A good, bad guy (or gal) adds intrigue and excitement to any story, especially in sci-fi and fantasy settings. This series explores how to write memorable villains who add spice and life to any narrative.
The Greatest Literary Villain
His villainy inspired countless movies, series, plays, and even a restaurant franchise. I mentioned Long John Silver, Treasure Island’s pirate menace, before in my Greatest Villains blog post, but today I’m going to deep dive into what makes this peg-legged ship’s cook the best villain in history.
Long John Silver is your friend. He will cook you a passable meal and then spend the evening patiently teaching you stellar cartography. He’s funny and likable. In fact, he’s so pleasant that Jim Hawkins completely discounts him as a danger even though Billy Bones used his dying breath to tell Jim, “beware the one-legged man.”
Yes, Long John loves children and animals, but when a treasure is involved, anyone, and everyone, will find themselves on the business end of his pistol. He would sell out his grandma for a prize That’s what makes him such a tremendous villain. We want to like him because he’s mostly nice and usually fun, but we can’t because he turns vile as soon as treasure is involved. That 1% makes him evil.
Sometimes, well-written villains are relatable, meaning we can understand why they make their choices, or we may even make the same choice we were in their circumstances. The X-Men antagonist, Magneto, and his crew come to mind. They are fighting discrimination and injustice. However, Long John isn’t a sympathetic character. Almost no one would make the same decisions as him if we were in his shoes (or shoe, as it is). He’s just a bad guy with a likable personality.
Should all villains be the same “flavor” as Long John? No, because that would be boring and predictable. But, Long John’s enduring place in our culture highlights the importance of writing antagonists with multifaceted personalities. Later in this series, I’ll discuss some of the more popular villain templates.