Lying is one of the broadest character flaws; ranging from white lies to cruel deception. When it comes to liars there are three parameters that govern whether lying is a minor flaw or a serious transgression: how frequently the character lies, how significant their lies are, and their motive for lying.
Motive is the most significant. Audiences are often willing to forgive well intentioned mistakes, while a selfish or malicious motive is the mark of a villain. After motive comes significance. A hero may recognize when the risk or price is too high, while a villain may to be too self-centered to care. Last is frequency, which isn’t to say that characters who lie often are well received, but word spreads quickly, minimizing the trouble they can cause.
Everyone has strengths, but no one is infallible. At a certain point confidence becomes arrogance, and assuming that ‘I’m better” or “I’m always right” is annoying at best, and a foundation for tyranny at worst. Many villains believe they are superior, and therefore have an inherit right or duty to lead, without the consent of others.
3. Self-Appointed, Self-Serving
Characters who usurp power cut against the very core of communities, which are founded on ideals of cooperation and mutual support. A usurper or self-serving character is less likely to care about the community as a whole, and may do great harm to the people without the wisdom or compassion to lead properly. In many cases villains intentionally sacrifice the needs of many so that the few, or the one, can flourish.
4. Assassin or Avenger
Justice is the true calling of a hero, the desire to create and maintain balance. When someone commits a crime, justice is a consequence founded in logic, to discourage the criminal behavior, and to counterbalance any harm done to the victim(s). Revenge is grounded in emotion, in hurting someone else because they hurt you. Assassination is when a professional killer is hired or ordered to kill someone covertly.
Agents of justice use logic and discussion to collectively determine the consequences of the crime. Avengers rely on emotion, inflicting pain that feels commensurate with their suffering. Assassins, for the most part, do not question, they simply obey and kill. This is why assassins are particularly difficult to cast as anything other than a villain.
In rare instances where a hero is an avenger or assassin, the author must go to great lengths to build up sympathy for the hero, and animosity towards the target(s).
5. Bully or Sadist
Bullying is one of most broadly condemned behaviors in society; using intimidation to influence someone else. Among heroes bullying is a last resort, when all else fails. Cynical and arrogant characters may use it regularly as a tool to manipulate others and achieve their goals.
Sadists represent the worst of humanity, those who derive pleasure from causing others harm. Intimidation and pain are not a means, they are the goal, and thus sadists represent one of the truest threats to community and the most abhorred of character traits.
Many authors use contrast to help bring a conflict into prominence. The hero and villain can be confronted with similar situations and make very different choices, or feel differently afterwards. A hero might kill a criminal and regret it, while a villain remains convinced that killing the criminal was the right choice. The difference can be physical (David and Goliath), economical (Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter), or demeanor (Batman and the Joker).
A hero is a character who exemplifies ideals and virtues. A villain is a character defined by extreme flaws. An antihero is a character with both extreme virtues and extreme flaws. An antihero frequently does good deeds by accident, or achieves positive outcomes using questionable methods. Antiheroes are in a state of tension, an unstable balance between hero and villain, with most antiheroes either falling into the redeemed or loveable rogue, or becoming villains entirely.
Severus Snape, from the Harry Potter series, could be considered an anti-hero for much of the series. He is hostile towards the protagonist, but he does offer help, grudgingly. V, from the V for Vendetta series, is another example of an antihero; working towards positive change using questionable methods.
The Journey: How All Characters Begin 102-09