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Two people are dating, and one of them wants to tell the other they are humble, which they genuinely are. But I don't want it to seem like they're bragging or showing off about it.

In normal conversation, this might work out depending on the tone of voice. How can I show this through writing?

  • Show, don't tell. – weakdna says reinstate monica Oct 30 at 15:07
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    I would have to wonder why you want a humble person to tell someone else that he is humble. This seems like a contradiction to me. What is he trying to accomplish by telling her this? Is it that he wants to tell her that he is humble, or that you want her (and readers) to find out? These are different objectives and I would approach them different ways. – Francine DeGrood Taylor Oct 30 at 16:50
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    I too, am extraordinarily humble.. – motosubatsu Oct 31 at 12:46
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Humility is the best when shown, not told.

Design a scenario when your character has something that any normal person would brag about, only that he/she is never bragging. It is the best if the other character (and the reader) is not entirely in the dark and would have some tidbit of knowledge about this secret. Then, the hidden fact needs to be accidentally revealed to the other character. The first character would need to do some explanations while looking a little embarrassed.

For example:

"You told me you liked to play soccer in college, but you never told me you auditioned for Manchester City!" - "Umm, well, I didn't pass the audition, so..."

"I know that you love to play guitar, but I never knew that you played with Prince!" - "Yes... but I thought you didn't like him?"

"You told me that you folks live near Beverly Hills, but I never guessed how big is their house! Tell me, is everything Ok between you and them? Why they let you drive your old Civic?" - "Sorry, I decided a while ago that I need to earn everything myself. And tell me, is my old Civic bothering you so much?"

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A humble person tones down his/hers achievements. You can show this in your writing by painting a sharp contrast between what that person does and how he/she tells about it.

In the tipical dating situation, this could come out in a number of ways...

Alice: "So, what do you do for a living?"

Bob: "Ah, nothing much. Office work."

But you're already estabilished previously that Bob is a brillant manager of a company he helped create, if not the CEO. Better still, his modesty can be called out by other characters. As dolphin_of_france states in his answer, a character is humble when other characters say so.

Alice: "So, that's about how my work day is as a pediatric surgeon. What do you do for a living?"

Bob: "Ah, nothing much."

Alice: "Which means ...?"

Bob: "I'm a manager at BigTechCorp. It's a sweet spot, but over all it's just office work, day in, day out."

Alice: "Wait, isn't BigTechCorp that famous technology multinational? You must be pretty good to work in there."

Bob: "Uh, I guess so. I mean, it's nothing compared to what you do. I don't save lives!" chuckled Bob.

A last example, this time drawn in from experience. It was evening and I was walking with my girlfriend of the time, just going back home on foot. We walk near a roundabout when we see a foodcourier, driving a scooter, slipping on the wet road. The guy looses control of the scooter and falls down. My first instinct was to jump on the roundabout, blocking traffic with my hands, to check if he was ok (luckily he was going slow, so he wasn't injured).

Later on my then girlfriend complimented on my bravery. I shrugged it off. "I just did what felt natural" I said.

Humble people, in theory, have a similar way of shrugging their good deeds.

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I just wouldn't say "humble."

Find a situation in which they have done something that is obviously humble, like they risked their life to save a child, but somebody else took credit and they did not argue the point.

Find a conversation, in dating, in which the date asks a question that triggers the story.

Have your character tell the story. The date reacts,

"You were the hero there! Why did you let the cop claim to be the hero?"

"I risked my life to save her life. I cannot demand admiration in return, that makes it a transaction, and cheapens it. I know what happened, what else matters? I would do it again knowing the outcome."

Of course you can come up with your own similar idea, but indirect is the way to go. Claiming to be something admirable is just not humble! You have to find a way to show the character is humble, so the other person (and the reader) realize that on their own. Then they can say your character is humble.

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    many would consider a humble brag is worse than bragging – dolphin_of_france Oct 30 at 14:47
  • @dolphin_of_france Most people wouldn't consider it a brag if it is an honest answer to a question asked, like "Have you ever saved a life?" Being humble does not demand lying in answer to a direct question. In this sense, it means "having or showing a modest or low estimate of one's own importance." Which is what I suggest by saying "What else matters?" The humble character knows that even though he knows what he did, the life he saved is what is important, not who saved it, or who gets credit. This is not a humble brag: It isn't volunteered, he doesn't deny his role, he says he did it. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Oct 30 at 15:02
  • yes I have saved a life. I would say a number of people (definitely including myself) were fortunate that I was at the right place at the right time. (And what I am saying the rest of that dialogue as written is humblebragging) – dolphin_of_france Oct 30 at 15:11
  • @dolphin_of_france We shall disagree. The entire conversation is not shown, as is evident when she asks him, "Why did you let the cop claim to be the hero?" The part that I show is him answering that question, truthfully. What I make up here is a sketch as an example, I have skipped over most of the conversation to get to the payoff. It is up to the author to imagine all the details, my point is that it is not humblebragging for him to state his philosophy when asked directly about his motives. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Oct 30 at 15:24
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A humble person doesn't not come out and say, "I am humble"

It is like being a successful person.

