Greed Cover

How The Seven Deadly Sins Can Help You Write Emotion: GREED

By on June 19, 2014 . Category Column

“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” 
― Socrates

This week’s emotion:  GREED, and its counterpoint, charity.

There’s a common thread to all these emotions:  A thing a person wants—let’s call it a desire—and a thing a person does not want—an aversion.  Pretty much everything boils down to one or the other.

Greed is usually rooted in fear—fear of lack, of not having enough, of being without.  It can also come from entitlement.  “I should have this,” is a dangerous mentality, but one we’re seeing more and more of.

Greed makes for an excellent trait in antagonists, as well as a fantastic foil in protagonists.  We all need a weakness.  Greed can trip people up by distracting them from their bigger goals.  Becoming obsessed with anything—money, power, winning the affections of someone—can bring out the nasty, vicious, cutthroat part of a character who seems, otherwise, pretty normal.

Make sure your character has a reason for being greedy.  And mix it up; reading about the evils of money over and over and over (and over and over) gets boring.  Come up with something original.  Clothes.  Winning games.  Catching the ball at a baseball game, meeting a celebrity, going on a trip, getting accepted into a school, dating a certain person (or even just a type of person)…these are all things people can become possessive about, feeling that not only must they possess it (sometimes in abundance), but others must recognize their “greatness” for possessing this thing.

Think of the pretty girl who wants boys to fawn over her, but doesn’t want to return their interest—she just enjoys the attention.  She’s greedy.  She’ll be upset if they stop trying to win her over because, even though she never had any intention of returning their affection, she still wanted to benefit from the perks of it.


On the flipside, there is charity.  Freely giving to others, not worrying about hoarding more for the self—it’s lovely, usually used in kind characters to show what good people they are.  They might overdo it and leave nothing for themselves, but even just giving away the excess and keeping enough to be comfortable with shows strong character.  Charity can be with money, but also (and more emotionally) with time, acts of kindness, energy, and attention.  A character who takes time out of their busy day to listen to a friend’s problems will be sweeter in your audience’s eyes than a character who throws money at problems and walks away.

Charity can come from guilt or retribution seeking, too, though, so have fun with those elements.  Not everyone who’s greedy is bad and not everyone who’s charitable is good—mix it up for your audience!


Remember:  Don’t talk about greed—induce it in your readers.  Either make them as greedy as the characters, or allow them to be disgusted by the greed of the characters.  It only works when your audience feels it!


How do you use greed to drive your plots?  What elements do greed and charity add to a story?


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