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Believable Antagonists in Stories: What Makes a Good villain?

Home » Writing » Believable Antagonists in Stories: What Makes a Good villain?

I’ve spent a lot of time learning about stories, and one aspect that always intrigued me was the villain. A well-written antagonist creates a compelling and memorable story. But what makes a good villain? What makes them believable and memorable? 

In their own eyes, villains do not think they are evil. The audience should understand why the antagonist follows their plan. This doesn’t mean that the audience has to agree with the villain’s actions, but they should at least understand the villain’s backstory and perception well enough to see the motives are legitimate and not just plot feed.

A good villain should be complex. They should have multiple layers to their personality with their backstory, motivations, and flaws, but the reader should find the villain relatable in some way, even if their actions are despicable. This complexity makes the audience more invested in the story. For example, a villain with a unique personality would stand out from other villains with their quirks and mannerisms. The nuances make the antagonist more memorable and the audience can recognize the villain just by their personality.

In revising my stories, I’ve discovered that weak villains are boring. An interesting villain should be a challenge for the protagonist and create conflict. This conflict should feed the interaction with the protagonist/hero and maintain engagement with the audience. If the villain is too weak or easily defeated, the story can lose tension and fall flat. It is fun to develop and focus on the power-ups for the protagonist and characters, but if the villain doesn’t have their own way of growing, it doesn’t seem realistic.

Lastly, I have found that antagonists should have consequences for their actions. If there are no punishments, or potential punishments, for their evil choices, the story falls flat and becomes unbelievable. A villain who has too many consequences waiting for them may also be unbelievable because why would they pursue their goal if the risk is too high, unless the reward was insanely amazing.

I acknowledge I am nothing more than a reformed villain, and therefore it is important to me to identify with the antagonist on some level when I’m consuming content. Again, it’s not about agreeing with the villain but understanding them.

So if you find me using an evil laugh, you should know that I come by it honestly. Happy reading or writing!

MSR
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