How The Seven Deadly Sins Can Help You Write Emotion: SLOTH
“Whenever I feel the need to exercise, I lie down until it goes away.”
― Paul Terry
This week’s emotion: SLOTH, and its counterpoint, diligence.
We’re all lazy sometimes, and while it isn’t as exciting as some of the other sins, sloth is something everyone can relate to.
Sloth is great for irritating readers. Not so much in villains—though in antagonists it can be used to highlight what a drain they are on the protagonist’s resources—but in main characters, it can be something to trip them up when reaching for their goal.
There’s also a lot of room for psychological examination. Is your character’s laziness a symptom of their deep-seeded, underlying fear of success? Is it a way to escape the demands of life? Are they lazy because of depression or emotional struggles that have made them feel listless? Is it a way of giving up, hiding, or simply avoiding life? Someone who once had grand plans and failed miserably might seem lazy and unmotivated, but what if they’re just wounded and filled with self-doubt? What if they’ve simply lost faith in themselves?
A great example of this is Chuck from the show Chuck. A Stanford star-student, he was expelled during his last semester (for reasons he never fully understood) and ended up working in computer repair making $12 an hour. He had lofty ambitions, but being kicked out of school and having his girlfriend break up with him over it rattled his cage, and left him seeming like he wasn’t driven or motivated. It’s a challenge he takes a while to overcome, with much personal growth and character development along the way.
Diligence, on the other hand, can be the mark of a character who’s put-together, and who has things under control. Ellie, Chuck’s sister, is quite diligent. She’s a successful doctor, is in great shape, has a happy relationship…in essence, she’s got her life in order, and she tries (lovingly) to get Chuck to take steps to do the same.
In this, sloth can be charming, even funny. It can also be disgusting and even insulting. The character who does nothing to help a friend or family member in a time of need because they’re simply too lazy. The person who throws away valuable opportunities by not showing up on time or failing to perform at the necessary level (which they’re fully capable of doing). It can be something they are seemingly unaware of, or something they feel and are deeply shamed by. Either way, sloth (especially when highlighted by diligence in someone else) is a painful cross for your characters to bear, and an excellent opportunity for growth and expansion.
Remember: Don’t tell how slothful a character is; show what they do, what they don’t do, what they could do but somehow weasel out of. Show how they avoid circumstances that are demanding or difficult so they can continue doing…well…nothing.
How do you use sloth to fill out characters?