Something I’m still learning myself is how to create villains. I have plenty of stories where there’s a conflict, and a protagonist, but I’m still working on antagonists. Sometimes, I’ve gotten away with not even having one.
Some of the easiest work on antagonists is giving them simple motives and desires. Do they want for evil or are they selfish and bubbling up with inner turmoil that’s been there for years? What drives the goodness out of their heart and turns them into monsters, and are they really monsters, or is it some psychological battle?
It can also be easy to fall into a trap of making them too simple. Thinking of them like a protagonist is a good way to put it, where they are just as dynamic and prone to change in the story. That seems like a very mundane or basic way to put it, but hear me out: when creating that bad guy, the one who seeks out ill will, think about them in dimensions, just as you would your MC (if your MC is a do-gooder).
I had wanted to create a villainous character recently, and I have to admit that one of my first inspirations to draw from was Loki. When you look at him, he is a very conflicted character. He’s filled with anguish and hatred and while his ultimate motivation seems to be destruction of whole worlds, he also wants so sorely to be accepted.
So I suppose in one sense there’s a desire to appeal to that “human” side that I enjoy with all characters.
Then there are the characters whose motives are hidden. When at first the protagonist meets them, they don’t realize they’re such a threat, and neither does the reader. They push the main character to doing something that will further their own plot and agenda, buddying up to them close, only to stab them in the back once they have what they want. The true sneaks. ( Example: Petyr Baelish from Game of Thrones )
On the other hand, you have characters who do the reverse. They’re rough and hostile at first meeting, and as the story goes on, they warm up to the other characters and their motives become more honorable. ( Example: Zuko from The Last Airbender )
Writing them out and making sure that point gets across well can be tricky, though. At least, it is for me. Lying and scheming and plotting, laughing in the face of those who are more unfortunate comes easier to them than it does for the main characters who are significantly more focused on helping in the grand scheme of things. They have to say one thing with a smile but mean another.
Seeing them as the exact opposite to a protagonist helps me see them better, I think, to see all of the possibilities and that they aren’t nearly as limited as I thought they were. Antagonists can be just about anyone, they can want anything, but the reason they are antagonists is because their motives are in direct conflict with the protagonist’s.
Looking at it in that light makes it easier, but then, for me, it’s still hard to keep them evil or bullyish or mean. I am, admittedly, a big softy, so to have a character being purposely mean is a little difficult, but that should be another reason why I make more, try harder.
I will say that I know someone who was much better at making antagonists, that it was just passive for her to do with new characters, which is awesome, actually. I can’t say I know too many other people like that, but for her it was just there, like it is for me and protagonists. Which, sometimes I envy, but to each their own, right?
A well-rounded character roster is always good, though. What are you missing from yours?