One of the most fun parts of writing a novel is creating the bad guys. I certainly had a lot of fun working on the creepy and menacing character of Rupert in I AM (NOT) THE WALRUS.
Villains are characters just as much as heroes, and their twisted personalities, and evil motives have to be shown in their dialogue and actions. While I was working on Rupert I had a look at some other memorable villains in guy books.
The first one who came to mind was Keir Sarafian, the protagonist of Chris Lynch’s INEXCUSABLE. Keir is a rapist, which is bad enough in of itself, but what makes matters worse is that he’s a rapist without a conscience. He sees nothing wrong in his appalling actions. A lot of fictional villains have one or two redeeming features, but Keir has none. He’s not a fun villain to read about, and perhaps wasn’t a lot of fun to write about.
Next up I had a look at HOLES by Louis Sachar. HOLES has a lot of villains lurking in among its multi-layered plot lines. My personal favorite is Igor Barkov, although he only has a minor role in the story. The real villain of the story is, of course, the warden. Aside from being the kind of everyday sadist who stabs children with a pitchfork, she paints her nails with rattlesnake venom, so whenever she scratches anyone, the victim rolls around screaming while his face erupts with livid welts. I’m not sure if painting your nails with rattlesnake venom would really have that effect, but I’m not going to be the one to try it out.
I suppose it could be argued that the real villain in Walter Dean Myers’ MONSTER is the criminal justice system itself, but there are still plenty of human bad-guys in story as well. The one that really stands out for me is Osvaldo Cruz. Cruz is a couple of years younger than the protagonist, Steve Harmon, but he’s a pure psychopath. Not only does he goad Steve into taking part in the robbery by calling his manhood into question, when the whole thing falls apart, Cruz takes the stand, and actually testifies against Steve. Being the youngest member of the gang Cruz gets immunity from prosecution, while Steve gets fingered for a crime he might not even have been involved in.
I also took a quick tour through the bad-guys from the classics. There’s Long John Silver, Bill Sykes, Dracula, Captain Ahab, and Caligula. (The Roman emperor, Caligula, thinking he was the god, Saturn, devoured his own son. Not much scope for rehabilitation after that, although it has to be said Caligula wasn’t the worst of the Roman emperors.)
My all-time favorite fictional villain is the pompous and puritanical Malvolio from Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT. When he first appears he’s a little clown-like then, as the story progresses, he becomes more and more loathsome. But in his final scene, as he lopes off-stage, humiliated and destroyed, we feel a pang of pity, as we wonder if his punishment is perhaps too harsh. Perhaps there’s a little of Malvolio in all of us.
Some experts believe that Malvolio was actually Shakespeare himself. A self-portrait in words. And perhaps this is the most fun part of creating villains. In order to create heroic characters we need to observe our friends and relatives, or even strangers in coffee shops. But to create villains we need only to turn to the nearest mirror, and write down what we see.
The truth is that there’s not just Malvolio in us, there’s Igor Barkov, Osvaldo Cruz, Captain Ahab, The Warden, and Long John Silver in us also. Caligula and Keir Sarafian?
Hopefully not so much of them.
Ed Briant grew up in Brighton, England, but now lives just outside Philadelphia, where he writes, illustrates, and creates the popular comic strip “Tales from the Slush Pile.” He has two daughters, teaches creative writing, and plays the alto saxophone (quite badly). CHOPPY SOCKY BLUES was his first book for young adults. He can be found online at ebriant.com.