Question of the Week: What Makes a Great Villain?

Nurse Ratched as portrayed by Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Nurse Ratched as portrayed by Louise Fletcher
in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Darth Vader, Nurse Ratched, Hannibal Lecter, the Joker, Anton Chigurh, Freddy Krueger, Keyser Soze, Roy Batty… A great villain can steal the show from the hero, or at least magnify the hero’s virtues.

I’ve often struggled with villains, often erring in one of two directions: Making them too big and bombastic, or else humanizing them to the point where they draw sympathy away from the hero. It’s tough to find that sweet spot where the villain is a three-dimensional character with understandable motives whose defeat is still deeply satisfying. Still, I think it’s a worthy goal, and I’ll shoot for it again.

What makes a great villain? Who are some of your favorite villains from literature? What’s the difference between a villain and an antagonist? How about a villain and an antihero?

Don’t forget to post your favorite or first fantasy novel for a chance to win a book—or a pile of books.

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