Good Guys are good, and Bad Guys are Bad... right?
You would think writing your hero and your villain would be easy right? The good guy - your hero - is good. All his traits are positive. He is selfless, patient, courageous, and honest, and the bad guy is, well, bad. He is arrogant, vain, stubborn and unpredictable. This is what makes a good story, isn't it?
It's important to remember that your characters need to be balanced in their own right. Yes, ok, your villain's over-confident, obsessive behaviour towards winning the national spelling bee balances out your hero's boyish good looks and rockstar-at-everything-he-does, easy progression to take the trophy; but who wants to read a story about a character that can't do wrong. How boring is that? In the same way, how believable is it that your villain is pure evil from the very soul of his being - that he doesn't have one redeemable trait, not a single one?
So how do we make our hero and our villain more well-rounded? Well, we give them traits that would seem counterintuitive to the role they play. But how do we do this?
The first step is to get a very clear idea about your character. Go ahead and pick a character, whether that's your protagonist, your antagonist, a supporting character, or the little old lady that lives four doors down. Once you have that character selected, I want you to write down all of their traits. Are they bold? Adaptable? Empathetic? Confident? Socially awkward? Selfish? Patient? etc. Go ahead and make that list - It's ok, I'll wait.
Got your list ready? Ok, let's get started!
So now that you know everything that your character is, let's talk about what your character isn't.
Select one of those traits. Any trait at random. Got it? No skipping ahead....
Now take that trait and think of the exact opposite trait. Is he courteous? Make him rude. Is she completely disorganized? Make her organized, a real type A. Does he constantly come out with the most witty comments? Make him stumble over his words, really unapt with conversation.
Take that new trait, and write a scene with your selected character where they demonstrate this trait. Go ahead, take it for a test drive, just once around the block to get a feel for it. Is this a new trait that you can flip to make your character a little more believable?
With these changes, your characters are going to feel more genuine to your reader.
So often we give our characters traits to prove to the reader that they can take on the tasks we are going to set out for them, that they are amply prepared for those trials, but in reality, we are only hindering them. If you can assign a counterintuitive trait to a character, that ultimately makes achieving their goal harder, you are deepening your plot, and your character development. If you take a cowering introvert, and plop them down, completely unprepared, in the middle of a political rally, and force them in front of millions of people, standing at a microphone, I can promise you, any speech they may give is going to be abundantly more meaningful, rather than that of a charismatic, diplomatic extrovert.
Try this for every character that has a leading role in your book. Your hero, your sidekick, and especially your villain. Make him likeable in the most terrifying ways. I promise you, the results will surprise, satisfy and inspire you!