Confidence – what is confidence?

And what is it in a fictional character?

After my recent post on strong female heroines, I received a comment that to her (the commenter) feisty was a part of showing self-confidence and that it was this self-confidence they liked in female protagonists  Thanks for that nugget, Maya Cross! It definitely got me thinking again.

I think I never linked self-confidence directly to strength but I can definitely see how this is what they mean when they call for strong female voices. Confidence. But what is that elusive quality actually?


Inner Confidence vs. Outer Confidence

I will admit, I actually googled quotes on confidence to see what other people had to say on this. All of them much wiser and much more eloquent than myself – and I knew most of them already, but it’s nice to remind oneself sometimes. So, you’re being reminded too:

“Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt

“The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages.”
– Virginia Woolf

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.”
– J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

And here a slightly more left-field one that I thought to include non-the-less because it seems to be exactly what the idea of the confident romantic heroine is build upon:

“No matter what a woman looks like, if she’s confident, she’s sexy”
― Paris Hilton

What all of these – yes, even the Paris Hilton one – seem to have in common is the idea that confidence is something that comes from within. It is a sense of believing in yourself, of being your own friend even when you are not perfect, of giving yourself the freedom to try and fail and laugh about it and try again and love yourself all the way.

That, indeed, is very closely linked to strength – and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that a strong character (male or female) necessarily has to possess a great deal of confidence, it is definitely an important and interesting quality.

It still doesn’t have anything to do with the word “feisty” however. Does it? Feisty, to me, is the epitome of outer confidence. Outer confidence is talking a big game, of showing off and projecting that confidence outward. Personally, I think that the more someone shows outer confidence, the less confident they really are inside. Outer confidence to me, walks very closely by the need for approval and attention. And that would make a good character trait, too, I just wouldn’t call that a strong female heroine if she doesn’t bring anything else to the table.

How do we project Inner Confidence in writing?

Now, outer confidence is easy to convey – even those of us who are still working on true confidence (a labour of love?) – we can conceive characters who can talk a big game. We have the time to sit there and work out those little witticisms we can never actually get out in real life.

But are witticisms and talking a big game really confidence? I want my characters to be funny and some of them end up portraying a lot of their confidence through dialogue. But what about that inner confidence all those inspirational quotes are talking about?

And again – if true inner confidence is such a hard thing to accomplish for most of us, why should I write about someone who already has it? Isn’t it more interesting both for the reader and for myself to write about someone who is striving for it as well?

A lack of confidence vs. weakness

I’m beginning to think, that strength is tied to confidence but not having reached the medium_5024610664pinnacle of that scale does not make anyone a weak person or a weak character.
A weak character is whiny, fishes for compliments and attention, is overly needy and – most importantly – does not evolve or develop. She draws her strength from the male lead without giving anything back or inspiring anything. She makes the reader think: what does he see in her?

At the same time, there are very endearing ways to be shy. Not everybody has to be the life of the party or a huge blabber-mouth, do they? If a character genuinely tries, you can see them struggle, you can see where they fail and where they triumph and they have enough other pillars of strength (interests, character traits etc.) I can empathize with a shy character a lot easier than with one who thinks they are perfect as they are

I think at the end of this blog post – I am still chafing around the idea of a feisty heroine and what that has to do with strength. Why don’t you help me out in a comment and add your ideas of confidence and strength?

photo credit: eschipul, hope_art and quinn.anya via photopin cc

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