Creating A Villain They Will Love To Hate

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When you are writing fiction sooner or later you will start thinking about the antagonist. The antagonist can be a full blown villain or a nice person with good intentions who just happens to come between the protagonist and what he wants. The antagonist may not even be human. It could be a machine or a force of nature or a political entity or the hero's own dark side. Whatever form the antagonist takes there are some things to remember about making him, her or it effective.

It's tempting to make villains two dimensional and stereotypical. One beginning writer created a character who actually said to the young woman he lusted after, "If I can't have you, nobody shall." This dreadful man was not only a traitor to the king and a lech but he spoke in shameless cliches.

A villain has reasons for what he does. When the writer of the just-mentioned bad guy began asking himself why his character behaved the way he did he discovered some legitimate reasons. The king was over taxing the people and forcing them to support an unjust war. Once the author looked at the situation from the traitor's point of view he was able to make him into a much more sympathetic and interesting character.

A villain might do the wrong things for the right reasons. If you look at a situation from the villain's point of view he probably has what he considers good reasons for everything he does. For example, in many cultures the desire for revenge is perfectly legitimate and whatever steps are taken toward that end are considered justified.

A villain has a history. One of Shakespeare's great villains, Shylock the moneylender, was a Jew in a society that gave free rein to prejudices. He had undoubtedly suffered greatly at the hands of gentiles and probably had reason to be bitter. Of course that unhappy past didn't get him off the hook in court or with Elizabethan audiences but it made him more convincing and less cartoony.

A villain must be attractive or sympathetic enough that people will be interested in him. Yes he can be ruthless, even sadistic but maybe he amuses his friends and captives with an amazing variety of Harry Potter facts that he seems to pull out of the air at just the right moment. A bad guy who torments, harasses and annoys an even less likable character can become very appealing even while he commits dastardly deeds.

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