery, although I must admit I ahd not realised it before reading your post!… Great breakdown of characters’ types of bravery :)

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  15. in my medieval fantasy book Pirate Lover my character Aingeal Swiftheart uses Devil-may-care bravery having been kidnapped by bandits at a young age and sold to pirates to be the captains treasure Aingeal feels she has had everything she loves and cares for taken from her feeling anger towards the captain and his crew she feels has nothing else to live for so why fear them or anything else

  16. @EM: Creating brave characters is often one of those subconscious things we know to do without actually *knowing* we’re supposed to do it. Claiming it consciously gives us more control over it.

    @Kelly: Great example of the devil-may-care bravery. Sounds like a fun story. I love the character’s name!

  17. i will be honest i have had trouble writing for the last couple years i must have rewrote my original medieval fantasy book 6 times and each time it keeps getting longer and more complicated or there are two many characters or the book has no title or plot or when i think of ideas for the book the ideas turn into a great idea for a separate book don’t know what to do now been so frustrated with it that it makes me head hurt

  18. Revisions are inevitable. I went through at least half a dozen with Dreamlander. Outlining and structuring are my secret weapons.

  19. after reading your book crafting unforgettable characters i realized that a lot of the stuff that is suggested i don’t do is what i have been doing the whole time i have been writing no wonder no matter how many times i read my work it never made sense to me and i do apologize if i am rambling

  20. Breaking the rules isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important to realize *when* we’re breaking and have a good reason *why.*

  21. The thing I came to realise about bravery when writing my graphic novel “Shades”, was that – whatever kind of bravery the character is demonstrating – it’s important for it to COST the character something; for there to be a sacrifice involved. (Or at least a potential sacrifice!)

    It might mean giving up his life (or worse, someone else’s life!) or letting go of a treasure or relinquishing something intangible like his self-esteem, but being “brave” when there’s nothing to lose is a very superficial kind of bravery and it won’t resonate with readers nearly so much as when the character puts everything on the line.

  22. Definitely. The whole notion of bravery implies a cost. Otherwise, it wouldn’t require courage to begin with. As authors, we have the choice of whether or not to make the character suffer that cost. We won’t *always* want him to, but, more often than not, it’s a splendid way to up the stakes.

  23. Hey, I just wanted to say thanks so much for doing this series on what you learned while writing Dreamlander. I love it! And I love the cover of Dreamlander; it’s aMAZing. I am usually a “stalker”…not a big comment person, but I just wanted to take the time to tell you that your blog really encourages me to keep with it in my writing. I’m working on a manuscript right now that has been in progress for over 2 years, and my goal is to have the first draft finished by the new year. Yes, I still haven’t finished the first draft! I keep starting over. :) But I’m determined to kick that habit this time and FINISH, even if I don’t like everything about it. At least that way I’ll have some bare framework to work with. Thanks for blogging!

  24. Two years isn’t out of sight for a first draft by any means. If you count the outline (which, in some ways, I consider to be my *true* first draft), two years is pretty average for my first drafts.

    And thanks for commenting! I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog and finding it useful.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Hmm, I guess Devil-May-Care bravery is just my thing. I’m most fascinated by it because it seems so rare and impossible. As a result, the character of the novel I’ve been developing definitely exhibits that kind of bravery. He may seem brave, but he’s really just reckless and hopeless, and you’re right – he and other characters I think of that are like him have reasons they are acting this way, meaning lots of baggage and backstory. Thanks for the useful article. I will keep coming back to it to help me more clearly define my characters.

  26. That’s one of my favorites as well. I love haunted characters and all the demons they bring with them, so many of my characters exhibit devil-may-care bravery.

  27. My main character first exhibits Personal Bravery when she decides to make a career change of sorts. Then, as a result of that decision, she is forced to exhibit Frightened Bravery because she finds herself in a very dangerous situation. Certain situations, she shows Devil-May-Care Bravery because she reaches a point where she is sure death is certain, so why not do that dangerous thing? I was going through my email and I found this article. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Thank you!

  28. Most stories will feature characters who demonstrate more than one (or even all) of these types of courage – and that’s a good thing, since it brings more depth to the person’s reactions. Glad you enjoyed the article!

  29. Inferus Unum says:

    Ava my MC has total Devil-may-care attitude. She’s an bounty hunter in the slums of the galaxy with no future and a terminal disease. She not so much brave as couldn’t care less about her life.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Weiland makes the case that all characters should be courageous. I’m pretty sure she means all major characters – the ones that you want your readers […]

  2. […] Weiland lists 6 types of courage. Lion’s Whiskers (a parenting blog) lists another six types, most of which can be paired in […]

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