Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Seven Deadly Sins Sure Come in Handy

Leann Sweeney writes the Yellow Rose Mystery Series set in Texas and the Cats in Trouble Mystery Series set in South Carolina, both published by NAL/Obsidian.

Once I finish a book and it goes to the editor for that first read, my thoughts turn to the seven deadly sins. No, Tiger and I are not hooking up in Vegas, but I could make a case for him having committed all seven of those sins. I couldn't mention sins without mentioning him, could I? But this isn't about golf at all. It's about the secret. Not the book The Secret, the secret at the center of every mystery.

As soon as that manuscript goes to NYC, I begin thinking about the next plot, the next book. What will the secret be? I love the thinking part of starting a new novel because it makes me feel like a child again. I love to make stuff up. Thank goodness I found a profession where I'm encouraged to do so. (Otherwise I might be in jail.) Part of my process is to pull out those seven sins--wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony—and ponder each one. What motive this time? What fun can I have with each of these sins? (Sins I have never, ever committed myself, mind you.)

You might think a few of these sins would be difficult to create an entire mystery around. But that's what so great about the vices. They are the basis for most, if not all, books. Think about it. I'll wait.

See what I mean? Wrath and greed may come to mind first when it comes to crime fiction, but sloth and gluttony can be about so many things. The challenge of coming up with something that hasn't been "done to death" (excuse the pun) is a test I fully embrace. And I must enjoy myself in the process, because if I don't, my readers won't enjoy themselves either. You only need turn to the Bible and the Book of Proverbs to come up with the best list ever for creating an intriguing plot. To quote via that wonder of wonders, Wikipedia, test out these plot teasers:

Haughty eyes
A lying tongue
Hands that shed innocent blood
A heart that devises wicked plots (uh oh I in trouble?)
Feet that are swift to run into mischief
A deceitful witness that uttereth lies (don't you love those old "eth" verbs?)
Him that soweth discord among the brethren.
Isn't this great? A plethora of ideas in one small list.

I just agreed to a new contract for two more books in the Cats in Trouble Mystery Series and after a truly grueling rewrite of the book that comes out in May, The Cat, The Professor and The Poison, I came up with a plot, thanks to my "puruse the sins" technique involving a motive I do not believe I have used before—at least not as the big secret that pushes someone to murder. Am I going to tell you what that sin is? Your odds of guessing correctly are one in seven. But I won't be taking bets in Vegas. Apparently what happens there doesn't really stay there after all. Here's a hint: the working title is The Cat, The Lake and The Liar.

Leann Sweeney


  1. What a wonderful--and very very helpful--post! I agree, the secret is the key, and one of the most challenging parts of creating a mystery.
    I'm in the very very beginning (making it all about me...)your post is incredibly timely. Thank you.
    I loveth it!

  2. Again Leeann, you have charmed me by showing me the world through your eyes. I love that you write about the sins as opposed to committing them although my opinion is that you might just get away.

  3. Me? A sinner? Mare, I protesteth--but not too much!

  4. Hey, Leann! So nice to have you here at the Stiletto Gang. Happy Holidays!


  5. Thanks Susan! Good to see your smiling face, if only in a picture. Hope you have a happy holiday too. If I get to see my granddaughter that will make everything perfect.

  6. I'll have to remember those 7 deadly sins next time I can't think of something to write about. They'll come in handy.

    Morgan Mandel