A Hate Sink is a character whose intended role in the story that is, the role the authors made for this character 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.
A Hate Sink doesn't have to be the main villain of the story, or even a villain at all to begin with. Let's say we have a cast of perfectly likable protagonists, reasonable and sympathetic villains/antagonists, 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 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 an upgraded, yet often seperate version of this, but there can be an overlap. Additionally, some avoid this trope via Evil Is Cool. Another especially common flavor of this character in recent decades is the Politically Incorrect Villain.
- Disaster and killer-animal stories, since you can't really hate a force of nature. Here, the Hate Sink might be an incompetent authority figure who ends up getting people killed by the disaster/animal.
- Zombie Apocalypse stories, since the zombies are usually mindless and animalistic. Often the Hate Sink is a human who is shown to be worse and more willfully malevolent than the zombies.
- 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. Here, the Hate Sink might be the protagonists Mean Boss.
- 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 or even White-and-Grey Morality, where neither side is truly 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 villains, either none of them are the main villains or they form a Big Bad Ensemble, so one of them is made much worse than the others.
- Works where there is a main antagonist, but the antagonist is too sympathetic and/or non-threatening to really hate. These stories often have the villain be a product of Abusive Parents or a Greater-Scope Villain who serves the role of Hate Sink by having no sympathetic qualities in contrast.
- Works where the antagonist is not sympathetic, but a mindless or strange-minded Eldritch Abomination that is too animalistic and/or unknowable to despise. Here, the Hate Sink might be a depraved human follower of the abomination.
- 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. Meta-wise, a Hate Sink can prove to be a tough role to play by any performers, if the media required actors. Since the performers are humans, they may also develop intense hatred towards the role they played, just like the audience as the creator intended, and made giving life to this character hard. In addition, they also risk some loony fans unable to differentiate the character and the performer, thus hating the latter as well when all they did was to do their job in performing a role. The character might become that performer's personal pest, but a more enduring performer can get by this if they imagine that if the character is hated, then they did a splendid job in giving life to the character and the vitriol directed to the character is equal to praises to the performer.
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. Compare and contrast Unintentionally Unsympathetic, which is when the audience doesn't sympathize with a character that the creators intended them to. 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. They can also end up being Unintentionally Sympathetic and/or a Designated Villain if the author dosen't give the audience a strong reason to hate them. That said, a properly written Hate Sink will largely invoke the audience's wrath as a result of 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; and 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, and be designed to be hated. Otherwise, it's not this trope.
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