master writer #1–jennifer brown, hate list

I have a brilliant, new idea.

No, no, come back!

For the next weeks I’m going to profile different kidlit books whose authors have mastered some aspect of their writing in a particularly stupendous way.  These are the books I go to when I’m stuck in revisions and need a refresher course.

First up:

The Hate List by Jennifer Brown

A gut-wrenching YA, The Hate List is about the aftermath of a school shooting. Valerie and Nick, two high school outcasts who find each other, are bullied by just about everyone else in the school. As a way to blow off steam they keep a running list of people who treat them badly–the “hate list”. Near the end of junior year, Nick cracks. He shoots up the school, killing kids, using the hate list as a guide. Even though Valerie saved a classmate she’s implicated in the deed. She helped write the hate list. She loved Nick. How responsible is she? How much guilt does she bear?

JENNIFER BROWN’S SUPERPOWER

She can make you feel sympathy for her villain.

Can you imagine a more unsympathetic character than a mass-murderer?

Don’t get me wrong, Jennifer doesn’t excuse Nick’s actions. Or blame them on society. But she does give us a reason to lament the loss of his soul. Nick is by turns repulsive and endearing.

1. The poor, misunderstood villain is a great way to stir up sympathy. Jennifer does it here, by CONTRASTING WHAT SOCIETY BELIEVES ABOUT THE VILLAIN vs WHAT THE NARRATOR KNOWS

How could Valerie have loved such an awful monster? Jennifer takes us back to when Nick and Valerie meet:

  • Society sees: “His clothes were ratty, sometimes too big, and never stylish.”
  • But Valerie looks beyond that: “He had these really sparkly dark eyes and a lopsided smile that was adorably apologetic and never showed his teeth.”

2. Just when you think you’ve got this guy-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks pegged, Jennifer gives Nick AN UNEXPECTED INTEREST OR TALENT.

Valerie visits Nick’s room for the first time and stumbles upon his stash.

“…To you yourself, to us, to everyone”

“Alas, how shall this bloody deed be answer’d?” Nick said, quoting the next line before I had a chance to read it.

I sat back and looked at him over the top of the book. “You read this stuff?”

That’s right, Nick is somewhat of a Shakespearean scholar. All on his own. Now, I find that awfully endearing, don’t you?

3. And as you might imagine in a book about bullying, there is more than plenty of UNEARNED SUFFERING.

“I could almost feel the embarrassment and disappointment radiating off of him, could almost see him crumple into defeat before my eyes.”

Note that the most effective use of unearned suffering comes AFTER you have established your villain’s likability.

This has been a mini-crash course. Pick up Hate List to learn from Jennifer Brown, my gift to you as The Sympathy-for-the-Villain Master.

About Lisha Cauthen

Lisha Cauthen writes YA novels for guys that girls like to read too.

Posted on April 16, 2010, in writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Ooo….this is interesting! Haven’t read HATE LIST yet, but it’s on my to-read list. Good post!

  2. It’s a good one, Judy H., but it’s rough. So well done.

  3. Great analysis! I’m not so good at doing that.

  4. Love this!! Thank you

  5. more advice, more advice!

  6. I love the Hate list! I have read it at least 100 times and each time I cry. And now I am doing a book report on it, How am I not going to cry?

  7. Oh, Juliet. Have you seen Jennifer speak? She was bullied in high school, and has an interesting story to tell. And she also calls on all her fans to be agents of change–to reach out to the kids who are being ignored. She is super spiffy.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,120 other followers

%d bloggers like this: