Every story has a bad guy.
There wouldn’t be much conflict for your protagonist to overcome if there was no antagonist to stir the pot.
Yours might be the evil villain who opposes everything your hero (or heroine) does. He might be the treacherous double-agent from the past, or the psychotic evil scientist, or maybe just the “other woman” fighting for your hero’s attention.
Who ever your villain is, making sure he is believable is far more difficult than simply creating a character who does bad things to hold up your protagonist’s progress.
Your job here is to make your villains credible, logical, and believable, but not likeable. You want the reader to understand what they’re doing that is such a negative thing for your hero.
But it’s more involved than just explaining their adverse actions. Your readers need to understand why the antagonist is doing what he does, and why he believes his actions are justified and rational.
Basically, you need your villains to be real, three-dimensional people.
Unfortunately most “bad guys” are shown as being shallow, narrow-minded creatures whose only ambition is to be as evil as possible. This approach to an antagonist loses the respect of your reader for two reasons:
1 - You lose any emotional impact your story had if your readers can not completely believe the threat to your hero is real, or threatening enough.
It also lowers the reader’s esteem for the hero who they know can only beat this unthreatening villain.
2 - A completely evil character equates to a totally weak character to a reader. If your villain’s only motivation is evil, this does not give him enough depth of character to become real in your reader’s mind. Giving your bad guy only one driving motivator is not enough - especially if you choose a lightweight surface motivator like “evil” or “greed”.
Think about when you created your protagonist. Most likely you created someone you admired, a character with strength and integrity. I’m guessing you took the time to get right inside your hero’s head and understand what made him tick.
Your villain is no different.
In order to be considered a worthy opponent, you must portray your antagonist honestly. You must be able to get inside his head, too, and learn what drives him to act the way he does.
Remember here that no one sees themselves as mean or evil or bitchy or insane or stupid. Your villain won’t either. To him, his actions and his logic are perfectly justifiable.
Show your readers this side of your villain’s logic and you intensify your story’s suspense factor. Show that your antagonist is quite capable of winning the battle and make sure that it seems as though the outcome of your plot is uncertain.
That uncertainty doubles your suspense again, and gives you the perfect opportunity to showcase your hero’s qualities as well, thus creating a stronger protagonist just by displaying the comparisons.
Put more simply, your villain has to be good about being a bad guy, but it forces your hero to be even better.
Your readers will be turning page after page to find out if your hero is actually good enough to overcome the monster you forced them to care about, in a twisted kind of way.
Remember Silence of the Lambs?
If you can actively portray your villain in his own Point Of View as being an intelligent, logical, complex creature with the capacity to be understanding and reasonable, who does what he does because his reasons are sound to him, then you are on your way to creating a pretty believable villain.
But when you can also show your villain’s complex, devious, misguided nature from your hero’s Point Of View, you know you’ve created a truly memorable bad guy, and you will have strengthened your protagonist’s character and your plotline at the same time.
(image courtesy of Disney Wikia)