I just read a great article from Writer's Digest on how to make more compelling antagonists. (Side note, if you have not already signed up for the Writer's Digest FREE newsletter, then you can do so here. You will not regret it, I assure you.)
One of the things I disagreed with partially about the article was that abstracts (war, poverty, etc.) cannot be effective villains. For most of us, we couldn't pull off making poverty, for instance, an effective villain, but there are those who have done it - but as the article states, these authors do it by putting a human face on the abstraction. Most notably in my mind, is Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind. Although poverty is not the main antagonist, it is a weapon wielded by a major player (namely, Ambrose the Baron-heir). Also, it's a constant threat to young Kvothe. At times we forget, alongside him, that he is in constant peril of financial doom, but it's still there, lurking, just beyond the periphery. (If you haven't yet read The Name of the Wind, or The Wise Man's Fear, then I'm afraid you're missing out on possibly one of the greatest fantasy writers of our time. Also, Penny Arcade would apply the label "villain" to you. And if you don't empathize with yourself, even now so laden with this label of villainy, then perhaps writing better villains isn't yet within your grasp.)
In short, there you have it - a way to make even the most abstract, yet deadly, things into suitable villains, thanks to the example of Patrick Rothfuss (and, of course, Dickens also used poverty like a cudgel about his heroes' heads).
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