In this world, there are mortals (human beings) and divine beings (gods/goddess). The gods and goddess have personalities, limitations, and what is commonly called "human nature" (they don't know everything, they screw up, etc.), with one rather notable exception: Whatever their particular "area" is, they are good at it and by nature avoid, abhor, and have no inclination towards the associated vice. So, for example, a goddess of wisdom would make very thoughtful and wise decisions (though that doesn't always mean the "right" ones, as the gods are limited by what they know and don't know, etc.) and would be very unlikely to do anything that would be foolish given what she knows at any given time, because being foolish is not in her nature.

My problem is that I have one of these gods (albeit one stuck in a powerless mortal form for the moment) as a part of my main cast. This one's area is "courage." So theoretically, this person would be naturally inclined to avoid doing anything cowardly, in fact, the cowardly thought processes that would lead to cowardly behavior wouldn't occur for them. Cowardice is not an option. (Also, since "courage" is the balance between cowardice and recklessness, then theoretically reckless behavior should be off the table as well?) I've realized that, practically speaking, this would mean: No avoiding problems or pretending they don't exist because they scare you. No being dishonest with other people out of fear they will judge you. No running away from your problems at all, really. And what is it interesting characters seem to do a LOT? Avoid problems, pretend they don't exist, run away from them before later on in the story realizing they need to step up and face them anyway.

Can a character with no inclination towards any form of cowardice still be a well-rounded character who does interesting things within the plot, instead of a boring/annoying goody-two-shoes? Or have I eliminated far too large a source of character flaws and mistakes to recover from?

I had considered making cowardice their only antithesis, and giving them an inclination towards recklessness as a result, but I'm not sure I like the gimick-y way that could turn out, or the kind of person said character would be in that instance.

Edit: To potentially help those forming answers, here is a definition of the virtue of "courage": miriam webster defines courage as "mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty" and google search of the definition results in "the ability to do something that frightens one" or "strength in the face of pain or grief."

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    The good, the bad, and the ugly. (a) This is technically a writing question, and they're off limits. If you can remove the worldbuilding elements, you'll get a better answer at Writing. (b) All characters should have limits, weakness, or restrictions or they're godlike and boring - even when they're gods. However, just because he's perfect in one attribute doesn't mean he's perfect in all attributes, right? Let him trip on network cables.
    – JBH
    Oct 12, 2020 at 23:49
  • First, your question looks like a better fit for Writing SE. Second,if you want "courageous" character, they sure can be complex and interesting. Pretty much everyone from "Fellowship of the Ring" is courageous (although sometimes they had to work up their courage). I you want a specific type that exemplifies courage, that, imho, makes an interesting exercise. What, in any given situation, would be "courageous", and what would be "foolish"?
    – Alexander
    Oct 12, 2020 at 23:49
  • @Alexander indeed. when I was first composing this question, it was on the concept of defining what all would be "off limits" as behavior to someone who was incapable of cowardice. But it's hard to discuss actions as courageous or foolish out of context, the best we could probably manage would be broad categories like "Your character cannot avoid any problem or situation solely out of fear". Though it would probably help to know what those categories are, I was struggling with composing a good question on that concept, so I changed focus to this question, which popped up while I was pondering
    – MarielS
    Oct 13, 2020 at 1:55
  • Nice question. Unfortunately it is indeed morw appropriate for Writing.se, but post it there and you have my upvote there.
    – Geeky Guy
    Oct 13, 2020 at 2:31
  • I've added the definition of courage to help provide further insight to those answering who may not be sure. Anything that could be outside the scope of this definition (lying, murder, sympathy, anger, etc.) the character is capable of, but only in a situation where it isn't an uncourageous action.
    – MarielS
    Oct 13, 2020 at 23:03

8 Answers 8


If you use the definition of courage as seeing the danger clearly and still doing what one must, there is no problem.

Your character can simply accept the danger and move through it - and such need not be dull.

