Stephanie Black taught a great class on the importance of creating compelling villains. This is one of the areas I struggle with so this class was great for me. This will be a summary of my notes from her class.
First, a look at some of the best villains in movie/TV history.
What is it about these men that made them such great villains? Think about it. I mean really think about why you loved these villains. Because you did, didn't you? You probably still do. There was something compelling about each of these characters that drew us in, hooked our interest.
Darth Vader appeared completely evil at first glance, and then we saw his hesitation. We learned a little about his past. We wondered with Luke if there was anything good left in him. In the end his redemption was crucial to the climax and resolution of the story.
Voldemort was truly chill worthy as a villain. And yet, he started out as an orphan who had to find his own place in his world. He honestly thought his world would be better if only pure blooded wizards were in charge. Ironic since he was a half-blood.
Moriarty. What can you say about Sherlock's arch-nemesis? He was intelligent. A perfect match to Sherlock. He kept things interesting simply because you never knew what he would do next.
Loki wins the "best villain ever" award from my children. Why? Because he was funny. He made silly mistakes but could also be brilliant and manipulative. At times you like him way more than Thor. You just can't help it.
The point is that your villain/antagonist is JUST as important as your hero/protagonist. We've been told that our heroes need to have imperfections in order to feel real and believable. Our villains can't be all bad. They need little things that are good about them.
Example--What do you think of when you think of Hitler?
Did you know that he sang in the church choir as a boy. He wanted to be a priest when he grew up and he was devastated when his brother died.
Look at your antagonists and figure out these things:
- What is their goal? (They have a goal, sometimes it's a good goal and they just go about getting it the wrong way.)
- What do they think of themselves? OR How do they see themselves?
- What is their background that made them who they are?
- Are they strong enough to give your protagonist a good fight? (They need to be evenly matched, and don't let them fizzle out at the end. The protagonist needs to defeat them, not a bolt of lightning.)
- They need to have believable flaws and weakness that lead to credible mistakes.