Mar 7, 2011

People We Love to Hate

By Tracy Astle

One of my beta readers for my YA novel commented that my story had no antagonist. She's the only one who ever made that observation. I had to admit she was right, but the main conflict comes from a situation, not a person, so I wasn't too concerned about having an actual character to antagonize my MC. My reader then pointed out a character I already had in place and suggested that giving her a larger role would instantly create an antagonist. What she said next stuck with me.

"People like to have someone to hate."

It took me less than a minute to decide she was absolutely right. Just think about all the fabulous bad guys in some of your most favorite books. A well written villian can create in us deeper feelings of sympathy for our hero when they are tormented by this person and give us something to cheer about when the awful creature gets what's coming to them. (BTW, I beefed up the part of the character she mentioned and it improved my story.)

With all the evil people running around in literature it's hard to pick a favorite, but in my opinion Delores Umbridge of the Harry Potter series is the frontrunner. In addition to all the terrible things she did, what puts her at the top of my list is that she did all of them with such a sense of righteous superiority. She really believed that everything she did was for a higher good. Absolutely terrifying what people will do when armed and fueled by supposed good cause.

What do you think? What character(s) do you love to hate and why?


  1. The tormented and demented Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. While the movies didn't bring this into play as much the novels have. In order to "save" people from others (ie his mom), Anakin became a sorta top down guy. He really just wanted everything to be orderly so justice could be served. The rebels weren't so much scum as they represented free thinking which meant possible free action which in his opinion caused too much pain and agony. In his own way much like Delores, good choice I might add.

  2. Interesting you should point out Umbridge right now, as I just got past the part where Harry did his last detention in her office. "I must not tell lies." I remember shuddering with loathing every time I saw her signature, "Hem, hem," the first couple of times I read the book. My younger kids, who haven't read the series yet, don't believe me that the book Umbridge is far more detestable than the movie Umbridge.

    I'm glad to hear your friend's suggestion improved your story. I too didn't think of creating an antagonist for your book, since the situational conflict seemed pretty valid to me; but I think she's right, a really good character to hate adds to the conflict and drives the story forward.

  3. I don't know if there are any Battlestar Galactica fans out there but when they remade the series recently I watched it diligently. There was a character named Gaius Baltar who I loved to hate. He was a scientific genius but also completely insane and arrogant. I hated that guy!

  4. You made a good selection with Umbridge. I really hated her. Also, Voldermort of course. From the Star Wars both Vader and the Emperor. In the prequels we see the planning and betrayal forming the intricate web of the Emperor that deceived the leaders of the Jedi and the leaders of the worlds.

  5. This isn't quite on the same scale as Umbridge, Voldemort, and Vader, but I always loved to hate Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie.


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