If you remove (or temporarily disable this virtue, which is his province) what is left? Do you have a well rounded character or johnny one note?

Your description of your pantheon brings to mind the Norse and Greek gods, all of whom were supreme in their discipline but had many other aspects.

If we supposed that Ares, trapped in purely human form, could not exercise his powers, he would still make a fine warrior or leader.

  • Accepting this answer as it nicely sums up the responses I've gotten. The others go into more expanded detail on various tangent aspects of the question, though, so I'd recommend looking at all of them for anyone who is interested in the question!
    – MarielS
    Oct 15, 2020 at 22:39

I will treat them as a science based question rather than opinion bases, I'm sure some might say that, and consider your question to be the following:

What are the consequence of having a character exemplify courage defined in this way?

And your second question: would a courageous character limit my ability to write an interesting story.?

The problem with the second question is that it does not belong here. But I will give them a try.

  • Self doubt or anxiety. You thought that removing cowardice made a decisive and strong and brave character. Welcome to the quagmire of the human mind. Even if your protagonist is brave and bold and always ready to do the right thing. They can still be plagued by your garden variety self doubt or have deeper issues. Let me give you a simple example. Stark is incapable of being a coward. He then is presented with this a thief is caught. Does he imprison him? Investigate? Kill him? Force him to serve for a time to attune for his actions? A man is accused of murder and the evidence in inconclusive. Heck. His our lord had risen up against the king in open rebellion. What oath does he honor?
  • Lack of information. Remember the murder example from above? Good. That is the case here. The evidence is really split in the middle. Your guy is the bravest soul and he might be even totally honorable. But he simply does not know what is the correct course of action.
  • Pretend. You know what they say. It is not a lie if you believe it. If your guys thinks that joining lord Magnar is better that lord Willian then he is bravery bound to follow Magnar. Never mind he believes that because he is his drinking buddy.
  • Real consequences. Because he cant shut his mouth or stop being brave. The story can be just about that. He could be an almost outcast. He can't have friends as he is always saying the truth and right thing. He can't have a girl because that dress does make her look fat. His parents are sick of his trait and while they love him they wish if he could be silent and not voice his damn opinions...etc. Even in other things. He can't trade and at the last tournament he lost because he was dared to joust without armor. Notice I had to say that he is incapable of shutting up. Much like the US constitution's 5th amendment you can simply shut up. So if he can shut up but has to act bravely then you can still make him really suffer.
  • Hamlet. Exemplify a lot of what I'm saying. Someone said about it that it is the tragedy of a moral man in an amoral time. Which I'm sure that once you hear the quote it all clicks. And I'm sure you read Hamlet so no need to go there. Just remember how he suffers because he is loyal to his father? How he suffers because he is of such intelligence that he appears larger than even the play? How he truly suffers once he says what he says to Ophelia? Even how he suffers as he is dallying in doing the right thing.
  • Mental illness. What could possibly go wrong?
  • Forces of antagonism. Just have him face outside problems. The Aeniad or Beowulf or many other stories don't have to delve too deeply into internal things. He can just be about fighting aliens and robots or whatever.
  • procrastination. There is nothing in the courage part about doing that right now. To quote the great Gumball Watterson "You call it laziness, I call it the law of conservation of energy" You can have him be the greatest most heroic hero of his time and he still prefers to sit on the couch and binge watch Netflix. If that is not the most relatable hero of all time and the perfect exemplification of our generation or modern times I don't know what is.

Honestly I really believe in the old adage of: It is in the execution.

