Some of the toughest characters to write are the antagonists, or bad guys, or in some cases, straight up villains. I’ve always had a little too much fun writing the bad guys, maybe in some way they allow my nice girl self to live vicariously as a mean girl.
If you are having trouble writing good bad guys – and by “good” I mean three-dimensional, realistically-motivated, love-to-hate antagonists – watch Glee.
I think this is one of the best shows on TV right now. The writers aren’t afraid to tackle tough subjects (loved the episode last season of the kids getting drunk and dealing with the hangover the next day) and they aren’t afraid to have multidimensional bad guys.
Sue Sylvester is probably one of the best examples of a great antagonist. She’s constantly working against the glee club coach, but we also get glimpses of humanity – loneliness, the desire to be loved, dealing with serving as a caretaker and then the passing of a mentally disabled sister. You hate her when she’s working against the Glee kids, but you couldn’t help shedding tears when you see her softer side. In her humanity, we get the motivation behind her actions.
Another example is a minor character from season 1, a closeted football player who terrorized openly gay Kurt. Once we realized that this other kid was grappling with his own sexuality it made it a whole lot harder to hate him.
There are endless examples of good bad guys on Glee. And really, we shouldn’t use the term “bad” or even villain unless someone is an outright villain (Joke, Buffalo Bill, Cruella deVille). These are antagonists, their job is to work against the protagonist, but to make them believable, we need them to be human as well. It’s a matter of perspective. A protagonist in one story might be the antagonist in another.
After all, we’re all the heroes of our own life’s story, and shouldn’t our antagonists see themselves that way?