Causes: An introverted nature; low self-esteem or confidence; feeling discomfort at being thrust into the spotlight; preferring a background role or supporting position; growing up with talented parents or siblings and standing on the sidelines of their acclaim; shyness; a sense of self-preservation
Characters in Literature: Aibileen (The Help); Nevile Longbottom (Harry Potter, especially the early books)
Modest characters defer to others, allowing them to take the limelight. The knowledge of being involved in the process and events that led to something better is satisfying on its own without the need to also share the same level of acclaim. Those with the modest trait often prefer supportive roles, seeing themselves as a cog in the machine, and do no seek out to place themselves above others. Generosity naturally goes hand in hand with modesty, and so these characters are usually highly thought of by peers. Modest characters usually deflect when addressed directly, singing the praises of those around them as 'the real heroes' rather than take credit for the accomplishment. This kindness is appreciated by others and creates a strong reciprocal feeling of loyalty and friendship.
Modest characters can cause discomfort in others if they refuse to take less credit than is due. If another is well aware of their huge contribution yet is forced to be the 'face' of success alone because of modesty, it can lead to a feeling of unworthiness. It can also be very difficult to thank or give a boon of appreciation to someone who is overly modest, as they will see themselves as unworthy of such attention. Trying to repay a favor, show a special kindness or do a good turn for a modest person can lead to frustration and dissatisfaction if the modest person insists they need nothing, and there is no need for reciprocation.
Staff at charitable organizations, loyal campaign supporters of high profile politicians, janitorial staff, caregivers, supportive grandparents doting on their grandchildren, many artists and creative types, women in societies where the male is held in higher regard, employees of a lower station whose livelihood depends on not drawing attention to themselves
Cliches to Avoid:
The modest-and-chaste girl meets a bad boy and he 'ruins' her; false modesty as a device to generate more attention on self; girls dressing modestly to characterize them as 'good' girls
Twists on the Traditional Modest:
- Modest characters are often portrayed as having lower self-esteem. It is common as a plot device for another character to feel it is their duty to make them 'see their own value'. Show us a hero or heroine who is very comfortable with who they are, yet is a born supporter of others.
- By nature, modesty is a often a background trait. Shove it to the front of the conflict line by thrusting a truly modest character into the limelight out of need. Do they take on this foreign leading role to serve the greater good, or crumble of stage fright?
- What happens when you pair modesty with extreme intelligence and drive? A masterful tactical character who runs the show from behind the curtain because he understands that so much more can be accomplished behind it than in front!