Writers Write is a writing resource. In this post, we show how you can use the 7 deadly sins to strengthen your antagonist’s motives.
What motivates your characters to act? Motivations are the reasons behind why your characters do things. What motivates them to make choices? To act and to react?
The easiest way to explain motive is to ask ‘Why?’ Why do they do the things they do? If your character is strongly motivated, it is easier to define his or her story goal.
I thought using the seven deadly sins would be a good way to strengthen your antagonist‘s motives. You can also use them for your protagonist, although it is easier to use them for the antagonist, because they are negative.
Top Tip: They should not be the only motivating forces, but combining one or two of the deadly sins with their other motivations will make the adversaries more formidable.
Remember, we use antagonists to prevent protagonists from achieving their story goals. If they are strongly motivated, it makes your plot stronger. It increases the odds of creating conflict.
Use The 7 Deadly Sins To Strengthen Your Antagonist’s Motives
The seven deadly sins, also known as the cardinal sins, are a grouping of vices within Christian teachings.
‘Most of them, with the exception of sloth, are defined by Dante Alighieri as perverse or corrupt versions of love for something or another: lust, gluttony, and greed are all excessive or disordered love of good things; sloth is a deficiency of love; wrath, envy, and pride are perverted love directed toward other’s harm.’ (via)
- Gluttony: Gluttony is overindulging in, and over-consuming, anything to the point of waste. In pop culture, this sin is almost always associated with overeating. Gluttonous antagonists consume. They devour. They give nothing back. The perfect example of this villain is Jabba The Hut from Star Wars.
- Greed: Greed is the excessive desire for more of anything. It is the selfish urge to want more than you could ever use or need. We mostly use greed when we refer to money and possessions. Greed is a great motivator, because greedy people are never satisfied. Using this for an antagonist would make them relentless.
- Lust: Lust is similar to greed, but it is largely a desire for something abstract. It is commonly understood to be sexual desire for another, but it can refer to things like power, knowledge, and respect. Like greed, lust is seldom satisfied.
- Envy: Envy is a feeling of discontent, a covetous longing that is aroused by somebody else’s possessions, successes, advantages, qualities, or luck. Jealousy and envy are the most common motivations for crimes in real life and in literature. Envy causes a person to desire an object, a person, or an abstract notion. This person develops an anger and hatred towards the possessor of the object.
- Pride: It’s good to think of yourself positively, but you can take it too far. Sometimes, admiring your possessions, your status, your skills, your accomplishments, can go to your head. It can destroy your common sense and make you feel that you are better than you really are. It is a great motivator for an antagonist, because pride goes before a fall. You can use it to set up the protagonist’s success.
- Sloth: Sloth is the reluctance to work or to act. It is extreme laziness. It is also indicative of spiritual apathy and inactivity. Sometimes a passive aggressive antagonist can be effective. We can be judged equally for the things we don’t do as the things we do. This sin isn’t great for antagonists because their inaction won’t help you to actively move the plot forward.
- Wrath: Wrath is the desire to harm. It can be defined as an uncontrolled feeling of violent rage. Wrath usually becomes apparent when somebody wants vengeance. It can lead to violence, injury, death and hatred. If you use it for your antagonist’s motivation, remember that reason flies out the window with this sin. Wrath quashes practical matters.
You can use these sins as motivations for negative characters because they are so powerful. It is not easy to overcome adversaries who have these vices.
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