I will admit that I am one of those people that believes it is easier to make a villain interesting than it is to make a hero interesting. I think that is, perhaps falling out of fashion, but it doesn’t stop me from believing it. Of the Star Wars trilogy (I’m also one of those people that believe there were only three Star Wars movies) the most interesting characters are Darth Vader, Han Solo, and for some reason Boba Fett. Darth is obviously a bad guy, even with a teensy bit of redemption at the end he is a bad guy. Han is at his best when he is at his worst: Shooting First, “I know”, etc. And Boba, well honestly I never got the Boba thing. He has a neat suit and a rocket pack, but the guy does all of nothing in the plot. Being Sarlac food isn’t a redeeming trait in my eyes, but whatever.
Part of the reason I think it is easier to make interesting villains is because it is easy to believe people want to be good, even if it really isn’t all that easy. We are taught from an early age that being a ‘good guy’ is how we are supposed to behave, so anyone that doesn’t fall into those standardized categories is automatically interesting without even having put forth that much effort. This isn’t to say there aren’t loads of boring and poorly written villains out there. There are. I’ve written some of them: when I was a teen I wrote a story about a young power armor pilot named Beo Wulf and his uncle Theb Cam comes in and kills his dad, the emperor, just because he wants to take over. There was no real motivation other than his name was MacBeth backwards and MacBeths kill people, right?
Motivation is, after all, the key to success. Villains fall flat without proper motivations. Simply wanting to destroy the world is not enough. Even just wanting to rule the world is a bit shallow. What twisted and turned in their lives that put them on such different avenues? Does a sex scandal really hurt your world domination schemes? Is laughing maniacally really just painting yourself as a lunatic?
The best writing touches on a truth of existence, even if it is in a campy or overblown way. Vengeance, greed, and lust motivate just about everyone at some point. People are spiteful and bear grudges, even if they never act on them they feel them in some way. The best villains reflect these traits back on us in some way.
In other words, don’t be bad (just) for badness sake.