As fun as the recurring villain can be, in its many flavors and utilities, defeat is sometimes a tough spot that makes writing a good recurring villain more difficult to write. It’s along the lines of death and exactly why defeat is a problem.
See sometimes defeat that doesn’t end the recurring part of the recurring villain isn’t a problem. After all, the way you defeat an Unpleasant Associate or The Rival is usually not an End-All defeat. You score higher on the test, you beat them in a combat that isn’t to the death, you get The Thing and they don’t. But. That’s a battle, not the war. And beating The Pursuit is usually just
But sometimes defeat is more than that. As was addressed in death, sometimes defeat is kind of a big, sort of, you know, permanent thing.
And with a recurring villain, that can be hard.
But it can also be awesome.
There’s so much that’s permanent that isn’t death. There’s persistent rumors, or mental scarring, or Getting The Limited Resource of Plot, or death of a loved one rather than the rival themselves, or maiming…
And if you make that consistently important, then that’s a defeat worth talking about, a real defeat. It’s a defeat that lingers, a defeat that has permanent consequences.
Maybe coming up with a defeat that’s meaningful, that will have ripples if not waves throughout the whole story, isn’t the challenge for you. That’s great, but there’s more to consider than just what the defeat was. Maybe it’s writing the ripples and waves, or remembering/determining the character development for both characters – if both the recurring villain and the hero are constantly trying to destroy each other, if your MC becomes too focused on defeating the recurring, what does that do to him? How does that stretch and warp her, and her motivations? And of course, likewise, the recurring villain.
And then, of course, there’s the recurring villain’s defeat…of the hero. For things like The Rival, or The Unpleasant Associate, that’s feasible and should totally be done from time to time to knock MC down a peg. Maybe MC really is just better than Recurring, maybe Recurring doesn’t work as hard as MC (in which case you really need to show that). But…if you’re not careful, you’re going to get Mary Sue points for the MC always winning.
I think in the long run, The Pursuit is hardest to write a good defeat. For one thing, if they defeat the heroes, well, that’s getting dangerously into Game Over territory. And for their losing, well…Aside from the deal of The Pursuit failing, or the MCs finally killing The Pursuit, how can The Pursuit develop? If it’s some sort of soulless shadow monster thing, probably it’s going to be increasingly a good idea to discard it and pick up something else as the schtick of “oh no the scary thing showed up and is chasing us again oh phew we escaped” is going to get old fast. Discard may here mean, simply, get rid of it…OR turn it into something more. It’s more than a scary shadow thing. A scary shadow thing can be really hard to develop as a character since it’s barely a character, but if it’s more than that…
Also consider how it changes the entire story dynamic. With each defeat, is the arc of the story, the general progression, even the same thing? Or can one defeat change everything? Or a series of defeats? It seemed like the story was going to be one thing, one progression of events, A to B to C…but these defeats made it turn to A to B to Q to R.
Basically, impact and permanence make for good defeats. If the hero and villain both walk away basically unchanged, the defeat might as well have not even happened. The whole interaction that led to the defeat was probably pointless. Maybe that interaction can be changed to mean something. And maybe it needs to be axed.