Creating great protagonists, and antagonists isn’t as simple as black and white. The lines need to be blurred, there has to be strong reasons why.
Your Antagonist Should Be The Hero Of Their Own Story
Antagonists rarely see themselves as villains. If they do, they look at it as “a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it”. They feel they need to do the things no one else is willing to do.
A great antagonist sees themselves as a savior. Sometimes even a god. Lex Luthor looks at Superman as a potential threat. He sees him as a weapon. He knows that at any given moment Superman could wipe out the entire human race. He’s evil and devious, but he sees himself as a hero in his own mind.
Thanos is the same way. By wiping out half the earth’s population, he feels he is saving it. His methods are cruel, and frightening, but he sees them as necessary.
These antagonists suffer from delusions of grandeur, and it makes them great antagonists. An almost impossible foe to defeat.
Your Antagonist Should Be Intelligent, Sometimes More Intelligent Than Your Hero
If your antagonist plans on stopping your hero, they should have a good plan. They should even come close, or actually stop, them.
A great antagonist needs to be a real threat. They need to create fear, and uncertainty in your protagonist’s journey. They shouldn’t be a corny, diabolical villain whose plans are foiled effortlessly.
A great antagonist is intelligent, and just as dedicated to their cause as the protagonist. They need to both be relentless in their approach. Two characters who feel like without their goal, they have nothing. That is the true creation of a great antagonist.
If Even For A Brief Moment, You Should Relate To Your Antagonist.
You’re writing your antagonist. They should be a part of you. That isn’t to say that you’re a villain. It’s just to implement the idea that it blurs lines. There’s hardly any black and white, but there are many shades of grey.
Your antagonist should still live by a code of ethics. They should still be human. They should represent the darkest side of yourself. The side that could have come to the forefront, if things would have been different.
In order to write a great antagonist, you need to be uncomfortable. They need to represent a dark side of humanity, while still being at least semi-reasonable. It sounds difficult, because it is.
Stay away from cliches. Stay away from a classic good vs evil. Write about flawed characters who react to their trials and tribulations differently. A great protagonist and antagonist should mirror each other. They should be closer than people may think.
Making your antagonist a human is essential. Both your protagonist and antagonist should make people think. Making others think is what creates a great novel.