I'm currently developing a minor character that will appear as the "shadow" (Hero's Journey slang for an antagonist that has the potential to destroy the hero) of two other characters. In the eyes of pretty much every other character in the story, he's insensitive and, quite frankly, bordering on stupid.
However, I find that I actually like him(*). He's not someone I would be likely to spend much time with, but it's fun working with him, because he's uncomplicated and doesn't mean to hurt anybody. In my experience, this happens to every single one of my characters -- they might start out as obvious, even despicable shadows, but the moment I sit down to explore them a little more in-depth, they start to acquire virtues that I can relate to very well. This usually serves me very well, because it keeps me from introducing annoying, usually shallow and clichéd characters that just bundle up a bunch of negative features that somehow need to be part of the story.
My question is: Have you had similar experiences? Conversely, have you ever written about a character that you thoroughly despise? What were your experiences with that? Did your story benefit from it? Can you think of a context in which it is absolutely necessary to use a character that is "evil"(**) in an unrelatable way?
I apologise if this questions appears too vague. I'm also aware that it is not a question that has a "correct answer". I'm interested in your thoughts about this subject and a range of different experiences. In a wider sense, I am asking about how your relationships to characters look like.
(*) Just to clear things up a bit here: I'm aware that I use the word "like" a little too laxly in this context. So here's a specification of what I mean when I "like" a fictional character, and when I "like" a real person. The fictional character:
- The fictional character: Needs to be complex and, at least in some way, relatable. If my empathy doesn't find a way to connect to the character, I'm not going to like him or her. In this context, I don't distinguish between "good" and "bad" characters. I may very well end up liking the villain of a story much better than the hero, because he's the more interesting character that I'd like to explore in more depth. The character doesn't need to share my values. (A spontaneous example would be Lord Grantham from Downton Abbey. I adore him as a character but doubt very much that we would get along very well if we ever met, due to political believes and what-not.)
- The other person: Well. I just ... want to spend time with that person. That generally requires that I feel comfortable in his or her presence and that we are able to easily communicate with each other. We might not always share the same values, but it definitely helps.
(**) I know, the concept of "evil" depends strongly on your cultural background. But most people would agree, for example, that abusing children is "evil".