If you were to ask me what I thought of envy, I would say it’s probably one of the ugliest emotions out there. For some, it just overwhelms everything and comes hand-in-hand with self-pity. For others, it’s a gradual thing. At first, you’re happy for your friends or co-workers or family for all their accomplishments. Yet, as they continue to excel and you find yourself struggling in the same spot, those feelings of happiness for them shift to envy. Sometimes it is because you aren’t really trying, but other times life is just leaving you stuck.
Either way, it can make a great character flaw.
There’s a reason envy is in the higher tier of the Seven Deadly Sins. It’s an emotion easily felt by most people. You can be totally happy for someone because they got a new job or got engaged or any other thing that life brings your way, but still feel a twinge of jealousy at the same time. It’s so common and it can get to the point where you’re wondering why your internal monologue is so nasty about it.
I’m experimenting with envy. I won’t lie, readers, I’ve been an envious person as of late. I’m not proud of it. That feeling of being trapped while everyone races ahead gets to you after a while. It’s not a justification, but it’s given me some insight on this nasty little thing.
The character I speak to is a man who was raised from the dead. While not exactly horrific for a member of the living dead—he was raised very shortly after a sneak attack did him at during the aftermath of a battle—his state is not a welcome sight in most societies. As a being that feels no pain and has no real requirement to eat or sleep, he serves in the military. It’s the best work for anyone who could be called a necromancer’s latest project.
During this period, he finds himself in a small group who more or less accept him for what he is—though he’s skeptical on just how fine they are with it—and this is the point where his envy sets in. He’s closer to them as a battlefield companion, someone they can trust to watch their backs or take an arrow for them. Discussions of fighting, of places they’re travelling to, of the few hobbies they have time for are what allow him to form the beginning of a connection to them. It’s when they get to civilization—topics of food and family and romantic pursuits both failed and lasting—that he finds those connections severed. These are all things he can’t really experience or have anymore. And as much as he wants to be happy for these people who call him a friend, his envy often overrides it and keeps him within a specific dynamic.
His envy keeps him from truly trying to be anything more than a sideline observer within the group. He fears vocalizing his true feelings, but it can sometimes come out in his attitude, especially towards his commanding officer, an overly friendly Lord and war hero with a beautiful wife and two perfect sons. This has consequences, of course. He is quite ashamed of his envy, and anyone who actively sits him down to talk about it would hear him admit that he knew he was being unfair. It’s a flaw that keeps him from becoming close to people, and something for him to overcome.
I think sometimes big flaws like envy are intimidating to new writers. We want our characters to be likeable, so as beginners we tend to give them milder flaws, like shyness. But big flaws are important. Flaws people are ashamed of make characters more human, and they can be portrayed for sympathy or as a massive personality problem. Sometimes we have to consider the flaws we dislike most, even if it means looking at ourselves for reference.
- There will be no updates during the next two weeks. I’m off to escape the dreaded remains of winter. I shall return on March 25th.