| I learned a lot about villains from watching Latino soaps on TV, called telenovelas. Telenovela writers love the bad guys and gals, and they call them malvados and malvadas. The viewers, too, love the soaps with really atrocious antiheroes, and the writers keep making them more and more appalling as the soap progresses. Sometimes, these baddies get so bad that they go crazy at the end.
To be correct, these characters are only villains. Villains and villainesses may be very different from the true antagonists, because true villains end up becoming cartoon characters with only their bad sides getting exposed.
The classic antagonist also used to be a disconcerting character because of something in his past that made him self-destructive and gave him all the negative traits such as envy, greed, pride, narcissism, and jealousy.
In true literature, however, having the undesirable characteristics does not necessarily build a true antagonist. The strength of the antagonist's character solely depends upon his values and goals that directly contradict those of the protagonist in the story. This is because the purpose and activity of the antagonist in the story varies according to the purpose and activity of the protagonist.
A successful antagonist can be likable and identifiable by the reader. His traits may be alluring even if they are wicked, frightening, or shameful. He might be original and funny. His motivation may be due to deep personal reasons or arrested development. He may have the same love interest as the main character or his love interest may combat protagonist's love interest.
Above all, the antagonist's allies in the story, his goal or mission, and his inner conflict or state of mind are the opposing forces against those of the protagonist.
While drawing the character of the antagonist, a good fiction writer must remember that the quality of his story will be directly proportional to the quality of his antagonist. Even if the main character is drawn perfectly, he needs to be balanced with an equally powerful antagonist.
Does that mean that the antagonist has to be in human form? Definitely not. An antagonist can be a concept or a common belief. For example, obsession or prejudice can be antagonists as long as they are given enough dramatic power by the writer.
Through another fiction practice, a concept or belief also can be given a human form.
The antagonist, who sometimes is more than one person, appears or his presence is alluded to in the story as much as possible. He causes the most conflict for the main character throughout the story. The antagonist not only opposes the main character but also attempts to frustrate, confuse, thwart, or destroy the main character's external objectives and undertakings.
A winning practice in creating antagonists is to attempt to understand the human nature and see the underlying causes in everyone's actions. To achieve this objective, a writer may look at each person with compassion and see him as a unique and valuable human being. Then, as an exercise, the writer--in his mind--might take that person apart and exaggerate his flaws.
Attempting to perceive human behavior as closely as possibly, a writer can take every opportunity to meet different kinds of people from different walks of life. He might read personal and advice columns, psychology journals, magazines and newspapers, and he might listen to the radios and watch live TV shows. On top of it all, the writer might use his own personal experiences with other people, being wary of staying away from stereotypes.
In short, a skilled writer will never forget this principle: Any temperament, character, or quality will work for an antagonist as long as his opposition to the protagonist is directly proportional to the purpose and the mission of the protagonist.