These mean, mean girls… You gotta love them!

Never, ever, under any circumstances, underestimate your antagonist. Your story will be as compelling as she is. Think, what would X-men be without Mystique? Or Batman without Catwoman? Or the whole Disney franchise without any of its villains? Ah, those mean girls… You gotta love them, right?

It’s hard to make a story where the readers have been rooting for the antagonist. My favorite book is focused on an antagonist. The diva, Toni Morrison (who left us a year ago), published Sula in 1973. It’s her second book and, in my humble opinion, my favorite – and yes, I’ve read all her novels.

* Okay, the italic part contains spoilers! *

Sula is a hard girl to understand. She just does what she wants, and she doesn’t repress herself. Of course, this leads Sula to do the one thing you shouldn’t do with your best friend’s husband – that’s right. It had to be that, right?

But still committing the worst offense that one woman can do to another, I still rooted for Sula – because her freedom is not understandable and very difficult to reproduce. Living free of social ties – especially for women – is almost a dream. It takes courage. And Sula is full of courage.

The case that makes me cheer for Sula does not mean I don’t understand her betrayed friend (poor girl). But because Sula has a reason – and a very clear one – for her action. In the book, she says, “We shared everything. Why are things different now?” We may think Sula is even a little innocent, but she still got a point. When her friend asks, “why did you take him away from me?” she says, “I didn’t kill him, I just fucked him.”

*End of Sula’s spoiler. *

The best villains have a line of thought that makes sense. Mystique wants to be accepted in society as she is, and she believes that in order to do so, humans need to bow down and accept their inferiority to mutants. Maleficent wants to take revenge on the king for the disappointment and the loss of her wings. And Serena Joy, in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, builds the system of which she herself later becomes a victim. Ironic and perfect.

Start giving the true importance to your villain even before you start writing the story. Use the same effort given to your protagonist to develop your antagonist. Develop the same amount of background story so that you know your antagonist deeply. Develop strong and clear objectives for your villain. Something that he believes is in the only possible way and that her goal is noble. And make sure her reasoning makes sense to the reader.

Remember: she is the hero of her own story. She deeply desires something she has thought about and decided to go after – something that is preferably the opposite of what your protagonist wants. She may also want precisely the same thing as your heroine, which may be the best conflict your story can have. Characters who are mirrors to each other are a great way to build the friction between your protagonist and antagonist.

Make sure this clash is intense.