By Tracy Astle
One of my beta readers for my YA novel commented that my story had no antagonist. She's the only one who ever made that observation. I had to admit she was right, but the main conflict comes from a situation, not a person, so I wasn't too concerned about having an actual character to antagonize my MC. My reader then pointed out a character I already had in place and suggested that giving her a larger role would instantly create an antagonist. What she said next stuck with me.
"People like to have someone to hate."
It took me less than a minute to decide she was absolutely right. Just think about all the fabulous bad guys in some of your most favorite books. A well written villian can create in us deeper feelings of sympathy for our hero when they are tormented by this person and give us something to cheer about when the awful creature gets what's coming to them. (BTW, I beefed up the part of the character she mentioned and it improved my story.)
With all the evil people running around in literature it's hard to pick a favorite, but in my opinion Delores Umbridge of the Harry Potter series is the frontrunner. In addition to all the terrible things she did, what puts her at the top of my list is that she did all of them with such a sense of righteous superiority. She really believed that everything she did was for a higher good. Absolutely terrifying what people will do when armed and fueled by supposed good cause.
What do you think? What character(s) do you love to hate and why?