Character is revealed by choices–and not regular old choices. Decisions under stress.
There’s a good bit from philosophy about looking at this, because it’s binary choices don’t describe the real world.
“Brave” and “cowardly” doesn’t cover the range and complexity of humanity.
A five-part scale does a better job: cowardly – meek – measured – brave – reckless
So here’s a little writing prompt where the goal is to have a character–a hero or villain you love–respond to conflict in their unique way, in a single line of dialogue.
The problem: You’re in line to buy steak for a big summer BBQ, and Bob the Butcher just put his heavy thumb on the scale.
A normal person might ask Bob to try again, which is expected and somewhat boring.
A meek person would maybe raise and eyebrow and hope Bob sees the error of his ways. A coward would simply pay to avoid confrontation.
A brave person would refuse to get cheated and walk out unless Bob the Butcher did things fairly, while a reckless character would start a fist-fight with Bob in the middle of the butcher shop.
But we all know characters who’d react far differently than even those basic examples, which is what makes fiction fun. I did four quick ones just now. Have at it.
Four one-line responses
Hannibal Lecter: Bob, I’d love to have you for dinner.
Obi-wan Kenobi *waves hand*: That’s not the price you’re looking for.
Bruce Wayne / Batman: Bob, I won’t be paying for these steaks, or this basket full of other goodies I grabbed, because I just bought your store.
Darth Vader: Pray I don’t cut off your other hand.
This sort of situation is the acid test for a truly memorable character. Is their response clearly different than other characters we all know, or are they pale copies and stereotypes of what heroes and villains are supposed to be?