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It’s not always easy to write a well rounded, invigorating character that captures and keeps the attention while connecting with the reader – and it is even harder when that character is the antagonist. On several occasions I found that my antagonists lack motivation or personality, they are just there to make the protagonists look good and to move the story along. This is why I love editing, once I start rereading my work, I see through the mistakes and I correct them accordingly. When it came to the bad guys, I had to sit down and meditate on them a little longer. How do you make a good bad guy? There are many examples to study from, all you have to do is think of a book or show where an antagonist really got under your skin. Lets have a look at one character that many people will know: Cersei Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin.
Cersei Lannister started off as a usual bad guy who seemed to have a grudge against everyone. Her vanity, arrogance, hatred and unusual taste in men (oh God the things I’ve seen in the show), are more than enough to label her unworthy in the world of Game of Thrones. I have not caught up with the books so my references will relate to the show without any spoilers. Cersei’s personality and history develop as the story unfolds. We see why she behaves the way she does and why she’s so angry. Cersei’s relatable, human side is developed in the last few seasons, opening new pathways that allow for complex relationships and story-lines that have people sitting at the edge of their seat, wracking their brains trying to figure out the plot for the next episode. When Cersei meets adversity, we can’t help but feel sorry for her.
I was pretty shocked when I read stories of how Lena Headey, the talented actress who plays Cersei, was shunned or had abuse hurled her way because of how awful her character is: Nobody Wants Cersei Lannister’s Autograph. As horrible as it is, this abuse is proof that Cersei is a phenomenal bad guy whom I am slightly envious of – thank you Martin for writing such a great character that we love to hate and we writers can study. To gauge such a reaction from fans, to induce hyper-reality as the media is calling it, that they would fear Headey as if she were Cersei herself, is a phenomenon all on itself. Lena Headey is a great actress because if she wasn’t, Cersei’s personality would have been lost on screen.
Other notable bad guys were Wilhelmina Slater, played by Vanessa Williams in Ugly Betty. Wilhelmina was a no-nonsense Diva who worked at a fashion magazine and was the central antagonist to Betty, the much loved, not so fashionable, hero of the picture. Wilhelmina was not only evil but she was highly entertaining and funny. While watching the show with my family, we often commented on how much we loved Betty but how much we wanted to watch Wilhelmina as well. Wilhelmina’s background was explored as the series went on – we learned about her past, her ambitions and the secrets of her heart. Unlike Cersei, I never felt sorry for Wilhelmina no matter how rude or evil she acted because she was just too funny.
A few quick mentions:-
DC Comics: The Joker…need I say more? Actually I do. The Joker has multiple origins and it is a complete mystery as to who he was in life. The intrigue is what gives him depth because we already know that he creates chaos for the sake of chaos and would prefer not to know the identify of Batman least it spoil his fun.
Marvel Comics: Magneto. For Magneto, the overall emotion towards him is pity. Magneto had friends and power but the abuse he suffered as a child led him down a hateful path. He is the bad guy but it’s hard to hate him.
All-in-all, villains can be just as much fun to write about as heroes if they are given attention and dedication. But if you are stuck, try reading some psychology books or other literary works.