A Hate Sink is a character whose intended role in the story is to be so despicable that the audience wants them to fail just as much as they want the heroes to succeed. The key word here is "intended"; unlike The Scrappy, the Hate Sink is a character created by an author with the specific goal of making the audience hate this character's guts.
The character in question doesn't have to be the main villain of the story, or even an antagonist at all. Oftentimes, the character in question is used as a counterpoint for the protagonists, or even to charismatic antagonists, assuming they are not the primary antagonist themselves, and assuming that there even is an antagonist to begin with.
In addition, such a character may be used to bring conflict and tension into a story by virtue of their personality and behavior.
- If the conflict is internal, the character is often a character whose actions affect the protagonist's internal conflict.
- If the conflict is between specific characters, the character is often either an especially unpleasant antagonist, or just someone who gets in the protagonist's (or antagonist's) way, especially in settings where it is hard to tell who's a hero and who is a villain.
- If the conflict is against society, social norms, or a body of authority, the character will often display the worst qualities of the source of conflict.
- If the conflict arises due to the circumstances of nature, the character will often be someone who either endangers others due to negligence or out of selfishness.
- If the conflict is of technological origin, the character is often someone who uses such technology for their own gain.
- If the conflict is of supernatural origin, the character is often either a follower of, or in cahoots with, the supernatural entity, or possibly intend to use the supernatural to their advantage, assuming they are not merely present in the story to prove that mortals can be unsavoury even compared to supernatural beings whose morals are far different than ours.
The character will often show traits such as pettiness, arrogance, self-righteousness, prejudice, sleaze, gratuitous viciousness, and delight in the misery of others. There are probably at least as many tropes which can make a character detestable as there are intentionally detestable characters.
There will be occasional overlap with Evil Is Petty, where a villain behaves in an unpleasant manner (variants include the Politically Incorrect Villain, Psychopathic Manchild and Slimeball). When this character is a villain, they are more likely to cross boundaries that turn the audience against them, and they'll know their comeuppance will come at the end. If a villain's despicable actions are sufficiently heinous,they may cross into Complete Monster territory, but detestable does not always mean heinous or vice versa, (Especially given many Complete Monsters having an Evil Is Cool factor.) so while there can be overlap, it isn't a given by any stretch, likely the villain would increase the audience's hatred if they had succeeded their evil plans.
Remember that Tropes Are Tools: A poorly-written Hate Sink can easily become The Scrappy, if they are unpopular for the wrong reasons, while others can end up being Unintentionally Sympathetic and/or a Designated Villain if the author dosen't give the audience a strong reason to hate them, or the audience may start Rooting for the Empire if the villain is too badass. That said, a properly written Hate Sink will largely invoke the audience's wrath as a result of their personality and/or actions. A Sadist Show will often play this type of character for laughs. Beware this trope being done too well, because an extremely hateable character being allowed to exist for too long may have the undesired effect of driving away fans.
See also Villainy-Free Villain, when the character doesn't even do anything particularly evil but just acts unpleasant. The Heel is a variant specific to Professional Wrestling. The Sitcom Arch-Nemesis can overlap with this, if the hatred you're supposed to have for them is low-stakes, petty, and comedic. Compare X-Pac Heat, when an actor is hated outside of their role.
Compare Love to Hate, a character that is also meant to be loathed by viewers, but at the same time ends up being praised for doing such a great job at making people hate their guts. More often than not, a well-written Hate Sink will end up being this.
Contrast The Scrappy, for a character disliked unintentionally, or for different reasons than intended and Affably Evil, who are villains who are genuinely polite and are not meant/intended to be hated. Also Contrast Base-Breaking Character, for characters whose reception is polarizing. Not to be confused with character bashing, which is complaining about a character regardless of narrative intent.
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