Storyville: Hate From Love—Complex Emotions in Characterization

Here’s something you may not have thought about before. In order to hate, you must first love. If you want to write complex characters, then you need to have a range of emotions on display. And when I think back to my own personal belief system, my “religion”—it’s based on kindness, honesty, and respect. Out of THAT comes love. And the only way to truly get to hatred is to care about something, to love it first. You must build it up before you tear it down. Let’s explore this concept a bit, in greater detail.

LOVE

There are all kinds of love in the world:

  • Philia—Affectionate Love. Love without romantic attraction that occurs between friends or family members.
  • Pragma—Enduring Love. Long-term love in various relationships.
  • Storge—Familial Love. This is the love between parents and children, or even childhood friends you consider family.
  • Eros—Romantic Love. A love that comes from the physical.
  • Ludus—Playful Love. Early feelings, lighter, that can evolve into more.
  • Mania—Obsessive Love. This can be unhealthy, leading to obsession and madness.
  • Philautia—Self Love. This is all about loving, respecting, and accepting yourself.
  • Agape—Selfless Love. An empathetic love for everyone and everything.

So, I think you can see how complex, how varied, and how expansive love can be. You may have a love for your family, for your friends, for co-workers and peers, for a romantic partner, for yourself, and for society in general. You can also have love for animals and pets, for a sports team, for pizza and ice cream. I want you to think for a moment about all of the people and things in your life that you love, that bring you joy. That’s quite a nice sensation, isn’t it? Now, let’s tear it all apart.

APATHY

If you want to write complex characters, then you need to have a range of emotions on display.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. Before we get into what hate is all about, you need to understand that the opposite of love is not hate—it’s apathy. When I write a story, I’d rather have 50% of readers love my story and 50% hate it than have 100% think it’s just okay. I don’t want a lukewarm, apathetic, weak reaction to my work. So when it comes to your characters and getting a reaction from your audience, keep this in mind—it’s better to get a strong reaction than no reaction. It’s like when advertisers say that any news is good news, all exposure is good exposure. They’re talking about engagement—connecting with people. In the stories, books, tv shows, and movies you enjoy think about how you need a hero to root for, but also a villain to root against. So when talking about your characters, make sure that we aren’t indifferent. How do you avoid that? By creating compelling individuals, with depth, and originality. By using empathy and sympathy as well as tension and fear, to put us in situations where we are rooting for certain outcomes. Manipulate your readers into feeling what you want them to feel. And then expand those emotions—up and down, light and dark, good and bad, success and failure. We want these emotions to run the gamut, right? Right.

HATRED

So, why am I talking about hatred in this week’s column, and how does that connect with love? I’ve already talked about various kinds of love, and how we want to avoid apathy. You need to show us characters that garner our compassion, right? You want us to support and encourage your protagonist, most of the time. And whatever genre you’re writing in (but especially in horror) you will have conflicts, and darkness—something to fight against, to overcome, to battle. That’s going to be inherent in your storytelling. Let me dig deeper into hatred and “bad guys” and “monsters” here to illustrate my point.

I think the basic hatred of a character or monster in a story comes out of fear. There is a werewolf or a demon or a serial killer. By the inherent nature of them, they are built to eat, to destroy, to cause chaos. They take, and damage, and feed, and hurt. Sometimes there is a reason behind what they do, but often the horror is more chaotic—there is no rhyme or reason, they don’t care, they can’t be reasoned with, they exist to eat and kill and cause mayhem. Often, we feel that they are unstoppable. This fear and witnessing of destruction can lead to a basic hatred of these creatures. But let’s go deeper, let’s do more here.

Beyond that simple definition, what if the creature, the killer, the monster, the neighbor was somebody or something we cared about first? How does that feel? Different, right? It’s finding out that the boy next door has a girl locked up in his basement. It’s finding out that your cousin is a pedophile. It’s finding a naked man in the woods, with bones and carnage all around him, the evidence of some great feeding, and realizing it’s your lover. Now how does that feel? So much worse. It’s a betrayal, it’s a fear that this is way too close, that this can turn its gaze upon us—it was coming from within the house the entire time. When you show us love first, or build up a love and empathy in some format in addition to the darkness, the fear, the hatred—that’s when we really have a chance to have a deep relationship with our audience.

Take a look at this list of characters and think for a moment about your relationship with them over time and how it might have changed. Most likely, you had a deep emotional connection, and their actions? Shades of gray for sure. Take a peek:

Cersei Lannister, Daenerys Targearyen, The Joker, Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter, Maleficent, Gaston, Loki, Kylo Ren, Amy Dunne (Gone Girl), Joe Goldberg (You), Yagharek (Perdido Street Station), etc.

IN CONCLUSION

What I’m asking of you here is to get a sense of how love works in its most basic form before it expands. To understand how apathy and caring can lead to a more powerful connection with your readership. And to see how hatred can also have a base inception, but then go so much deeper if we care, if we love, first. This is not easy to do, it’s a complex formula that requires practice, layers, depth, emotion, and originality. But if you’ve been reading my column for a few years, then you already have the tools you need to get there. This is just a friendly reminder to go deeper, to get us to feel, whether that feeling is love or hate. You just want to make sure that you avoid creating a cast of characters that blend together, that we don’t care about, and instead push us into a range of emotions, across your entire cast, so we can have a powerful, satisfying, fulfilling experience. Good luck!

Richard Thomas

Column by Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas is the award-winning author of seven books: three novels—Disintegration and Breaker (Penguin Random House Alibi), as well as Transubstantiate (Otherworld Publications); three short story collections—Staring into the Abyss (Kraken Press), Herniated Roots (Snubnose Press), and Tribulations (Cemetery Dance); and one novella in The Soul Standard (Dzanc Books). With over 140 stories published, his credits include The Best Horror of the Year (Volume Eleven), Cemetery Dance (twice), Behold!: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders (Bram Stoker winner), PANK, storySouth, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Midwestern Gothic, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Qualia Nous, Chiral Mad (numbers 2-4), and Shivers VI (with Stephen King and Peter Straub). He has won contests at ChiZine and One Buck Horror, has received five Pushcart Prize nominations, and has been long-listed for Best Horror of the Year six times. He was also the editor of four anthologies: The New Black and Exigencies (Dark House Press), The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press) and Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press) with Chuck Palahniuk. He has been nominated for the Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, and Thriller awards. In his spare time he is a columnist at Lit Reactor and Editor-in-Chief at Gamut Magazine. His agent is Paula Munier at Talcott Notch. For more information visit www.whatdoesnotkillme.com.

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