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rosanne parry on character & the 7 deadly sins

The SCBWI Western Washington conference is several weeks in the past and I had intended to post notes from the workshops that inspired me immediately, but I found that I needed to let the experience sink in. Newly finished with a terrific online YA novel writing workshop with Claudia Gabel and some fantastic fellow writers/critique partners, I am casting a (slightly) despairing eye on Act 1 of a new manuscript with an eye to revision. Eventual revision. Must. Move. Forward. In any event I pulled out my notes from Rosanne Parry’s workshop on Character and the 7 Deadly Sins in order to use her ideas to examine my plot and characters.

Parry is a terrific speaker – if you are running a retreat or conference look no further.


Developing flaws in the characters you love
There is a need for character flaws in creating tension and story arc. Look at what sin is tempting to your character. The 7 Deadly Sins is a fairly durable handbook to human nature. Here they are:

1. Pride or vainglory – the preoccupation with the self. Rudeness, cheating, prejudice, class consciousness. In fantasy: hunt for immortality.
2. Envy or Covetousness – a desire for what belongs to others. Sibling rivalry, jealousy
3. Anger or Wrath – uncontrolled feeling of hatred. Reflexive prejudice, bullying, violence, inciting violence in others. Paranoia, distrust. Fear is usually at the root. Anger is a superhero sin. Superheroes usually get into trouble though anger, but also use it to do their good work.
4. Laziness or sloth – failure to engage in productive work. Cheating, procrastination, refusal of the journey, self-doubt, and unwillingness to risk – all have sloth at the heart. Many fairy tales feature this sin.
5. Greed or Avarice – seeking more than your share. Cheating, callousness. This sin is at the root of a lot of competitiveness. Attention seeking behavior is rooted in greed. Social gain is a goal of greed as well as financial gain.. The Lorax is a quintessential story of greed. A lot of dystopian fiction deals in this. Parry mentioned Unwind, a YA book.
6. Gluttony – excessive consumption. The behavioral root of addiction. Gluttony is at the heart of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Every character except Charlie is driven by gluttony. In The Lion, The Witch & the Wardrobe, Edward betrays his family for Turkish Delight – and it’s not even a good kind of candy. (Loved this editorial comment.)
7. Lust or Luxury – excessive interest in physical pleasure. Olivia the pig is driven by this. Twilight is not her favorite book but a very good exploration of Lust.

A sin is:
• Habit of thought or action or interaction, which is harmful to the person who chooses it (leads to choices that bring harm).
• The attitude that underlies a hurtful choice.
• The engine of character growth.
• The seven motivations for conflict in a story.
• Reasonably universal across cultures.

Parry uses these sins and their motivations to build and examine character. I am looking at what sins would drive my characters to do, as I review my first chapters to get them in shape for submittal to the SCBWI summer conference (the 40th anniversary!) in August.

2 Comments

  1. I found this particular workshop so interesting at the SCBWI WWA conference. So simple and yet so profound! Thanks for thoroughly reviewing and sharing this. My notes were not nearly so good.

    • I loved this workshop too, Rene – it has stuck with me, and I’m happy this was helpful. I have some more notes I’d be happy to share with you. I always want the speaker to be able to give that workshop again, so don’t put up the full notations.

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