The guy everyone just loves to hate, seeing as that's the whole concept.
A Hate Sink is a character whose intended role in the story (the role the authors made for him/her) is to be so despicable that the audience wants him or her to fail just as much as they want the heroes to succeed.
However, this person doesn't have to be the main villain of the story, or even a villain at to begin with. Let's say we have a cast of perfectly likable protagonists, reasonable and sympathetic villains, and Bob. Bob is not necessarily the main antagonist, as he is not causing the struggle that the heroes must overcome, but he is making the heroes' lives more painful. His list of character traits includes: pettiness, selfishness, stubbornness, greed, holier-than-thou contempt, cowardice, and an inexhaustible penchant for making bad decisions. He may also be rude and obnoxious, bigoted, sleazy and undeservedly smug. Basically, Bob exists to be hated. Everything he does and everything he says is designed to make the audience yearn for his death/humiliation/comeuppance just a little bit more. If we see his eventual downfall — and we usually do — it is just as satisfying as the writers can possibly make it. A particularly pointed Karmic Death is always a nice touch, and can be quite satisfying to watch. On the other hand, if Bob gets away with what should theoretically be coming to him, he may be hated much more than intended.
The Complete Monster, complete and utter despicableness being their defining characteristic, is a particularly controversial version of this, but there can be an overlap. Another especially common flavor of this character in recent decades is the Politically Incorrect Villain.
The Hate Sink is typically found in stories that do not have a natural target for the audience's scorn. Common environments for this weasel are:
- Disaster and killer-animal stories, since you can't really hate a force of nature.
- Stories set in a prison, the military, or some other institutional setting which is regarded as a cruel, but useful, piece of social equipment.
- Works where the protagonist's struggle is against something personal and nebulous — say, a feeling that they are in a dead-end job and haven't achieved any of their dreams — and there is No Antagonist.
- Works where the protagonist's struggle is against a faceless group such as a corporation. Here the Hate Sink is a representative of the group, not necessarily its leader, who embodies all its vices and maybe more.
- Works which operate under Grey and Gray Morality, where neither side is truly good or bad.
- Works that have a Plot-Irrelevant Villain, or sometimes several.
- Works where the main characters are the ones causing the problems in the story rather than the antagonist.
- Works where though there are Hate Sinks, either none of them are main antagonists or they form a Big-Bad Ensemble.
- Works where the main antagonist is too sympathetic and/or non-threatening to really hate.
- Stories, such as certain action movies, where the villains are not sympathetic, but every bit as badass as the heroes and just too damn cool to hate.
This trope is not the same as Designated Villain, which is a character put into the villain role for the sake of the plot, even though his or her actions are not particularly evil. A Hate Sink character may or may not be important to the story or even a villain and does not need to advance the plot — if Bob is in a scene being loathsome, he is fulfilling his predestined role.
Also, a Hate Sink doesn't necessarily detract from the work they appear in; they provide an easy target for the reader/audience/player's contempt where there may not be one, and can serve as a foil to a more likable Anti-Hero and/or Anti-Villain character.
Not to be confused with a (literal) Heat Sink. A metaphorical one counts if you're using the pro wrestling use of the word. Contrast The Scrappy, who is not designed to be hated but who garners a Hatedom anyway. Often a Smug Snake. Compare X-Pac Heat, when the hate is directed at an actor or performer instead of the character; and Love to Hate, when the character is supposed to be enjoyed by the readers/viewers for their evilness. Remember that Tropes Are Tools: a poorly-written Hate Sink can easily become The Scrappy if they are unpopular for the wrong reasons, while one that's just a little too unique or badass is likely to be received as a Love to Hate example. Rooting for the Empire is when a villain is supported by legions of fans. That said, a Hate Sink will never get support for their actions. Evil Is Sexy, since a huge amount of sex appeal runs the risk of counterbalancing the character's unlikeability, creating, to the contrary, legions of fans attracted by their physical appearance. Evil Is Cool and Draco in Leather Pants, when an evil or otherwise unsympathetic character is liked by the audience. Ironically, there are a few examples that end up backfiring horribly due to the existence of these tropes.
This is not merely a place to complain about characters you hate. These can't just be a Base-Breaking Character or The Scrappy. Other characters have to truly hate them in-story. Otherwise, it's not this trope.
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