Monday, March 17, 2014

You're going to hate this blog post

Stop the Hate:  A message on word choice

I have said over and over how much I hate the New York Yankees.  But I am starting to have second thoughts.   No, my feelings toward the Yankees are unchanged.  I am second guessing my word choice.  Its more like this:

Let’s do an experiment.  Count all the instances where you have used the word ‘hate’ today.   If you cannot recall how many times you actually said the word then check your texts, Facebook, Twitter, whatever.   How many times did it come up in conversation by others?  Chances are good there are multiple instances from today alone.  Did you remember any of them?  Did you feel any real emotion?

Or on looking back at it, was it more like this?

Now for the experiment, think of the last time you told someone, or a person said to you in, a serious tone.  “I hate you.” 

Hopefully there are few, if any times.  How did you feel?  I am willing to bet the emotion was very strong.

To my recollection I have never said that to anyone.  Nor has anyone said that to me.  If they did, I’d probably cry and run away-- the emotion would be devastating. I cannot imagine saying hate in that context.   But that is what the word truly means, or used to at least.   But I use that word more than I should.

Now back to the Yankees.  I actively root against them.  All the time.  But do I truly hate them?  No.  not even close.  I flew to New York to catch a game at Old Yankee stadium.   My all-time favorite player in any sport, Lou Gehrig, is a Yankee.  Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are two of my favorite players of the modern era.  Is that a description of hate?  Absolutely not.  In fact, I probably care more about the Yankees than teams that I do root for.  I’m more like a fan.  A negative fan perhaps?

So, what does this mean for writing?  

We need to be careful with how we use the word hate.  As always show, don’t tell, what your characters feel.   Saying a character hates something is telling not showing, and might not be the right word for the feeling.

The definition of hate matters conceptually too.  

Do you want the reader to hate the villain?  Real hate?  Then make it happen.  Craft the story so that the reader will feel such emotion that they would gladly scream to the villain’s face “I hate you!”

Or do you want the reader to have an attitude toward the villain like I do toward the Yankees?  Where the reader wants to turn pages to see what will happen to the villain.  Perhaps to the point that the ‘good guy’ is more of an afterthought? (See Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker)  Then make it happen.  Make us care.  Make the reader root for them to lose.  Fill the reader with the other emotions, fear or jealousy, that are so often mistaken for hate these days.  Make them a fan.  A negative fan.