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

By on May 15, 2014 . Category Column

“If they substituted the word ‘Lust’ for ‘Love’ in the popular songs it would come nearer the truth.”

 Sylvia Plath

This week’s emotion:  LUST, and its counterpoint, aversion.

You don’t have to be an erotica writer for knowing lust to come in handy in your writing.  I am certainly not an erotica writer, but the emotion of lust covers a lot more than simply sexual desire—in fact, I’d argue that every good story involves at least one kind of lust on the parts of both the protagonist and the antagonist.

Because what is a story if the characters don’t want something?  I’m not going to claim that every single desire equates to lust, but a lot of them do.  The lust for power.  The lust for acknowledgement.  The lust for adventure.

And if the lust is after another character, so much the better.

Lust is a passionate feeling.  Like Wrath, it’s fiery.  It’s intense.  It consumes the afflicted party.  They think about the object of their desires constantly, and this frenzied thought only leads to more lust.  Total snowball effect.

But the problem is that, if it’s not written convincingly, it will just seem really, really awkward.  Your reader won’t enjoy a lusting that isn’t organic and very, very real.

So…how to do that?  By bringing the passion to the paper!

A big part of lusting after something—a person, thing, or idea—isn’t so much about the getting it as it is about the wanting it.

Take fandoms and the characters they ship.  It’s a million times more tantalizing when the relationship isn’t happening.  It’s the desire it triggers.

You need to make your readers shiver with antici…


Build the hope, the desire, the ache within your character (and your audience) by hinting at what is to come…but not delivering.  At least not yet.  It depends how you want to play it.  Whether or not you give your character what they’re lusting after is up to you—the point of lust and desire in fiction is not necessarily to give them what they want.  It’s just to build the tension.  Make them feel the want.

This is a great device for a relationship you want the readers to fall in love with.  Don’t just throw the characters at the reader and say, “They should be a couple!”  Make them decide that these two characters belong together.

The situation is oddly parallel for writing avoidance.  There is an addendum, though—when a character is avoiding something, you pretty much have to make them face their fear/obstacle/whatever they’re avoiding.

The “want” of a story—whether it’s the wanting of something or the wanting to avoid something—is basically what your entire plot will be built around.  There can be multiple wants, and to write a convincing story, you have to make the reader feel the want.

Every person wants something.  Therefore every character wants something.  Their desire dictates their actions, and their action drives the story.  Make sure that pretty much everything your character does revolves around their overarching goal.  Even smaller goals will somehow tie-in to the ultimate goal, and so they too should be

A great example is Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy—in the first book (The Golden Compass) he introduces us to something very awesome:  dæmons.  He made them so cool, so desirable…the readers instantly wanted their own dæmons.

And then…he put them in danger.

He stated taking them away.  He threatened the very existence of the dæmons, and while the characters of course didn’t want that, what mattered most was that we didn’t want that.  Thus the desire became to save the dæmons, and the thing to avoid became losing one’s dæmon.

Remember:  This all works so much better if the reader feels it.  Have you given them reason to lust after these characters/situations/objectives at all?  To find them sexy, alluring, or important?  Endearing, or mysterious?  What about the things/people they want to avoid—have you made them scary, upsetting, or disturbing?  Cruel, stupid, criminally annoying?

You have to, as they say, set the mood.  ;)


What’s your favorite way to describe lust or love on the page?  What words or phrases help you communicate these feelings?


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