Think of every really popular/memorable hero you can and you can very likely name their nemesis.. because it's the bad guy that makes the hero so good.
From Darth Vader to Voldemort.. the bad guys are just as important to your story.. probably moreso in fact, than your hero.
Sinister Villains don't have to be an individual either.. they can be events, (The Hunger Games for example is as much a villain as anyone in the first book in the trilogy), they can be organizations (W.I.C.K.E.D in the Maze Runner for example), they can even be unintentionally evil.. merely following their nature (the shark in Jaws, the hunter in Bambi, etc)
But the best Sinister Villains all have a few things in common.. (Unless they're an act of Nature type thing, in which case they're not really sinister.)
- They're intelligent
- Usually a truly epic villain's main characteristic is his intelligence. They may be strong, handsome, wealthy.. but it's their intelligence that sets them apart, and makes them a match for the epic hero.
- They're dedicated
- Nobody can achieve true epicness, either as a hero or villain, unless they're truly dedicated to their cause.
- They're damaged
- Not talking about physical damage, although that's common as well, (2-face, Joker, Mr. Glass.. see Thursday's "Q is for Quirrell for more), but emotional damage. They have to be damaged to take the steps they've taken to arrive at being an 'epic villain'. Not all villains have a reason for being evil.. some are just born that way.. but they're still a product of some damage of a sort. That's how we, as a society, can sleep at night.. knowing that evil is a result of something rather than just a random fact.. but that's a philosophical debate for another day.
So.. if it seems I spend a lot of time on villains.. it's because I truly feel they're more important to a successful story than the hero. They definitely require more focus and effort than writing a hero. Everybody loves a hero.. it's easy to create, but a villain requires much more thought and imagination.
Hannibal Lecter may be a bad guy.. but he is also dominates every story he's in. Think Star Wars and your first thought probably isn't Luke.. it's Darth Vader. So take some time to create your sinister villain.. the payoff is worth the effort.