There is an art to creating lifelike characters from a blank page. Making something fictional feel so reel to its readers can be difficult and many miss the mark. A compelling plot can only take a story so far if the characters don’t captivate the readers.
Although it is common knowledge that a good protagonist is essential to a good story but what about the antagonist? The villain, so to say, is the necessary evil that causes harm and chaos within the lives of other characters whether that be physically or emotionally. In order to have an exceptional story, writing a good antagonist is just as important as writing a good protagonist.
Here are the five core features of a great villain:
Perpelling Backstory (The why behind their actions)
This goes without saying. A good supervillain should have an enticing and perplexing backstory that explains their current goals/behaviors. Of course, not all villains need to have backstories in order to be evil but most require one. If this rule isn’t met, some villains end up feeling lackluster and dull because their actions seem meaningless, and their pursuit of evil seems random.
A good backstory also creates a more dimensional character. There is something to be said about a villain who “wasn’t always like that”. Showing the readers, your audience, that this person was once a child like everyone else or was good before they turned bad makes them seem more human. It makes us empathize with them and brings to light the frightening realization that it’s not always the insanely evil psychopaths that cause harm. Good people can commit horrific acts too.
Nuances of Grey
No one is 100% good or bad all of the time. Being a nuanced character adds so much dimension to supervillains. Having both good and bad parts shows our complexity as humans. Most people are capable of both good and bad and this is no different for villains.
Your antagonists should have some good traits within them. Let them be nice to certain people, have them show mercy sometimes. This makes them seem more human and makes for a more interesting character.
They’re Not Easily Defeatable
This point is also a bit obvious. If your villain is super easy to defeat or their downfall is underwhelming then it takes away from the story being told. Let them have a particular talent that makes them stand out or an entourage that makes them seem unreachable.
Have your antagonist be challenging to defeat.
Another quality of a good antagonist is intelligence. They’re not easily duped or conned which makes things harder for the hero but more exciting for the readers.
Let them be smart and creative in the ways they create mayhem.
The reasons behind their actions make sense (and are actually honorable)
Another aspect I find important to have a compelling supervillain is the reasons why they do the things they do. In a way, the villain is the flipped version of the protagonist. Both with backstories, both have their own agendas and their own view of what is right and wrong but they have different life paths.