I have been wondering if I can create a character who is meant to be hated by the audience without ruining the story. They will have little to no redeeming qualities and usually get away with their misdeeds to provide a “life is unfair” lesson or accentuate a real-life issue. I’m currently working on a story in which the protagonist’s father is abusive towards his son. Despite being polite and friendly to everyone on the outside, the father constantly gets in the way of his son’s dreams and berates or humiliates his son for not living up to his expectations. The same question can be applied to the protagonist’s annoying friends who often mock and hinder his goal.
Thank you for reading!James
So the son is the protagonist, and the father and friends are antagonists?
Yes, you can write antagonists that get away with misdeeds to make a point. Many people in real life who have faced abuse have no way of holding the abuser responsible or even receiving acknowledgement from the abuser or other family members that abuse occurred.
If you want to depict this in a story, I have two recommendations:
- Although the protagonist can’t get justice, highlight what he can do. That might just be healing and being happy in spite of the fact that he’ll never even get an apology, but you can still frame that as a success story for him.
- For a story like this, you’ll need to adhere to a high standard of realism and sensitivity. If you haven’t personally experienced these issues, please do lots of research to depict abuse accurately and make sure you aren’t exaggerating the abuse to create more drama. Also, ask if you really need both the father and the friends to be toxic, since an abusive father is bad enough. If you have personally experienced these problems, then, by all means, write your truth. Even in that case, researching what other people have experienced can still be helpful.
This is a case where the audience can be asked to deal with the dissatisfaction of letting antagonists get away with terrible behavior, but they need to see that it’s in service to a story that’s realistic and thoughtful rather than one that’s piling on the sensationalist suffering.
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Comments on Can an Abusive Antagonist Get Away With Their Misdeeds?
Sounds really tricky to pull off.
The first thing that came to my head regarding abusive villains who get away with it is Pinocchio (specifically Disney’s animated version, as I’m less familiar with the original book). I’d have to see that movie all the way through to judge how well they pulled it off, though.
I really like this piece of advice: It should be in service of giving a realistic portrayal, not sensationalist.
If I knew ahead of time the father and friends would get away w/ being abusive, I would not read this. If I didn’t know and had read this, I would give it the lowest possible rating and not read anything else in the series, nor recommend it to anyone. This has happened w/ other stories I’ve watched or read. No matter how good the plot or characters
> provide a “life is unfair” lesson
We already know that! Life is boring, horrific, unjust, and only gets worse and worse. That’s not news
I read fiction to get away from that!
I actually wouldn’t enjoy this type of story either, because I’m sensitive and I don’t like heavy fiction that reminds me too much of harsh realities. However, it is still a valid story to tell and some people would likely find it validating to read. And others who haven’t experienced that kind of abuse might find it eye opening. I would just recommend anyone publishing a story like this be honest with the marketing and use content notices.
I think that the first point should be on priority if your gonna do it, but as a sidenote, while the protag’s goals are definitely something to acknowledge and center, you should take into account what his father’s and friends priorities are and link that in with what types of commentary you’d like to make.
Remember that they are different people and their chaffing on his mind and personality in different ways, even if they poke at the same insecurities.
In the first place the gap between what kind of socialization they provide and have provided in the past will have it’s effects.
But also, they will have different goals and needs as people, which should effect their interactions more so than the ultimate conclusion of those relationships in either direction.
I’m not really sure where the end point is on abuse that isn’t faced, apposed or escaped, but hey maybe there’s a fourth option that doesn’t suck.
The 2014 film Whiplash is a great, intense example of a teacher (father figure) humiliating and abusing his pupil for not living up to his high expectations. The teacher does suffer a setback but hardly misses a beat and gets away to continue abusing. A major theme of the film is the threshold between constructive criticism and destructive abuse.
keep the focus on “accentuate a real-life issue” rather than “provide a ‘life is unfair’ lesson” and it can work. the difference being that calling out how abuse can go unrecognized and unaddressed is useful whereas simply ‘life is unfair’ is redundant and unsatisfying because as Dave L. said, the vast majority of us are well aware of that having experienced it directly.
honestly, that (and it’s partly an issue of framing as noted above) risks coming across as condescending or patronizing.