Pride and Humility in Fiction

Once I won a prize for innovative work at a national conference. An older man from a Minnesotan Scandinavian background later took me aside and chastised me for expressing happiness rather than humility when I accepted the award. It goes without saying that his rebuke shocked and saddened me. My response when someone wins something related to their performance is to simply congratulate them on their success. However, this experience forced me to reconsider different traditions and expectations regarding pride and humility. It is important for writers to think about how humility and pride interact when structuring characters’ motivations, conflicts, and personalities.

Pride in Fiction

As concerns pride, writers must take several aspects into consideration. My interaction with the older man taught me to view pride from both positive and negative viewpoints. A positive aspect of pride is related to self-satisfaction with one’s performance, enjoying one’s own performance, and expressing gratitude for recognition of a performance well done. Another positive aspect of pride involves one’s self-respect, one’s dignity under pressure, feelings of self-esteem, or attending to one’s honor in a situation. In this positive sense, pride can be posited as the root of a character’s motivation.

Negative aspects of pride fall on the side of vanity or egotism. In this sense, pride mirrors arrogance or conceit. A character might be smug or self-important in relationship to others. Or  characters might be egotistical, viewing themselves as superior to other characters, and behaving in a pretentious manner. Condescension, haughtiness, or conceit also indicate pridefulness. Such negative aspects of pride can be used to create conflict with other characters in the story.

Humility in Fiction

When I explored humility, I observed that it falls along a continuum from what could be considered as good manners or behaviors on the positive side, to a normal type of genuineness, unpretentiousness, ingenuousness, and modesty at the midpoint of the continuum, to a form of wariness, inhibition, fearfulness, or uncommunicativeness on the negative side. On the good manners side, characters might demonstrate politeness or tact. At the midpoint of the continuum, they might be shy, submissive, or simply quiet. On the fearful end of the continuum, they might be coy or cagey. Their inhibitions or introversion might lead them to inappropriately comply in a bad situation.

Humility and Pride in Contemporary Fiction

An examination of how to use humility and pride in fiction shows how they can be applied to character development and setting. In Finding the Bones by Avery Russell, humility is rare while pride is portrayed in both the positive and negative senses. The protagonists work in the press corps in Philadelphia, New York, and Europe over the course of the novel. As they move up to better prints, they are pleased with their progress, despite being competitive with each other. The female protagonist demonstrates her personal pride in her style of dress and considers the male protagonist a bit frumpy. Pride is also evidenced in the main character’s love for his southern home and upbringing. Negative aspects of pride appear in the characters’ competitive viewpoints but also in their competitive amorous relationships. Humility in the novel was expressed in the portrayal of the protagonist’s mother whose wisdom was precious to her son.

Humility and Pride in My Fiction

In the first novel I am working on, humility is a theme and pride is a weakness of character in the antagonist. In my second novel pride and humility interplay in the protagonist’s work. He is humble about his work and never brags but experiences personal pride in a job well done. In my third novel, a character must overcome humility that begins as submissiveness and embrace the pride that can come from a challenge well met.

My Writing Goals for 2021

Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021:

This month, I expanded the protagonist’s experiences based on research I have been doing.

Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:

I went on a field trip and took some reference photos of an area featured in the novel. I had never thought of doing this before. The views and sites renewed my desire to work on this novel.

Add 25,000 words to my third novel by December 7, 2021:

I didn’t work on this novel this month. However, another novel I read this month gave me some good ideas about how to use memory, imagination, and characters’ internal thoughts to develop the characters in this specific novel.

Publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:

I rewrote several parts of the Moon Chimes Workbook.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers Alliance: This month the BWA Newsletter Committee met to plan our next edition which will come out in September. I also worked on organizing BWA’s summer in-person social. After meeting our May meeting, Gary Alan McBride’s Writers Who Read Group decided to take the summer off and regroup in September.

Denver Women’s Press Club: In June I watched a Zoom Fireside Chat, led by Marie Williams of the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, that featured women who are in the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. Juana Bordas, a member of the DWPC, spoke about how important art is to maintain joy and love of one’s culture. She currently works on intergenerational leadership and encourages white allies to participate. Lauren Casteel, President and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, talked about how important love, humor, compassion, and kindness are to philanthropy. She guides the WFC to do the right thing for the greater good. Lily Nie spoke about bringing more than 12000 public school students through her Chinese cultural center to encourage collaboration and friendship with adoptees from China and from other countries.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: I listened to a RMFW’s podcast facilitated by Mark Stevens. He interviewed the conference co-hosts, Kate Jonuska and Mira Landry. They discussed the new combination face-to-face/virtual RMFW Gold conference that is planned for October 2021. I plan to attend virtually. Also, I attended a Zoom workshop on “Navigating the Winding Road of Self-Publishing” by Karla M. Jay who writes and self-publishes historical fiction. Her guidance on marketing was invaluable. I also listened to Mark Stevens’ podcast with Rachel Howzell Hall who writes mysteries and novels about a Black woman detective in Los Angeles. I loved the discussion about her writing and plan to read one of her novels.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021:

Today is July 7, 2021, I am posting my seventh blog of 2021. The cool weather we have experienced this month has been conducive to thinking and writing.

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