How The Seven Deadly Sins Can Help You Write Emotion: ENVY
“Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own.”
— Harold Coffin
This week’s emotion: ENVY, and its counterpoint, kindness/gratitude.
Envy will eat you alive. It will slowly but surely destroy you from the inside out. It will drive a person mad—the descent to insanity starts slow, but it can escalate quickly when envy is in play.
So naturally, as writers, it is one of our greatest assets.
Slow burns are a great way to contrast a high-action, jam-packed book. And the envy of one character against another adds magnificent tension to any story.
Is this something your characters will overcome, or succumb to? Is it something that will help them grow as a person, or destroy them? Is it going to consume them, or just add a little flair to your story?
Envy can be applied to anything. Does one character have a nicer family, better friends, a more successful career, more talent, a cooler car, get more attention, or are they just plain happier with their life, even if they technically have less? Wondering why someone else gets to have something you want will drive a person mad if it’s not kept in check, so pick one (or two, or ten, or a million) little things and sprinkle them through the story.
Then, worse, there’s the totally chill other friend who’s not jealous at all. They don’t seem affected by anyone else’s successes—they’re just too secure to be shaken like that. They are wise, they are strong…and they also drive your envious character even crazier by not caving to envy.
Have your envious character see the person they are jealous of flirting with their crush, acing an exam, getting a promotion, or even just looking better in their outfit for the day. It doesn’t have to be a big thing—though a couple big things (like winning the lottery or discovering the cure for cancer) can really set your character off—a series of little things is usually what starts to really get to a person.
Then, they retaliate. Well, they can look great in their own, quirky fashion, too. They can get a cute date for the upcoming big event. They can make a killer presentation at work.
Only…they can’t. I mean, of course they can in a technical sense, but really, think about it: When do things work well when we’re motivated by jealousy? When do we do our best work—when we’re happy and inspired, or when we’re trying to best someone else? While it can be a powerful motivator, if it’s the only motivator—if “winning” is all you care about—then whatever you do will lack that special something that makes work stand out.
And that will make your character suffer all the more. As I said before—is it an opportunity for growth, or will it be their undoing? The fun part: That’s up to you.
Remember: Everyone’s felt envious, so play on your audience’s emotions to create a tormenting mix of pity and disdain for your character’s actions. We’ve all been there, but we all know it’s not the right way to be. Use that to your advantage!
What elements of likeability—or unlikeability—does envy and gratitude bring to your stories?