One of my favorite characters I ever created was the villain for my fourth book. His name is Khain, and he is the prince of the Wolf Country in my story. He was such a fun perspective to write from, because he had none of the moral quandaries of a hero, but was still very clever and thoughtful. It was through this that I found that developing the villain, or antagonist, of a story can be just as interesting as creating a protagonist, which is what most people tend to focus on in character creation. So let’s talk a bit about antagonists.
Antagonists might simply be the evil villain of the story, but technically they are defined as the person who directly opposes the main character (the anti-protagonist), so they don’t have to be evil. Another common misconception or idea about antagonists is that they generally have one goal (world domination, the death of the protagonist) and very little else that makes them up as a character. This is an easy way to make a threat, but it also means that many villains are one dimensional and boring, and to the readers of your story, an overly powerful, but stale, static villain is much less likely to draw them in than a villain with a backstory and motives who also really poses a threat.
This doesn’t mean that your villain has to become sympathetic, however. If you read The Silmarillion, the history of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, then you’ll find out Sauron’s backstory; he was an immensely powerful being, meant to aid in the ruling over Middle Earth and developing it, but instead he turned to evil and destruction and become second-in-command to the ultimate villain of Middle Earth, Morgoth. Does knowing Sauron’s backstory give you any sympathy for him? No, but it makes him a more interesting character, knowing that he was originally good, and ended up trying to rule the world with an iron fist (or Eye).
Sympathetic villains, on the other hand tend to be easier to redeem, and can also be anti-heroes. That doesn’t mean they can’t still be effective villains, however, it just means that some of your readers might develop a fondness for them, and that, if you wish, it’s easier to turn them good in the end. The trouble with this group is that you have to make sure their story does not overshadow the protagonist’s. You need to have a thriving and interesting antagonist, but an equally vivid protagonist.
So, how do you make one of these people? The same way you make a protagonist; you name them, make a list of their traits and flaws; write up an interesting backstory that explains why they have become what they are and why they’ve made the choices they have, and then slowly reveal all of this throughout the story. Or you can simply drop them in and explain only what is necessary to know at that moment, if it’s a short story. Try to come up with a combination of traits, or a way they manifest that hasn’t been done before and make that clear in the story. If you can do that, then you’re well on your way to making an interesting antagonist.