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Creating wickedly captivating characters you love to hate

Emma_Clare at 12:00AM, March 2, 2024

Hey there Quackateers! Have you ever been compelled to continue a comic because of a character you just can't help but despise? These characters have the delightful role of drawing the audience’s ire. They’re often times a thorn in the side of the protagonist, acting as a foil to them. Maybe they’re a reflection of what the protagonist could/will become or perhaps it’s just a case of them being an absolute twat.

When crafting these characters there are certain characteristics that are a sure fire way to make your readers’ skin crawl. An insatiable ego, overconfidence, a penchant for manipulation, mixed with underserved recognition despite their lackluster abilities are bound to grate on their nerves. These characteristics that are a quick way to get your readers’ invested in hating them, but to keep them there for longer, you’ll need to go deeper.

Creating a truly heinous character means peeling back the onion layers. Exploring how an unlikable antagonist got to where they are can be the perfect opportunity to hammer home just how much there is to hate. It is a fine balance between making a hateful character you can empathise with. However, it's in the complexity of their character that you'll find the sweet spot between loathing and empathy, making your readers question their own moral compass. If you can thread that needle then you can really get people going.

Villains are also often given the gift of the silver, glib tongue. It’s one thing to make their lines inescapable zingers, but if you can also show that though their decisions/arguments may be highly questionable that they also make sense, you’re bound to get the audience hating them more. And what better way to generate fun, online discussion than with a villain who is charming and consistent in their logic?

To add that little bit of spice to the antagonist, perhaps your villain has a hidden soft spot or a vulnerability that even they didn't see coming. Unpredictability adds layers to your antagonist, making them a puzzle your readers can't resist solving. For instance, having a villain who is hands down a violent psycho with no ability to emotionally connect with anyone or thing but has an attachment to a random dog they found can leave the audience wondering if there's hope for them. Even if you, the creator, know that they possess no other redeeming qualities.

Creating characters you love to hate is a delicate dance of wickedness and charm. It's not just about crafting a bad guy; it's about sculpting a character that becomes an integral part of your readers' love-hate relationship with your webcomic. So, fellow creators, let the villainous symphony begin!

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Ozoneocean at 6:03PM, March 4, 2024

Ha! It's interesting though when bad writers give those characteristics to actual heroic protagonists though. Capitan Marvel in the first film springs to mind. A great version was Loki in the Disney series- he started out this way because he had been a villain and then had all this hammered out of him.

Andreas_Helixfinger at 11:51PM, March 2, 2024

One of my favourites in this category has to be Revolver Ocelot from the Metal Gear Solid franchise. A sadist, a bloodthirsty killer and a master manipulator and repeated double-crosser. Yet throughout the series you got the increased feeling that he is more in the know then any other character. Maybe what he knows, that the the rest of the castmay not even be able to comprehend, is what pushed him to become the villain he is. A cool and fascinating villain I always loved to see coming back.

Kou the Mad at 9:26PM, March 2, 2024

Another great one is Luca Blight from Suikoden 2, he just REVELS in how much of a psychopath he is.

straycomet at 5:12AM, March 2, 2024

Good post! I love well-written villains. All the protagonists in my recent comic have qualities or make morally abhorrent / questionable choices they can be easily despised for, so I suppose what separates them from the antagonists is that that they are looking for / accepting / offering ways to make better choices and leave their harmful ways behind. Of course, them being sex-offenders and their counselor using ethically problematic ways to further their therapy, they are all deeply wounded and deeply flawed characters, sometimes with views that are counter-productive, but the antagonists often mirror what they are striving to get away from or what they could become, so it's never really black and white with these bunch.

PaulEberhardt at 4:52AM, March 2, 2024

When it comes to nerve-wracking characters, I think an important part is that nothing too bad ever happens to them - because that's what we all want. Curiously enough, this is to some extent also true for the real life examples I need to model them on. Another tricky part comes from the knowledge that the kind of behaviour that gets on my nerves doesn't necessarily have to get on someone else's nerves to the same degree, but so far I've managed even so.

usedbooks at 3:54AM, March 2, 2024

I enjoy writing truly villainous antagonists, but it is also very hard for me. The best protagonists can be a little ambiguous to allow some degree of self-insertion. Side characters can even be archetypes. But villains have to be detailed and nuanced especially if it's a longer story that leans into a realistic setting. My "good guy" characters can be inspired by fiction. But I discovered the only way I could build villains was by studying reality. I delve into history, true crime -- and the types of bloggers that create manifestos to get into the dark corners of minds. I have one villain inspired by pirates who is super fun to write, one I developed after looking into American slavery who is weirdly sympathetic at times, and one inspired by men's rights chauvinists and serial killers who is just awful. Unfortunately, like the protagonists, sometimes they take control of my story from me and are hard to rein in.

Jason Moon at 12:21AM, March 2, 2024

I've always been shocked by the villainess in the "Berserk" series named "Slan." She is a member of the "God Hand" which is a group of demons that dwell in a layer of hell. When the main character named "Guts" is transported to the hell all of his friends are killed and eaten by the God Hand demons. And Guts barely makes it out of the realm alive losing one of his eyes and a hand to the demons. On earth the demons call to him through a branding on his neck and "Slan" will appear at times and toy with Guts. She almost lusts for him but at the same time wants to hurt him being interested by his strength in the ability to escape her and her realm.

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