The Seven Virtues in Writing

girl with girls
Virtuous Girl? (Courtesy Pinterest)

How our culture hates a goody-goody! I think we hate virtuous people almost more than we hate child traffickers. Or so it seems.

As I write MY HISTORICAL FAMILY SAGA it’s easy to hate the virtuous because it almost feels as if there’s nothing to say about them. I sometimes imagine a virtuous person having no struggles, and this, I know, is unfair. My tendency is to focus on the lost and sinful elements of characters and heap tons of sympathy upon them while the virtuous remain alone in their human toil.

The virtuous, we think, are bland like vegetables to the person inclined toward sweets. Yet broccoli can be a tasty thing when put in the hands of a good cook. And so it is with virtue. Those of us who struggle to attain even a modicum of humility realize the great difficulty involved in becoming virtuous. There is a faith necessary here. One must believe that life, and the characters you write will become even better with a sprinkling of virtue.

When a person wakes up each morning expecting a do-nut (that in one half hour will make them feel sick to their stomach) they find it hard to believe that a warm glass of lemon water and some protein will will produce better results.

Anti-heroes intrigue me, but the characters who challenge me to take a hard look at myself and my icing covered flaws annoy. More than annoy, they tempt me to run from them. A virtuous person (albeit with some flaws) causes me to contemplate my own place in the race of life. Sometimes that’s not enjoyable.

The anti-hero understands our hidden parts, asks us to wallow a while in the shallow comfort of self-pity and despair, but the virtuous character asks us to stretch ourselves in uncomfortable ways with only scant promise of success (or that elusive thing called joy).

The further along this racecourse of life the more I’m ready to tackle the virtuous in writing with admiration instead of suspicion and jealousy. Buck Crenshaw as he grows through each of my novels is moving out of his anti-hero costume into something more compelling and rare: a man who (timidly at first) is drawn to the good race. Yet Buck is a clumsy runner and always will be.

Surprises sometimes come in the shape of a mate. Around the final bend Buck is brought to his knees, but along comes a virtuous friend. I can’t wait to see what Buck does with her.

So here’s the question, readers and writers: who’s your favorite virtuous character in fiction (or in life)?  I’m dying to know.

Humility – Humility is the virtue that counters pride. As pride leads to other sin, true humility clears a path for holiness. Pride is a sin based on undue and inappropriate appreciation of one’s self worth. Conversely, the virtue of humility is about modest behavior, selflessness and the giving of respect.

Liberality – Liberality, or generosity, is the virtue that is counter to greed – the sin of immoderate desire for earthly things. The virtue of liberality is focused not merely on the appropriate concern regarding one’s earthly things, but furthermore on generosity and a willingness to give, freely and without request for commendation.

Chastity – Chastity is the counter-virtue to the sin of lust. Chastity embraces moral wholesomeness and purity, and in both thought and action treats God’s gift of sexuality with due reverence and respect.

Meekness – Meekness, or patience, is the virtue that counters the sin of unjust anger, also called wrath or rage. Where the sin of wrath is about quick temper and unnecessary vengeance, the virtue of meekness focuses on patiently seeking appropriate resolution to conflicts, and on the ability to forgive and show mercy.

Temperance – The virtue of temperance or abstinence counters the sin of gluttony. To be gluttonous is to over-indulge. On the opposite hand, the virtue of temperance is centered on self-control and moderation.

Kindness – Kindness, or brotherly love or love for one’s neighbor, is the virtue which counters the sin of envy. Envy, in contradiction to God’s law of love, is manifest in a person’s sorrow and distress over the good fortune of another person. Conversely, kindness and brotherly love is manifest in the unprejudiced, compassionate and charitable concern for others.

Diligence – Diligence, or persistence, is the virtue which acts as a counter to the sin of sloth. Sloth, as a capital sin, refers to laziness in matters of Faith. Diligence in matters of the spiritual combat laziness and this virtue is manifest in appropriately zealous attitudes toward living and sharing the Faith.

Excerpted from: AQUINAS AND MORE

13 thoughts on “The Seven Virtues in Writing

  1. What a good post. The seven virtues are a very tall order, and indeed when writing we might tend to think virtuous characters will slow down the momentum of a novel. Bland. Or antiquated? But are there any truly virtuous people in real life nowadays?

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    • I think virtuous people lurk all around but as a society our attention is more focused on the hedonistic and outrageous.

      Seriousness is seen as pretentious. Reading about evil I was struck by the studies that show if a society says some behaviors are impossible to control then they will become impossible to control. Our society values something other than the list Thomas Aquinas and Christendom once did.

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  2. Your musings here fascinate me. I am never good at isolating a particular this or that from all the books that I’ve read. Maybe I’ve just read so many? Or I am too overwhelmed by too many choices? Virtuous characters that are my favorites? Probably King Arthur in Camelot comes to mind. Maybe you don’t think of him as virtuous, but I do. He tried so hard to do what was right and asked his knights to rise to the challenge. And I love him so much more than those conspiring lovers busy betraying him. And isn’t Camelot a good example when you think of that the song “Fie on Goodness” hahaha. Here are the lyics: ttps://www.stlyrics.com/lyrics/camelot/fieongoodness.htm.

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  3. Totally virtuous people don’t seem to exist in real life, so why would they in fiction? The ones that struggle, fail, suffers regret, starts over and over until…they finally get it right are the ones I can relate best to. I’ve known some truly kind, good, and spiritual people, but never any perfect ones. Aquinas’ definitions don’t resonate for me. Have you read Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series? He comes close to my favorite virtuous fictional character. In real life, Anne Lamott does, because she admits to her struggles, failures and regrets, but in her autobiographical books, you can hear her growth. She was bitter toward her mother so when her mom died, she put her ashes on the floor in the back of her closet. She prayed and worked on understanding her mother and moved her ashes to the shelf in the closet after a couple of years. Then as she had insights into their relationship, she finally moved the ashes to her mantel. About a year later she actually forgave her mother and experienced feelings of tenderness toward her, so she had a service with family and friends scattering her mom’s ashes in a beautiful setting in nature. That kind of perseverance is virtue to me.

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    • I agree about Anne Lamont. I loved her book on writing. She exactly the flawed type of character I enjoy writing about. I like exploring growth. It often does take many false starts though. 🙂

      I think when a society no longer believes in the value of virtue we find less around.

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