The guy everyone just loves to hate, seeing as that's the idea.
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 individual doesn't have to be the main villain of the story or even a villain at all. Let's say we have a cast of perfectly likable protagonists, reasonable and sympathetic villains, and Bob. Bob is not necessarily the main antagonist. He is not causing the struggle that the heroes must overcome, but he is making the heroes' lives more difficult. His list of character traits includes pettiness, selfishness, stubbornness, greed, holier-than-thou contempt, cowardice, an inexhaustible penchant for making bad decisions, and sociopathy. 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 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 the audience is denied of that satisfaction, Bob may end up being hated much more than what was intended.
The Complete Monster, complete 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 villainize a force of nature.
- Stories set in a prison, the military, or some other institutional setting which is regarded as an unpleasant but necessary piece of social equipment.
- Works where the protagonist's struggle is against something personal and nebulous — say, a feeling that he is in a dead-end job and hasn't achieved any of his 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.
- 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 antagonists, either none of them are main antagonists or they form a Big Bad Ensemble.
- Certain action movies where the villains are every bit as badass as the heroes and just too darn cool.
- Works where the main antagonist is too sympathetic and/or non-threatening to really 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.
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 more likable Anti-Hero or Anti-Villain characters.
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, while one that's just a little too unique or badass is likely to be received as a Love to Hate example.
Contrast Rooting for the Empire, when a villain is supported by legions of fans. That said, a Hate Sink will never get support for their actions.
Contrast 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.
Contrast 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-universe as well. Otherwise, it's not this trope.
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