When you are only good at something, you tell everyone how great you are. When you are actually great, everyone tells everyone else how good you are.

If you are humble, you would never advertise it.

In fact, if you are humble, you would never really know you are humble.. because being humble is just a part of who you are.

And you can't rush showing humility, in life, or in fiction.

It is a quality that takes a long time to reveal.

PS. A person who I can see coming out and telling the world how humble he is, is our current President. "Let me tell you, no one is more humble than me. I am tremendously humble. Just tremendously humble.. I don't like to say it. But believe me, I am more humble than anyone."

  • This answer doesn't come close to answering the question, which is clearly trying to get the fact of humility out for one character either immediately (which we agree is not possible), or at least on the first date, which is possible. Although the Trump impersonation is funny, the answer itself just denies any possibility of revealing that the character is humble, and I think that is false. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Oct 30 at 15:26
  • But it did answer the question. You can't rush revealing humility, in an intro conversation, without coming across as an ass. It has to be revealed over a large number of pages and chapters. – dolphin_of_france Oct 30 at 17:54
  • As I said, I think that is false on the face of it. Whatever act you imagine convinces character A that character B is humble, is going to take place in a page or two. There is plenty of room in a single scene to give that impression to character A. It doesn't take a lot of setup. And likewise, somebody describing the action in a scene they experienced, both the actions of others and their own, can come across as humble. Claiming it is impossible is ludicrous. Of course it's possible. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Oct 30 at 21:19
  • @Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica: oh if your goal is to show that ... character A is person who somehow needs to promote his humility.... character B is a naive greenhorn who would believe anything.... then absolutely.. You can do it in 3 sentences. But the question was how to have a character declare himself as humble without sounding like an ass (presumably to the readers).. then it is impossible. – dolphin_of_france Oct 30 at 21:33
  • Which I said in the beginning of my answer! What you are NOT answering is whether it can be done in a date scene, and realistically it can. You are wrong to say it takes "a long time to reveal", and provides no aid to the OP at all. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Oct 30 at 21:39
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I would say that the humble person should down play a thing they should be proud of, only to be admonished after the down play.

The animated film "Superman: Doomsday (2008)" has a great example... only there is one hitch. Lois Lane is visiting Superman in the Fortress of Solitude on a date and Superman notices her mind is elsewhere. Lois explains that one of her co-workers just left for a war correspondence in Afganistan and she's worried she may never see her again. Superman shows humility by explaining he doesn't consider himself a hero because he's bullet proof. To him, a real hero will put himself at risk for others, something Superman isn't capable of doing. Of course the hitch in showing this as being Superman's humility is that the co-worker in question is Clark Kent (its clear early on that this Lois Lane isn't stupid and she figured out Clark Kent was Superman on her own, but respects him enough to let him tell her rather than confront it. The worry over Clark Kent was trying to provide an opening... and it's implied that Superman knows that Lois knows, or at least, might know, and is still feeling out the situation, hence the dodge... he's relying on Superman having an deserved reputation for humility that he wouldn't talk up himself, even if it's him under a secret identity... and if Lois knew he was, she'd call foul on him.). But either way, it still fits as Superman does actually see his heroics as just being a decent human being (well, you know... not literally) and his work is no different than a tall guy helping a little old lady get an item on the top shelf in a supermarket. It's not heroic, it's being nice. Heroes go above and beyond the call (Superman gets a chance to meet this definition in the film. Twice.).

A more straight version comes up from time to time in the Doctor Who series, notably in the second story line of the 11th doctor, where twice an assembly of allies comes to his aide in a desperate hour. In one episode, the closest thing he has to a girlfriend has to point out that the Doctor is a good man (despite him not viewing himself in that way) and that many alien languages have used the word "doctor" after their encounters with him and more often than not, it means something akin to "a healer and wise man) (generally the title denotes one of the two in English). In the season finale, the theme is continued when the Doctor is at his most desperate hour, and facing impossible odds, for a sudden cavlery to arrive to support him and turn the tide of the conflict. When the Doctor is confused why, the girlfriend tells him to look at the night sky and then reminds him that many of the stars he's looking at would not be there were it not for his work and then she admonishes him for not even considering the true size of people in the universe who would gladly leap at the opportunity to return the favor (and many of them would consider this as not even paying interest on the debt of gratitude owed to the doctor).

It helps that at this stage of the story, the Doctor had a lot of humility heaped on him (though he didn't need the humiliation, he was humbled long before that point) and needed someone to point out that he is a good man with heart to spare (literally and figuratively... the show's lore states that the Doctor's race has two hearts, though most of them are jerks). Like Superman, the Doctor considers himself ordinary... though just clever... and just happens to be passing though on his time machine and being helpful when needed.

In both examples, the person ascribes humility to the character after they describe their extraordinary feats and accomplishments as not worthy of the praise and admiration everyone gives him. Both firmly believe that most people would do the same thing in their shoes. They just don't have the ability to fly or travel through time.

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