On December 28th, 2011, Maybeawriter wrote, How can one portray hatred? It's such a strong emotion, but so often senseless and illogical. How does one show the difference between, say, dread of talking with somebody hatred, and all-out hate-your-guts Romeo-vs-Tybalt wish-you-were-dead hatred? ...How do we justify hatred? Do we even NEED to justify it? Does it make a character less appealing if they can hate?
The tools we have for portraying hatred are the usual: actions, dialogue, thoughts, and feelings. Thoughts and feelings can be directly revealed in only the POV character, if we’re writing in first person, and in anyone if we're having an omniscient third-person narrator tell the story. It’s okay to state the feeling directly, as in, Annabelle hated Nevin completely. Even her blue-and-yellow striped socks hated him.
Or she can confess her hatred to her pal Wesley: “I hate Nevin so much even my socks hate him, and they’re usually very sweet.”
Notice that bringing in the socks adds liveliness and humor to what would otherwise be a bald, maybe too stripped-down way of putting it. We don’t need humor, though; more serious embellishment will do too, as in, Annabelle hated Nevin completely. If he had grandchildren someday, she’d hate them, too. Or, even stronger, Annabelle hated Nevin. She hoped his dog would die.
Same sentiment can be revealed in thoughts, as in, Annabelle thought, I despise that boy. Every bit of me hates him. Even my socks hate him. Everything that belongs to me hates him.
In action, we can show Annabelle drawing a picture of Nevin then giving him a moustache, then a red rash, then scratching him out with an orange crayon, then taking a scissors to the drawing. The reader gets the message.
What I’ve described so far is that wish-you-were-dead hatred, although our Annabelle might feel bad if Nevin really did bite the dust. Or might not.
A weaker hatred will be revealed by the same means, through actions, dialogue, thoughts, and feelings. For example, the narrator can say, Annabelle hated Paul, but not all the way down to her socks. She hated him down to her knees, maybe, and if he’d stop teasing her, she wouldn’t hate him in the slightest. If she draws a picture of him and gives him a rash she might toss it and redraw it, giving him just a single red spot.
And feelings can be temporary or prolonged or eternal. Even the most powerful emotions can be temporary, maybe especially the powerful ones. Most of us get angriest at the people we love.
Which brings us to the character of the hater. If Annabelle holds a grudge, her hatred may never be temporary, not even if Nevin apologizes and reforms. Nobody gets crossed off her despised list.
Or her feelings may always be in flux. She may be overwhelmed by a flood of hatred one moment and love the next. She may segue in a flash from tears to laughter. Or she may be a more measured character. After the apology she may put Nevin on probation and grant him provisional forgiveness.
Annabelle’s hatred will usually match Nevin’s offense. If he borrowed her pencil and failed to return it, the reader may think it extreme to hate him down to her socks, although she may be an extreme character. Maybe unending hatred is warranted if he wrote something nasty on a Facebook page that will linger forever in cyberspace, definitely warranted if he put Annabelle’s sister in a death camp and annihilated her. If Annabelle can overcome her hatred after that, even if Nevin shows believable repentance, she becomes a truly sterling character. If she can’t, we’ll probably forgive her.
On the other hand, she may hate Nevin for a reason that does her no credit, that makes her the villain. She can hate him because of his skin color or his religion or his tribe. If we leave realistic fiction, she can hate him because he’s a mutant or not a mutant or an alien or friends with an alien or because he’s defending the rights of aliens.
Or she can be entirely evil and hate everyone. The dragon Kyto in my Disney fairy book Fairies and the Quest for Never Land hates everybody until the fairy Vidia comes along. Kyto is almost entirely villainous. Motivation isn’t always necessary, and Kyto has none. He just hates. A character can be purely evil. Usually, this is best set up right at the beginning, as in, Annabelle was born evil. During her first week of life she didn’t cry out of misery, she cried to make everyone else miserable. As soon as she had teeth she bit; as soon as she her nails were long enough she scratched.
The appeal of a particular character who hates depends on the elements we’ve discussed: the reason for the hatred and her response to it and how generally likable she is. The reader can love a flawed character. If Annabelle nurses her grudges but is otherwise delightful, she’ll worm her way into the reader’s heart. Even her flaw may charm us. She holds a grudge against Nevin and wishes him ill: wants his toe jam to build up, his breakfast cereal to taste like fried toad, his dental fillings to transmit Morse code. Is that her worst? Yes.
Strong feelings are interesting, exciting, lively. I don’t want to read about a milquetoast character whose most powerful negative feeling is dislike. I want Annabelle to hate or envy or fear Nevin. Anything less makes me sleepy.
Maybe I went too far. Annabelle’s flaw might be that she can’t hate or can’t feel deeply. Her quest might be for hate. That would be interesting.
Here are some prompts:
∙ Nevin apologizes to Annabelle. (You make up his offense.) Write the apology scene two ways, one as if Annabelle holds grudges endlessly, one as if she’s totally changeable.
∙ Hate can sometimes lead to love. Anne’s hatred of Gilbert in Anne of Green Gables is a fine example, likewise Elizabeth Bennet’s disdain for Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. Imagine that Annabelle and Nevin are on opposing debate teams and he keeps wiping the floor with her by fair means and foul. Turn that situation into a romance. Write the story, and, please, let Annabelle get in a few debate licks of her own.
∙ Write Annabelle’s rant about how much she hates Nevin. She can rant alone or to her friend Wesley. Have her go over the top, way over.
∙ There are a couple of fairy tales about a boy who can’t feel fear and wants to. In the more lighthearted one, he marries a princess who pours a pail of wet fish on him, which does the trick. In the more realistic version, he marries a princess and becomes frightened of his new responsibilities. Write a fairy tale about Annabelle who can’t feel hatred and wants to. What happens when she finally does? If you like, expand it into a novel.
Have fun, and save what you write!