5: Villains Are People, Too
“Funny thing about black and white. You mix it together and you get grey. And it doesn't matter how much white you try and put back in, you're never gonna get anything but grey.” Angel (the series)
Writing a compelling villain is actually pretty simple: you give his goal, motivation and conflict the same respect as you would the hero's.
Don't believe me? Let's look at The Operative from Serenity (yeah, I'm looking at a lot of stuff from this film. But its such an awesome film). His goal is much clearer than Mal's. He is single minded in its pursuit. And let's face it: it's not really a terrible goal. He doesn't want world domination or even fame and glory. He wants to find a dangerous criminal and dispose of her.
At least, that's what he believes (remember what I said about belief being a big theme in Serenity?). And my god does he believe it. “I believe in something that is greater than myself. A better world. A world without sin.” (he doesn’t know about Miranda; he doesn’t care about the specifics: “It’s not my place to ask.”) That's his motivation.
And as for conflict? He’s so focused on this belief that he can’t see the wider picture. He's so focused that he doesn't even have a name, just a job description. When faced with the reality of Miranda, and the culpability of the Alliance, his belief fails. When Mal says he’ll kill him if he sees him again, The Operative replies: “There is nothing left to see.”
(of course, what helps is having an actor like Chiwetel Ejiofor in this role: he has more dignity in his little finger than Nathan Fillion, much as I love him, has in his whole body).
Whereas what does Mal have to believe in? What motivates him? Nothing, and more nothing. It's only after he learns the truth of Miranda that he knows what he has to do. Having an enemy in The Operative is really the only thing that makes Mal into a hero.
6. In It For The Long Haul
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
97 episodes can change a man.