Why I don’t write characters you love to hate

Photo: Today Testing [CC BY-SA 4.0]
I’ve never understood the idea of “characters you love to hate.” Whether in fiction or real life, there’s no one I love to hate. I don’t love hating. Hating doesn’t make me feel good. Hating makes me feel awful.

That’s probably why it doesn’t really occur to me to try to write hateful characters. What I want to put into my books are complex characters. I want readers to see multiple sides of a character; I want readers to be able to understand that from the viewpoint of each character, his or her actions make some kind of sense.

And why do I want to do that? I suppose because that’s the world I want to live in, too. I want us to see each other and understand that while we may not make the same decisions as someone else, we can understand their underlying reasonings. We can see beyond the action that makes us want to hate them, and understand that given the same background, the same circumstances, we might do the same thing.

It’s dangerous to make anyone into a monster; to make people into a “they” rather than part of “us.” If we can no longer see someone’s humanity, we can no longer see ourselves.

I understand that there are people who are truly ill, who truly, as far as we know, are broken and cannot be made whole again. That’s a whole other discussion, and not one I can solve in a blog post.

But in general, people are complex. Hating people doesn’t bring us closer to understanding them. One of my favorite Søren Kierkegaard quotes is, “Once you label me, you negate me.” I would extend that to hate, as well: “Once you hate me, you negate me.” Once we’ve decided we hate someone, it’s just one more step to dismissing them entirely.

And so, while I know there are people who relish hating other people, I will never be one of them, and I will continue to challenge myself to create characters who are complex, multi-faceted. To paraphrase Walt Whitman: we are all large; we all contain multitudes.

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