master writer #1–jennifer brown, hate list
Posted by Lisha Cauthen
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.
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 CauthenLisha Cauthen writes YA novels for guys that girls like to read too.
Posted on April 16, 2010, in writing and tagged book report, characters, children's authors, children's writing, hate list, jennifer brown, kidlit, master writers, revising, superpower, sympathetic characters, unsympathetic characters, villains, writing tool, YA lit, YA literature. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.