Great stories are built around great obstacles. If things are going smoothly for your characters then nobody will be sucked in. The antagonist is the source of conflict. Conflict creates drama. While we've covered internal and external conflict writing in this helpful primer, we haven't talked about how you manifest conflict specifically in your story. 

Learning to write GREAT antagonists is how you can make your story a page-turner.

We all know antagonists as the villains in movies, but can you clearly define what makes a truly great one? And what are some ways to develop a great villain

Let's dive in. 

The key aspects to writing a great villain character.'Game of Thrones'Credit: Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Who Is the Antagonist?

If you’re asking this question, then I’m assuming you’re writing your pilot or screenplay. When I’m working out characters and their roles within the story, I like to think about who would populate the world. 

So, if you’re trying to fill in who’s the antagonist, first decide some things about the world, then you'll know who naturally fits within it.

Does the antagonist have to be a person? No.

Look at projects like The Perfect Storm, The Last Man On Earth, and Castaway.

When you’re doing a screenplay that’s Man vs Vature when it comes to forms of internal and external conflict, your antagonist is nature. In a movie like The Revenant, your antagonist can be both man and nature.

Still, most projects we write have human antagonists or human-ish characters, like aliens, anthropomorphic monsters, and/or toys that come alive.

To build those characters, they need to have attributes that make them feel real. 

The key aspects to writing a great villain character.'The Thing'Credit: Universal Pictures

What Are Some Compelling Attributes of a Villain Character? 

A compelling villain often has several attributes that make them intriguing and memorable to audiences. Some of these include:

  1. Complex Motivations: A villain with complex motivations is often more interesting than a one-dimensional villain who is pure evil for evil's sake. A villain who is driven by a personal tragedy, a strong sense of justice gone awry, or a desire to protect someone they love can be more relatable and therefore more compelling.

  2. Charisma: A villain who can captivate and persuade others is often more frightening and interesting than one who is simply aggressive and brute.

  3. Intelligence: An intelligent villain is often more dangerous than a brute because they can outwit their opponents and come up with creative ways to achieve their goals.

  4. Ambiguity: A villain who is not entirely evil, but rather has a mix of good and bad qualities, can be more intriguing and complex.

  5. Aesthetics: A well-designed villain, with a distinctive look, mannerisms, and dialogue, can also contribute to making them more compelling.

  6. Unique abilities or powers: A villain with special abilities or powers that set them apart from others can make them more memorable and intimidating.

Remember, a compelling villain is often an essential element in a good story, as they provide the protagonist with a worthy adversary to overcome.

Who are some of your favorite villains? And how do they embody these things? 

Let us know in the comments.