Character Trait Entry: Modest

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

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

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.



This sample, along with the rest of the character trait entries, has been expanded and streamlined into book form! Together, THE NEGATIVE TRAIT THESAURUS: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO CHARACTER FLAWS and THE POSITIVE TRAIT THESAURUS: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO CHARACTER ATTRIBUTES contain over 200 character traits that can be referenced for your character creation efforts. Each entry contains possible causes for the trait, as well as positive and negative aspects, traits in supporting characters that may cause conflict, and associated behaviors, attitudes, thoughts, and emotions. Print, digital, and PDF versions are available for purchase from a variety of distributors. 

 Thesaurus Pair


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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8 years ago

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) (according to the ICD-10 World Health Organization disease classification, emotionally unstable personality disorder, borderline type) is a personality disorder marked by a prolonged disturbance of personality function, characterized by unusual variability and depth of moods. These moods may secondarily affect cognition and interpersonal relations.

Lydia Kang
8 years ago

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

The Golden Eagle
8 years ago

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!

Jemi Fraser
8 years ago

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!

Susanne Drazic
8 years ago

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

Stina Lindenblatt
8 years ago

I love the trait thesaurus. Awesome stuff as always. 😀

Donna K. Weaver
8 years ago

I live this. Great examples, too.

Traci Kenworth
8 years ago

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.

Natalie Aguirre
8 years ago

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.