Writing Hated Characters: A Study in Snape

Thank you so much to everyone that gave me such positive feedback on my last blog post – it has certainly been too long! I thought that I would look this week at writing hated characters. How do you go about writing someone who you want your readers to hate, but make them just as engaging as your other characters?

Baddies are fun. They are fun to write, fun to read, and fun to watch. But what readers and viewers rarely ever see is the work that goes into creating such a character. An author will need to make a million choices about their antagonist, and the first is whether or not they are a true villain. Are they pure evil, only wanting death and defeat for the hero of your tale – or do you want them confused, misunderstood, and able to be redeemed? This will completely alter the way that you approach describing your character to your audience.

Your description of your hated character will in some cases be more physical than emotional. This is because you will need your anti-hero to stand out from the crowd, and because your reader should be able to tell the intimate character of your villain through his or her actions. For example, it is much more effective to have your baddie kill an innocent messenger without provocation, than simply to write: “He was not very fair.”

Other decisions that you will have to make with regards to your baddie include how they are to be introduced, and how much of a back story with your hero you want to give them. Some heroes just happen upon their antagonists, whereas others have a long past together that has brought them to the beginning of your tale. The length of that tale is up to you, and it is also up to you when you reveal it.

And lastly, you as the author needs to decide the fate of your hated character. Will they die, defeated by your hero? Will they be turned over to ‘the Good Side’? Or will their ending be slightly more mysterious – will you leave it open for a potential return?

Let’s take all of the information that I’ve just written, and apply it to one of the hated – and strangely most loved – literary characters of modern times: Severes Snape. If you haven’t read the Harry Potter books by now (and where have you been?) then go and read them before you finish this post! Serious spoilers coming up…

So firstly, is Snape a true villain? Up until the very last, the fans of Harry Potter would argue that he is. He has absolutely no cause to hate Harry, and he kills Dumbledore, obeying his master Lord Voldemort. But Rowling allows her readers to follow this path of thinking before revealing at (almost) the very end: Snape falls into the confused, misunderstood, able to be redeemed category of villain. If anything, he has already redeemed himself through the actions that looked so sinister throughout the books. We make the same mistake that Harry does in the second book.

Secondly, the description of Snape. Again, Rowling follows formula here, and gives primarily a physical description of Snape for her readers – stooping, tall, long black greasy hair, everyone can picture him. But we know almost nothing about him until the sixth book, because Rowling let’s his actions speak for themselves.

The back story between Harry and Snape is never fully explored, until it is revealed (again, spoilers!) at the end of the series that the true back story was between Snape and Harry’s mother. It was the loss of her affection that pushed him towards the Death Eaters, and Rowling is genius in the way that she reveals it.

And lastly, the fate of Snape. Seen by many as incredibly sad, Snape dies, almost completely alone, at the hand of the most evil wizard of all time, unsure whether his sacrifice for the son of the woman he loved has worked. But in a way, his fate is completely different from his actual death scene. His memory is kept alive by Harry, through his knowledge of Snape’s true colours, and through the naming of his youngest son.

What do you think? Do you enjoy writing hated characters, or do you find them difficult? Who is your favourite hated character?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s