“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” quoting Sir Issac Newton. In fiction, the laws of physics need not apply; authors have the freedom to meld the story to bring the reader beyond the real world and experience the “un-experienceable.” (Not a word, but it’s fiction, right?).
I’ve heard for a long time actors like to play the bad guys. While the LOTR films were in daily conversation, someone asked me whom I’d like to play. I thought being an orc would be cool, so I could walk up and growl into the camera. Also my acting abilities doubtfully would qualify for much else.
What’s so great about the good guys in stories? Answer: Protagonists usually look good; they help people, sometimes show emotion, self-sacrifice, and not make demands. The super-righteous good guys do not kill the bad guys on purpose; instead they want to “bring them to justice.” (Zzz…) Heroes bring us back to stories so we can see how they extinguish the next evil challenge.
Note, the “evil challenge,” meaning, the antagonist is as important a character(s) as the protagonist. You can’t have a memorable good guy without a memorable bad guy. (Or girls) Often the antagonist is the more complex, less explained, and the more intriguing. Unlike the protagonist contemporaries, antagonists stand on different levels. Some are previous good guys but for reasons became evil by sometimes-tragic events. Other antagonists are traitors, pretend-to-be good guys, revealing their true bad intentions given the right opportunity. The completely evil, amoral antagonist sees a quick death as mercy, a slow death as justice, and senseless deaths (as in serial killers) as the means to justify their existence.
Editors remind me to develop antagonists enough to explain their behavior to enrich the story. This brings me back to the LOTR: What was Sauron’s goal? Answer: Kill and enslave to take over the world. While I cherish Tolkien’s masterpiece as much as any fan, that’s not much of a definition though it stands in the epic. (I admit to not reading the Simarillion, so unlike my husband, I don’t have a Ph.D in Tolkien.) My own preference is to reveal the evil goals and the reasoning behind them. But not all evil is created equal, so some stories need evil to represent only what it is; ruthless, brutal and uncaring for the suffering of others.
In the dark fantasy world of my creation, I prefer a dark protagonist (anti-heroine Shevata) and a lighter antagonist (the empty-headed Zermon). My Indie colleagues do an outstanding job of creating interesting protagonists and antagonists. Though the good guy stands in the center, the bad guy is at least as important standing strong in the background.