When we think of heroes these days, we generally think of those who qualify for heroic bravery.
What is it? This is the kind of bravery that makes a character do crazy dangerous stuff, either to protect others or to advance a cause in which he passionately believes. He’s not a fool. He knows what he’s risking, but he believes the danger is worth it.
Steadfast bravery isn’t as flashy as heroic bravery (although it exhibits bursts of heroism), but its patient doggedness challenges fate every single day.
What is it? This is the kind of bravery we see from someone who is enduring a bad or dangerous situation day in and day out. A POW, a soldier in the trenches, or an informant in enemy territory will probably exhibit steadfast bravery.
This one is perhaps the least flashy of any type of bravery. It can even occasionally be confused with cowardice.
What is it? Quiet bravery gives a character the courage needed to endure bad situations with grace and patience. It’s basically an offshoot of steadfast bravery, but it usually surfaces in situations that are less physically dangerous. Cancer patients, overworked single mothers, and trod-upon servants who maintain their sense of self-worth and hope all exhibit quiet bravery.
Not all brave characters are going to face death or save the world. Sometimes the bravest thing a person can do is take a chance to advance his own lot in life.
What is it? Personal bravery demands characters reach for the stars and chase their dreams. Instead of remaining in a bad situation and taking it and taking it, they risk everything for a chance at a better life. Personal bravery is perhaps the most common kind of bravery of all, since it’s something every single one of us chooses to exhibit at one point or another in our lives, whether it’s in dreaming of a better education, a better career, or just a life-changing trip around the world.
Here we find the domain of the anti-hero and the fatalist.
What is it? Devil-may-care bravery isn’t bravery so much as a cynical realization that death (or whatever the worst-case scenario may be) will come no matter what we do, ergo let’s meet it with arms stretched wide. Characters who have nothing to live for can often exhibit insane courage, but they’re doing it from a place of negativity.
Finally, we have the most dichotomous, and often the most compelling, bravery of all.
What is it? Frightened bravery finds the hero a knee-shaking, gut-churning, terrified mess. But he rises above it. He enters the fray in spite of his terror, and, in so doing, becomes the bravest of all characters. Frightened bravery can go hand in hand with any of the other types (save perhaps devil-may-care bravery), since the very act of overcoming fear is what makes a character brave.
None of these categories are exclusive. A character may well exhibit all six types of bravery during the course of your story, and often you’ll find the categories overlapping. In creating a strong character, it’s important not only that he qualify for at least one of these types of bravery, but also that you identify which is the strongest category, so you can further strengthen it on the page. Once you’ve done that, it’s almost a cinch readers will find your character fascinating.