  • Some pretty good points. Though I think that point 4 assumes that bravery automatically = stupidity or obliviousness to the effects of your actions. Choosing to refrain from saying something hurtful does not make you a coward UNLESS you are doing so solely because you are worried people will get mad at you and want to avoid that. If your motive is simply to avoid causing another person pain, it should be fine. Courage often means tells the truth but is not necessarily bound to doing so. We could probably think of a situation where lying is the brave thing to do.
    – MarielS
    Oct 13, 2020 at 1:37
  • And just because you are brave does not mean you cannot be smart or take precautions (that you MUST act recklessly, in fact, rashness is considered the other vice that is the antithesis of courage). Anyway, thanks for the input.
    – MarielS
    Oct 13, 2020 at 1:39
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    My very bright teenaged son is convinced that not speaking truth as he sees it is cowardice, no matter how often we tell him he's hurting others. He's the most dramatic guy I know - brave, kind of an ass at times. Definitely alienates people. He seems to still manage to have friends, fortunately. There are always those who appreciate it.
    – DWKraus
    Oct 13, 2020 at 2:07
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    "drinking body." Did you mean to put "drinking buddy"? Otherwise I'm not quite sure what you're getting at with that line. Overall very clear and interesting answer though.
    – Davy M
    Oct 14, 2020 at 21:21
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    @Seallussus I actually missed that you said he could keep silent the first time I read the answer. That's my bad :(
    – MarielS
    Oct 15, 2020 at 22:42

I agree with a lot of what @seallussus said. Let me just add some thoughts.

Just because a character has one great virtue -- courage, in this example -- doesn't mean he can't be flawed in many other ways.

I was amused that @seallussus mentioned Hamlet and I was thinking of the very same character. If you haven't read the play, you might read it. Hamlet is not particularly a paragon of courage, I mean, the point of the story isn't how brave he is. But he's an excellent example here because he faces many problems, none of which have anything to do with lack of courage. He wants to avenge his father's death, he's prepared to go up against the king himself to avenge his father's death. But he doesn't, not because of a lack of courage, but because he isn't sure of the king's guilt.

A person who has perfect courage could still have difficulties for all sorts of reasons.

Lack of information: He would bravely fight anyone to avenge a wrong ... but he doesn't know who the guilty person is.

Moral challenges: Sure, he'll face any danger to achieve his goals. But his goals are morally questionable, and ultimately he realizes this and struggles. For example, he faces many dangers in a pursuit of power and wealth, but at some point he asks himself, Am I right to pursue power and wealth so ruthlessly? I've killed people just because they stood in the way of me becoming king (or whatever). Did they deserve to die for challenging my ambition? Or maybe something less dramatic depending on the context, but same idea.

Complexity: Many problems cannot be solved by the application of raw courage. If you can't get your car to start, the problem is probably not that you aren't brave enough. It may be that you don't have the knowledge, maybe you don't have the skill, the right tools, etc.

It occurs to me that a story about a character with perfect courage could be an interesting vehicle to discuss just what perfect courage is and its role in achieving objectives. You mentioned a balance between cowardice and recklessness. A character with perfect courage might nevertheless struggle with where the balance falls. Maybe some times he takes unnecessary risks because he prides himself on his courage and is unwilling to back down. Or maybe, especially on one crucial instance, he overcompensates and backs down from a fight because he doesn't want to be reckless. Etc. Likewise, you could portray when he can solve problems by rushing full steam ahead and taking on any danger, versus when he tries this and fails anyway because the problem cannot be solved by being courageous, it calls for intelligence or diplomacy or whatever. Indeed, courage could be a liability at times, if it leads you to try to solve a problem with violence or assertiveness, and this backfires and leads the other side to fight back, but a more diplomatic approach might have succeeded. Etc.

  • Normally, he relies on the goddess of wisdom to help him discern the razor's edge between cowardice and recklessness. Without her help, he sometimes gets it wrong. Oct 14, 2020 at 23:49

Think about Asimov's Laws of Robotics that make them perfectly safe and predictable, but then has stories where they mess up in "unexpected" ways. IOW, he predicted computer programming.

Your character is affected by his mortal form. This includes limited knowledge and capability, and perhaps his learned behavior does not follow due to changes in assumptions; e.g. broken bones and general mortality will now affect his decisions in ways they did not matter before.

How is the new feature of personal damage, to the point of being un-recoverable, going to weigh in on the decision? This was never a concern before, so he may be paralyzed not knowing how to understand personal risk.


