The Seven Deadly Sins and How to Use Them in Your Writing Life

019The number seven symbolizes perfection. Yet in writing it’s far better to dabble in the deadly seven.

Those cardinal sins we relish observing in others from our lofty, virtuous towers are the stuff of conflict and story.

Historical fiction writers have a host of real-life historical villains, but while sins are seen as relative these days, the following list is still quite helpful for the stuck writer.

Lust – to have an intense desire or need.

Some of us lust after five star reviews, don’t we? But let’s talk character. A morphine addict’s addiction is only one extreme example of the many lusts mortals grapple with or go for. John Weldon hides his addiction for over 700 pages. Some don’t like such long books. They lust after other things, but I need to dig deep into my characters. It’s why I write.

Gluttony – excess in eating and drinking.

Gluttony is one I rarely see used in fiction. Yes, we have the drunks who are often (but not always) seen as comic or tragic and unable to help themselves. How does gluttony move a story forward? If someone overeats aren’t they only hurting themselves? Do stolen cookies and late-night binges affect other family members? I wonder if acceptance and tolerance help the person in the grips of gluttony. For a brief period of time my character Katherine becomes a glutton. Some might say she was a glutton for punishment. What turns a person toward gluttony?
Greed – excessive or reprehensible acquisitiveness.

There’s a pattern here, isn’t there? Humanity is quite full of selfishness. This sin is one of my lesser frailties (I have enormous heaps of some of the others) but oh how fun it is to write about Buck Crenshaw’s greedy brother. Greed can be hidden in characters, too. Buck is greedy for control. He thinks he’s generous, and he is, but he’s often fooled by his lust for acceptance and desire for emotional safety.
Laziness – disinclined to activity or exertion: not energetic or vigorous.

Laziness is often a sign of deep fear and fatalism. Why bother starting something when it’s going to fail anyway? Lazy characters rarely become main characters because they don’t do much. Yet their passivity can lead to exciting tragedy, failed marriages and melancholy regrets.
Wrath – strong vengeful anger or indignation.

Wrath is the stuff of writing! We all love a good fight and the clever and biting remark that tears the seams from a book. We decry war in real life, but a book without war, even a war raging in our character’s heart, often doesn’t get to the heart of life. Families in conflict. That’s my thing. It’s what I love. Writing historical family saga novels makes me want to get up in the morning.
Envy– painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.

In writing family saga fiction envious siblings are gold. The Crenshaw family in The Tenafly Road Series would not exist without parents who motivate their children by setting them upon each other. The painful part is loving a friend or family member yet envying their success. Brutal–and great for writing.

Pride – quality or state of being proud – inordinate self esteem.

And here we get to the bottom of it. PRIDE. This one word is at the heart of great fiction and our sorry little lives as humans. I say this lovingly because as a writer I relish misplaced pride. We think of characters with pride as the braggarts, but they come in the mousy little men and women too who spend far too much time thinking of how inadequate they are.

 

The seven deadly sins are really just different versions of self-obsession. Self-obsession is what novels are all about. We read to see how we (as in humans) do and see and feel things. We are obsessed with our species. I am. It’s a big love/hate fest living with and writing about people. The sins (and the virtues) keep life interesting and writers writing.

8 thoughts on “The Seven Deadly Sins and How to Use Them in Your Writing Life

  1. Good post, Adrienne! I recall that a few of my freshman students at a conservative Christian university voiced their objections at having to read novels or stories about people who “sin.” I’m sure they went on to understand more about life and literature as they progressed through college. On the up side, one student confessed to me that he had cheated on an exam. I had run into him at a church service, and though the event had occurred at least a few years earlier, it still bothered him and he wanted to let me know. I also recall discussing in literature classes when I was a student the role of virtue in literature and why it is commonly not as interesting as the role of villainy. I think we were reading Milton’s Paradise Lost and the role of satan in that epic.

    Like

    • Haha! The Bible is full with people sinning. The whole point is that God loves to use sinful people to further his salvation plan. Pretty racy stuff in that big book. 🙂

      I think I’ll revisit the seven virtues (probably need more practice on that end!).

      Sounds like you’ve had a ton of interesting conversations…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes. The pastor of a church we attended for many years got a call once from a parent who complained that the pastor had suggested that some people in the Bible had actually sinned! Evidently she was quite bothered by that idea. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is an excellent article about getting to the heart of what makes great writing because it’s also about what happens in life. We humans are so very human, failing at every turn. Yet we try again and good fiction sometimes points us in a direction that shows us a better way. It’s why our heroes must be flawed and why the path must be strewn with boulders. And sometimes good fiction just points out how very awful other people, even fictional people, can be.

    In Judaism, we regard the number 7 as one of completion. The world was made in six days, and the seventh day commemorates Shabbat. It signifies holiness and our covenant with God. Attaining the number 7 (7 attempts at something difficult, 7 steps to reach a goal, etc) suggests sanctification of an event – we have gotten this far because of our covenant with God. My words are clumsy, but you get the idea.

    Really enjoyed this post, Adrienne.

    Like

  3. This is timely for me. One of the writers’ guilds I am part of is running a series of story contests this year based on the 7 deadly sins, so I’ve been thinking a lot about how I incorporate them into my writing. This is helpful. Thanks!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s