"You Only Live Twice or so it seems,
One life for yourself and one for your dreams... "
This lyric provides a wonderful clue to the answer of why we love to write and read myths.
I believe that the most successful and memorable characters in all forms of literature owe their longevity in the social consciousness to a couple of familiar and repetitive traits. Whether they are the antagonists or protagonists, they all stem from a single idea; they are us at our best and worst.
In any instance of heroism or heroic undertakings, we invariably see that the basic construction of a heroic figure revolves around (usually) two main themes, i.e.; selfless sacrifice and a steadfast belief in some form of social justice.
Conversely, the antagonists in most myths and stories are directly in characteristic opposition to these tandem values.
It’s my opinion that regardless of the theme involved, a good and memorable character, though differing in voice and modus operandi from similar characters in similar stories, always validates his or her reason for being in the novel by following this rule but with a subtlety so carefully crafted that the reader allows himself/herself to forget the inevitable motif altogether!
This is why more and more film writers and tv writers can be heard saying that they look at the show or film in question, not through the eyes of the good, but rather through the valid arguments (and often explosive reactions) of the bad.
I think that as we read and write, our subconscious selves imprint themselves onto the pages as heroes or villains and we all recognize their differences, however subtle, by the quality of the dialogue their creator imbues them with.
So, the short answer is dialogue. Dialogue, in my opinion, is what either makes or breaks a character, good or bad.