Consider putting your character into situations where what makes the character interesting is not the character's courage.

Consider: How would an irredeemably courageous hero handle the trolley problem?

A dastardly villain has trapped the hero on a runaway trolley. There is no way to derail or stop the trolley. If the trolley maintains its course it will run over and kill a victim. The hero can change the trolley's course, but then it will run over and kill 5 victims. No matter what choice the hero makes someone will die.

The hero being courageous will make a decision, and will feel confident in that decision. Maybe the hero leaves the trolley as is because sparing 5 lives at the cost of 1 life is somehow in line with his ethics. Maybe the hero diverts the trolley because the 1 life is his crush and he thinks that person will fall in love with him if saved.

Either way someone will die and the hero being a hero will be sad. The hero has to live with this sadness. The hero might have to meet the families of those who have died no matter how much he doesn't want to. The thought of not meeting with those families never occurs to him. He has to get up the next day and wear a brave face in public not because he wants to but because he doesn't know how not to.

Courage isn't a lack of fear. Nor is cowardice the presence of fear. Courage is going through the motions anyway despite being afraid because that's what needs to be done.

I can see this character running across hot coals to achieve his goal. Crying in pain. Cursing and complaining through it the whole time. Hating every second of the trial, but going through with it anyway because he feels it is what needs to be done. He isn't capable of letting fear or pain stop him from doing it. And this makes him interesting.

The character is allowed to experience fear, and to make decisions based on that fear, but cannot let his fear make the decisions for him.

"Why are you crying? I thought you were the god of courage?"

"I am the god of courage, sniffle but getting struck by lightning sucks."

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    Like that quote from that movie the princess diaries (probably originally a quote from something else) "courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the determination that something else is more important than fear". Cheesy, but fairly reflective of what the virtue is supposed to represent, I think? I've already had this character had a break down and cry once in the story, because they were heartbroken (and really furious, at someone else and themself).
    – MarielS
    Oct 13, 2020 at 22:51

Also, since "courage" is the balance between cowardice and recklessness, then theoretically reckless behavior should be off the table as well?

That is a very nuanced version of courage. A more basic description is "willingness to do 'the right thing' regardless of consequence". Which does not remotely rule out recklessness, short-sightedness, or lack of concern for collateral damage.

Look, I've done time in a combat zone, and I've seen courage in action. It's quite remarkable how often it's indistinguishable from stupidity.


Your character is not very smart.

/If you can keep your head while all others around you are losing theirs—get somebody to explain the situation to you.

In conclusion, the funny response to the beginning of Rudyard Kipling’s poem was created by an anonymous individual by 1935. Bob Rigley received credit by February 1939. Variants have entered circulation over the years./ source

It is easy to be brave when you don't understand what is going on. Or do not fully think through the consequences of what you are about to do. A guy like this is useful because when you wind him up and point him in the right direction, he will go. He needs a handler who can take some care with the pointing piece.

  • You seem to be answering the question "why would someone be always brave," which is not what I'm asking. In the question I say we are assuming this person is just brave due to their divine nature. They don't need it to be made "easy" for them to be, they just are. What I am asking is what flaws, etc. are left to this person to make them interesting and well/rounded, if possible. Then again, stupidity and impulsivity are flaws not negated by a tendency for bravery, so you are offering something of an answer to the question, albeit indirectly.
    – MarielS
    Oct 13, 2020 at 18:08
  • @MarielS - I totally get your question. Courage and intelligence do not necessarily have anything to do with one another and so lack of smarts is a reasonable flaw for an entity which is divinely brave. That said, a very simple world view might make it easier to decide quickly on a course of action.
    – Willk
    Oct 13, 2020 at 23:43

No, it is is by no means inevitable that by eliminating any one - or set of, including all - flaw, you end up with a boring character.

If what you're am asking is what flaws, make a person interesting and well/rounded then why not alter the Question to reflect that?

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