The Arch-Nemesis

I was watching The Big Bang Theory the other day – the one where Sheldon was expounding on his hatred for Wil Wheaton, his “arch-nemesis.” Having an arch-nemesis is such a comic book notion that the idea of a real person with an arch-nemesis has comedic potential built in. But it got me thinking about how we approach our enemies in real life. Most of us don’t say we have enemies. We have people we don’t like – mean people at work, that jerk of a clerk at the DMV, or the weird neighbor who thinks it’s great to feed that raccoons. To say that person is an enemy is to imply that they are out to get you and that conversely you’re probably out to get them. An enemy seems to imply a state of conflict that most of us aren’t really comfortable with.

But Sheldon got me to thinking: Who have been the “enemies” in my life? That one girl at the office who over watered my bamboo plant and then blamed me for the fact that it smelled like dog poo? (That is what happens when you over water bamboo, by the way.) Could I turn her into the villain of a workplace adventure? Just how much bad behavior does it take for a reader will believe a character in the role of villain? Accidental over watering probably doesn’t make a villain. I think we’d have to ramp up the bad behavior before a reader would believe she was anything more than a workplace annoyance. And since I was considering my life through the lens of villainy I had to wonder if I had ever been anyone else’s arch-nemesis. Of course, I’d probably be horrified if I found out I was hated by someone, but to figure so large in the pantheon of someone’s life would be kind of cool. So then I paused to consider what about my character would make a good villain and I realized it was quite clearly my underground volcano lair.

What character trait do you think makes for a good villain?