Crafting great villains and heroes (or antagonists and protagonists) can be difficult, but this article outlines things you need to consider when creating your characters.
Characters are the backbone of a novel. You can have the best plot in the world, but if you don’t have well-written, fleshed out characters, all you will have is just that — the best plot in the world. And the best plot in the world is nothing without captivating characters to drive it home.
The two characters which shape a story most are the protagonist and the antagonist. Crafting them well and believably is the best thing you can do for your story.
Image by Martin Kingsley via Flickr
The most important character in your story is the protagonist. They are the hero (or heroine). In other words, your story is their story.
Through the course of your novel, you have to take your protagonist from point A to point B — that’s your plot. But, what else makes a protagonist?
First, you need a well-thought out and convincing backstory. Use this to shape your hero, give them breath, and make them whole.
For the purposes of this article, we will create a protagonist named John. The first thing we need to ask ourselves is: what makes John special? Why do people want to read about John?
You’ve decided that John is a wizard’s apprentice. He’s spent his whole life being the unassuming underling to a powerful wizard. But deep in his heart of hearts, he’s always hoped for something more — adventure and romance. But life has pretty much been stagnating for John. That is, until his master dies.
Now that you have John’s backstory, you’ve thrown something new at him — his master has died. You can use that as a jumping off point to the big adventures that are to come in his story.
Just as important as your protagonist is the antagonist: the villain of the story.
All of the care you take when creating your hero must be taken when you create your villain as well. They are the antithesis of your hero – the cold to their hot, the night to their day. As believable as your hero is, make your villain just as believable. As smart as your hero is, your villain has to be just as clever – or even more so.
A good villain is a real challenge to the hero – whatever genre you’re writing for. The villain must be able to competently foil the hero throughout the story – they must be the ultimate threat to your hero. They’ve got to be worthy of scaring your shining, gleaming knight of a hero and make him (or her) tremble in their boots.
At the same time, a good villain is just as human as your hero – perhaps even more so. The reason for that is heroes tend to do the right thing at the end of the day. Real life people usually don’t – just like a villain. The villain tends to have more faults than the hero, or rather more damning faults. But whatever the villain’s faults are, your readers have to be able to sympathize with them – just like they do the hero.
As previously mentioned, both hero and villain have to gain sympathy from the audience. The sympathy factor is something that even well-established writers forget when writing their characters. But in reality, it makes or breaks a story.
So, how do we accomplish sympathy?
Humanizing, as you might have guessed, is the first step. Each of your characters must think like a human (even if they’re not), and react to events in very human ways, regardless how fantastical or outlandish events become. Character flaws go along with humanization. Give your characters flaws.
Another important step in creating sympathetic characters is to make them underdogs. At the end of the day, one side (good or bad) is victorious over the other. However, both your hero and villain have to have something about each of them that makes them seem like they will lose the epic struggle. Give them handicaps of some sort. These can be physical, psychological, emotional, or monetary – it doesn’t matter. Give each side something that makes them unlikely to be triumphant. If you keep that in mind, the written word is your oyster.