Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Writer’s Perspective: What I learned from The Hate U Give

So when my wife and I watched Ant-Man and The Wasp we caught a trailer for an upcoming film called The Hate U Give, I was intrigued but my wife more so. When she found out that it was based on a book, she got a copy from our local library and consumed all 444 pages in two days (not easily done when keeping up her busy schedule). Needless to say, her wordless recommendation sparked my interest and I read it as well, completing the novel over the next four days.

The Hate U Give is from debut author, Angie Thomas and it tells the story of a sixteen-year-old from a poor black neighborhood who witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer.

With a plot seemingly pulled straight out of the headlines, it is no surprise that The Hate U Give resonated with so many. There are hundreds of glowing reviews out there that testify to the fact but it isn’t the social commentary or even the author’s voice that I want to highlight (though those things are major reasons the book is such a success). The aspect of Angie Thomas’s writing that I wish to highlight and someday emulate is her ability to create tension and conflict through well-rounded characters.   

As I read The Hate U Give, the characters became flesh and bone in my mind, not because of physical descriptions but for their personalities, interests, desires, fears, past experiences and prejudices. In the biz they call that characterization. And it is through that characterization that most interesting conflicts in the book emerge.

 For the sake of spoilers and your time, I will try to avoid too many specifics, but I think I can illustrate my point with a quick breakdown of one essential character, the protagonist’s father, Maverick Cater.

“Big Mav” as he’s known in the neighborhood is heroic yet flawed. A reformed gang-member/ex-con who owns a small convenience store, Mav is a stern protector and provider for his family who holds high expectations for his children. For all his virtuous qualities, though, Mav struggles to overcome his own prejudices against those he feels abandoned the neighborhood for the suburbs and those in mixed relationships. His desire to stay and help his community and not be a “phony” at the expense of his own family’s safety is a major source of conflict between he and his wife in the book. His belief that romantic relationships should only be between people of the same color is a source of conflict between him and his daughter, who has a white boyfriend. These examples may seem basic on the surface but the tension they create make every interaction with Mav meaningful.

The book is peppered with characters just like Mav and it's that contrast of noble qualities and real flaws that breathe life into every character and add layers of conflict which make The Hate U Give so much more than just a book about a controversial police shooting. 

Whether you're published or unpublished, remember that tension starts with interesting characters. Characters that sometimes have angels and devils on each shoulder.