The 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.