As a kid I enjoyed watching cartoons. One in particular that held my childish attention was “Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties”. In each episode Dudley, a not very bright member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, bumbled and stumbled into defeating his arch nemesis, Snidley Whiplash. On his initial appearance, old Snidley, with black suit replete with cape, black top hat, shifty eyes and curlicue mustache leaves no doubt that he is the bad guy.
This is fine for cartoons, but in your novel your villain should be a well-rounded character, one that your reader will recognize as a fully developed, three-dimensional human being. In other words, you should spend nearly as much time developing your antagonist and you do on your protagonist. If you’re not sure how to do this, see my previous blog: “See Your Protagonist Through 3-D Glasses”.
Not too long ago, I was talking with my pastor and the discussion drifted into people’s motivations and why some people did bad things. Drawing on my fiction writing experience I offhandedly said, “Everyone is the hero of his own story.” Some time later I think he used that quote in one of his sermons.
The point of that little anecdote is even your villain should see himself as the hero of his story. His motivations, although seen from the point of view of the protagonist and the audience as evil, must make sense to him and, to a certain extent, appear in his eyes as pure and constructive. This requires you to get inside your villain’s head and figure out why he acts the way he does.
Of course, this requires a certain amount of work on your part as writer to make your villain a 3-D character, one with a background that has molded him into the person you present in your novel.
Interestingly enough, as I write this blog a documentary on Hitler is playing on the TV. His background as an abused child, a failed artist, and a heroic soldier, who fought in a lost cause and came to blame antagonistic internal political forces for Germany’s defeat, paints a more complete portrait of the evil dictator. Learning of all of this I can almost see why Hitler came to become who he was.
Your job is to make your antagonist a complete person; one we can almost empathize with, one that is dynamic and believable. Do this and your novels will be much more interesting.