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The leaders, on the other hand, are an entirely different sort of character. The baseline characteristics of a leader may be the same as their followers; after all, the leaders were followers at some point in their life. But they have evolved, and lost their humanity.
That isn't what really bites readers, though. When you read a book were a truly evil character is acting, you see that they often do things that really make you angry. What are these things?
One word: Dehumanization. They dehumanize people, innocent people. They may pound on their followers, but no anger equals that which they have towards their arch nemesis. When they capture innocent people, torture ensues, stripping the hostage of everything they own, including their personalities.
All of the qualities that makes someone human, whether it be clothing, appearance, status, possessions, respect, personality, or, most of all, the name, are taken away.
Society doesn't tolerate torture. When we see it, we are disgusted. Why? Because dehumanization is frightening. We can't imagine being stripped of our name and possessions. Or, worse yet, being named something else, as if we were someone's pet. Wouldn't that make you angry? Doesn't it make you angry to see it?
It should (unless you don't care about the character that is being dehumanized. In which case, the author has failed to provide the proper effect). Some readers can't even bear to see it. Others spit and throw the book across the room. Most read on, burning with the everlasting desire to see that evil main character come up with his or her just ends.
Which brings me to my next point. Never make an excessively evil character. There are truly evil characters, and there are those that are excessively evil. It's all right to have some dehumanization in your stories, but you cannot overdo it. If you take the torture too far, people will become too disgusted to read on, or exhausted and bored with the scene.
Dehumanization, as an effect, has a very short duration of effectiveness. In that duration, it is so tart, and so splendidly disgusting that we learn to abominate the evil characters inflicting it. You want to shock your readers, not disgust them to the point at which they will throw the story away.
I have found that excellent truly evil characters can be made by ones that are excessively good. I see many people who have stories led by paladins in shiny armor that gallop around on some fantastic white stallion, never breaking their word or getting angry. Never loosing a fight, and killing someone for sneezing in their general direction. The paladin may believe he has good morals, but in the eyes of everyone else "beneath him" they are under the boot of an oppressive tyrant that makes them afraid.
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is having a character that you intend to be good, but instead turns out to be a disgusting "goodie-too-shoes." Everyone hates those characters because no one is like that in real life.