I read an article in GQ of all places (I know, the depths of the internet I troll), that made a very interesting point on insults and fear.
When someone insults someone else, the insult is enlightening of the person giving it. For example, if Woman A calls Woman B fat, that tells us that Woman A does not find worth in herself unless she meets a certain body ideal.
Intelligence is another example.
This is only insulting if you value intelligence. Clearly, the person who wrote this meme does. But this may not hold true for everyone. I know when I was in middle and high school, being intelligent, especially as a girl, was not highly valued (sad, but true).
The idea that an insult tells you more about the person delivering it makes a lot of sense to me, and it could be a great way to explore a character’s fears. Whether protagonist or villain, any insults they throw out would show what’s important to them.
Honor. Faith. Love. Monogamy. Whatever it is that your character views as important.
For example, in my work-in-progress, Knight of Valor, when a vampire insults the heroine and calls her weak, that’s really of reflection of the vampire’s own fear of not be able to do as her master commanded.When a necromancer calls the heroine a whore, it’s a result of his fear of her choosing another over him.
As I think through this, though, I also realize that the importance of the insult varies greatly on who is delivering it.
Does the heroine care about being called weak by the vampire sent to retrieve her or a whore by the necromancer that wants her? Not at all. They simply don’t matter to her. This doesn’t generate action on her part because it doesn’t resonate with her values.
In Crowned Prince, the insult dynamic took a different turn when a very respected High Knight uses some subtle and some less-than-subtle insults on a power-hungry prince. But these tell us that honor, loyalty, and dedication are very important to the High Knight. The insults are also more meaningful because they’re coming from him, and the hero and heroine respond accordingly.
Not sure this will change my writing, but it does give me another way of looking at my characters. Another way of understanding them, developing them, and digging a bit deeper.
How about you? Any of your characters ever use insults? Do they tell you more about them? Show you what the character fears? Or does it give you insights into whoever is being insulted?