Antagonist characters are often evil. In fantasy, evil characters are born, but in science fiction and most popular fiction, evil characters develop with experience. Authors don’t have to detail the experiences, but they probably should have them in mind so they can write coherent characters.
Evil can be mild or extreme. Some of the familiar expressions of mild evil are envy, insult, jealousy, sarcasm, physical violence, and the selfishness that lets an individual place its interests above the interests of others. At their least extreme, these behaviors are merely irritating. At their most extreme, they are dangerous.
Experiments (e.g., The Stanford Prison Experiment) have demonstrated the “situational” nature of evil. They have shown that circumstances can produce evil behavior with frightening speed. Because of this, evil is commonplace. Fortunately, evil rapidly induced, just as rapidly fades. Hannah Arendt discussed how the “banality of evil” could cause ordinary people to produce something as extreme as the Holocaust.
Nancy Kress describes five types of villains in her book “Dynamic Characters.” My evil characters are Kress’s ‘examined’ characters. A term she uses to refer to characters whose experiences you must describe sufficiently to explain and justify the character’s behavior. As always, Kress makes useful suggestions, and I recommend reading her comments as you build your evil villain.
Evil behavior is often permanent. Fortunately, evil that is both extreme and permanent requires long bouts of extreme experiences and is therefore uncommon; serial murderers, arsonists, and so forth are rare. I think of extreme cases of permanent evil as true evil. Truly evil characters are pure. They have no altruistic traits. They will use you for security, fun, and food. Since they have their own special moral code, they will not feel guilt for their behavior. They will suffer a sinner’s remorse only if they let you escape or if they fail to make the best use of you.
Kress, N. 2004. Dynamic characters: How to create personalities that keep readers
captivated. Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH. 264 p.