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How to Make a Fascinating Villain or Antagonist for a Fiction Story
In fairy tales, legends, myths, books, movies, comic books, and video games villains play a very important role. The most popular stories often have the most notorious villains. Since villains play such an important role, what exactly makes a villain or antagonist memorable or exceptional?
The villain or antagonist in most good stories has certain characteristics distinguishing him or her from other villains. Many stories have arrogant, egotistic villains seeking more power or control. Scar, from the Disney movie The Lion King (1994), wanted to be the sole ruler and he sought to kill Simba and Mufasa to obtain the kingship. But, his lust for power, deception, and evil schemes became his undoing. Scar, in assuming his nephew, Simba, was dead, had made an oversight that would cost him his newly obtained kingdom.
Power-hungry foes tend to be highly intelligent, but almost always end up making a mistake that costs them either their life or their potential victory. One prime example of such a character is Professor Moriarty from “The Final Problem”, a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis, Moriarty was a clever crime boss who manipulated his hired thugs to do his dirty work. Sherlock Holmes, though he was highly intelligent, could not outsmart Moriarty.
Intelligence and extreme egotism are not the only characteristics of notorious villains. Eccentric, psychopathic antagonists have appeared in many popular movies and books. One of the more infamous, psychopathic characters to hit the big screen was Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight (2008). Ledger’s Joker has become an internet sensation following the theatrical release of the movie. His untimely death shortly after the filming of The Dark Knight had ended has contributed to the mystery and popularity of his character, but his acting was considered to be one of the most realistic portrayals of a psychopath in film history.
Besides being psychopathic, memorable antagonists also, in many cases, personally know the protagonist (or main character). Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father. Scar was Simba’s uncle. Harry Obsourne from Spider-Man 3 (2007) was Peter Parker’s best friend who turned against him, seeking to kill him. As with the case of Harry Obsourne, these villains often have personal vendettas against the main character. In Tron: Legacy (2010), CLU wanted to destroy his maker, Kevin Flynn–a computer programmer. Harvey Dent from The Dark Knight (2008) wanted to kill Batman (Bruce Wayne) who had been a friend. Creating an antagonist who personally knows the protagonist makes the story more interesting and gives the conflict a distinct, personal element.
For a story to be interesting from the cover to cover, the main antagonist must be someone who presents a real threat to the existence or well being of the protagonist. If the protagonist is undefeatable, the story loses its appeal. In most stories, realistic villains should be capable of defeating the main character in some way and even come close to accomplishing that. In Sherlock Holmes (2009), Sherlock Holmes was within moments of being defeated by a powerful and evil nobleman, Lord Blackwood, who was close to killing off all who opposed his plan for a new government. Memorable and exceptional villains usually cause physical harm to the main character or the main character’s friends and loved ones. A villain who only gives threats or who only plans and schemes but does not execute his plans cannot be taken seriously and a story with such a character likely would have little or no plot.
Plot is everything. Without plot, a story would not exist. A good plot depends on the characters, and particularly on the antagonist. An interesting antagonist has certain characteristics that distinguish him or her from other characters. Some of these are hubris, psychopathy, and great intelligence. Antagonists also often know the main characters, have personal vendettas, and cause real harm to the protagonists or the protagonists’ love ones. Villains that fit these descriptions make stories good in that they provide a way for main characters to overcome challenges, conflicts, and oppositions in order to come out clearly victorious. The greater the challenge, the greater the victory.
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