Disclaimer: Also works for guys, if you have the problem, but genderbent.

So, in my plots, I typically have a "tough girl" character in my thing. She's confident and upfront, and is stubborn to the core. Thing is, I don't want to cross over in the realm of asshole with some of them. They take no crap, but they're not there to start fights. So, what's the difference between a tough gal and an asshole?

3 Answers 3



What is the difference between an up-front character and an jerk?


For any individual regardless of gender, the difference is between acting in a way that is true to core values, along the lines of showing integrity (and this might manifest as forthright, outspoken words and deeds--or it might not) and acting in a way that is inconsiderate of others.

"Jerks" don't consider their actions, or the effects of their actions on others. Within your narrative, or your character's thought, make it clear that she is weighing her options and choosing based on ethics, values, or something similar.

Shade her dialog, shade her actions. It's the difference between a character who does something because they have an axe to grind (jerk), and a character who does something because it rights a wrong or is otherwise consistent with core values. Your character does not need to hide their core values.

Same argument in the case of a character withholding an action.

  • 2
    +1 - Confidence is being sure in yourself and your abilities and not impacted by others. Arrogance is being dismissive of others.
    – user18397
    May 28, 2019 at 23:53

It's often a question of perception. Cultural expectations play a crucial role, because if in the culture the woman must kowtow to a man, then it doesn't matter what she does, if it isn't utter submissiveness, it's disrespectful.

So, first let's define 'confident' and 'arrogant'. Confidence, is knowing one's own value. Not inflated, not deflated. Confidences is knowing your value as it is.

Arrogance, is inflated confidence or simply overconfidence. It's being 'brass' and calling it 'gold'.

With that in mind, the way I tend to write confident characters, is by simple boarder patrol.

This sounds weird, but stay with me. Alright. In all interpersonal interactions, we have an exchange of packets, information. But those packets aren't directly delivered, they are first encoded with personal meaning, and that encoded delivery is then unpacked by the recipient. This is the basic communication model. But here's the thing.

If the encoded message is given in a way that the recipient doesn't appreciate, it's labelled as 'a border breech' in a sense. So let's say you're from a culture where guys touch guys, and that's okay, but if a guy touches a girl, it's a breech. A social faux pas, just simply not done.

All interactions carry this risk, especially when dealing with multi-cultural interactions.

So. What 'upfront & confident' people do, is say: "No. This is a border breech, and I'm not having that. Take a step back and try a different way." No overreaction, no physical altercation, nothing. Just saying, I won't tolerate this, but I'm willing to give you chance to not do it that way.

Upfront arrogant people assume the 'guilty party' did it on purpose and fly off the handle in one sense or another. It's about power; who holds it, who exerts it. They'll insult the person in keeping with the slight they feel was dealt to them.

Then you have the confident people who aren't upfront about it. They'll just walk off. They aren't upset, per se. They just won't tolerate that disrespect, and will not keep the company of those who they feel disrespect them. This can come off as arrogant, but this is simply setting boundaries and not letting anyone cross them. In moderation, this is a healthy thing.

Then you have arrogant people who aren't upfront about it. These are the ones that will smile in your face, and the second you turn your back, they're spreading all kinds of rumours about you. Why? Jealousy? A perceived slight? They're just that much better than you, and you need to learn your place? That's up to you, for your character, but this is how I would approach it.


Being upfront is about telling the truth, and unwilling to tell a white lie to preserve somebody's feelings.

Being a jerk is about being selfish and uncaring. They don't give a shit about anybody but themselves; physically or emotionally. They show no empathy if they hurt somebody's feelings. they are dismissive or worse, they ridicule and insult those that cry or feel hurt.

Your girl can be confident and always tell the truth, but it doesn't have to be the brutal truth. She may strive to tell the truth gently; but when the truth hurts, recognize that and try to sympathize.

At one extreme, think of a doctor having to tell a patient they have a terminal disease. The news is going to hurt, the truth must be told, but the doctor won't do it callously, or without feeling and sympathy.

That is what your girl is struggling with often; she feels compelled to tell the truth while still caring about the feelings of the person she is telling it. She doesn't have to take any pleasure in telling the truth. She may even tell the truth to herself, maybe she knows this practice makes her seem mean but she can't help it, she is absolutely convinced that "Honesty is the best policy", and "Sunshine is the best disinfectant", and "It isn't always what you don't know that hurts you, it is what you know that isn't so."

And sometimes the truth can cost her friendships, or lovers. It might isolate her. But at least to the reader, she doesn't have to seem like a jerk or an asshole. This compulsion to tell the truth can be more of a flaw in the personality of good person, and at times it may be an asset. Sometimes the hard truth is what somebody needs.

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