Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Revision Redux: The Seven Deadly Sins

Molly asked for more specifics on right brain techniques for revision. Here goes. Last August several writers read my novel draft and I was all ready for the comments and the next stage of revision - line edits. But it was clear that my main character had to get to the historical event a week earlier, leaving me with many new scenes to write. It took me awhile to recover, but I had to admit their insights were spot on.

So after a few days of paralysis, I used my right brain to help reconceive the plot. I soon hit a roadblock when it came to scenes where my research of the historical event wasn't needed. What was driving my main character? After all this time, I still didn't have a clear enough sense. I tried Marsha Qualey's wonderful suggestion from the January residency - learn about the symptoms of the challenge your protagonist is facing. In my story it was Ottie's grief over the loss of her father. This helped me write about her behavior.

But I still lacked a deep understanding of her driving motivation. A couple of weeks ago at writing group, a friend mentioned a recent blog she had read about the technique of examining the seven deadly sins and seven heavenly virtues through the lens of the protagonist. This appealed to me in some strange way. I was raised Catholic. I knew all about sins and virtues and I thought it could be fun and possibly helpful.

This post comes from the Western Washington SCBWI blog.

"Give them a sin to struggle with. In a stressful situation, characters struggle more with their core sin. It becomes more tempting.

At the pivotal moments of your story will your character choose to act accordingly to their fundamental sin or their fundamental virtue? That’s what gives a story emotional power."

This free write exercise helped me choose pride as Ottie's sin, and love as her most important virtue. Something clicked. Understanding Ottie's and her entire family's driving principle helped me draft new scenes by understanding how she would act and the choices she would make.

Check it out. Sometimes those right brain exercises are pure gold.


  1. This looks like yet another great way to get at what motivates my characters! Thanks. And I am enjoying your take on including right brain in revision, I am similar in my preference for right brain activities, have found revision difficult to enjoy the way others seem to, and yet it can be as creative as the first draft, when I find the portal.

  2. It can and it must, eh? Unless we revise, we will never have the best and deepest story our imperfect writing will bring forth.