Hello, readers! It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and I’m sorry for that. But I’m back now with another article for you: How to Create Strong Villain Motivations for your Story.
This post is one that I wrote for Kaley Kriesel’s Words Blog Tour this week. I would highly recommend checking out her blog along with all the other blogs included in this tour. Here’s the schedule:
I’m super excited to continue reading the amazing blog posts everyone is writing for the Words Tour!
So today, Kaley and I have worked together to put together this blog article. I wrote the first half, and Kaley wrote the second half. I put a little divider in there so you would know who wrote what. I think you all will enjoy what both of us have to say.
Anyway, let’s get started with the article.
How to Create Strong Motivations for your Villain
Every good story has a villain, and every villain is unique. Some villains are human, some are not. Some are evil by choice, and some are evil just because they are. (Take the weather, for instance. *looks up at the stormy skies ruefully*)
Villains come in all different shapes and sizes, but they all have one thing in common: motivation.
Would Saruman have wanted the One Ring if he didn’t have a motivation to be on the winning side? Would Bonifer Squoon have wanted to help Gnag if it hadn’t been for his love for Madia and his contempt for Ortham? Would the White Witch have wanted to turn all of Narnia into winter if it hadn’t been for her thirst for power?
The answer to all of these questions is no. Without their motivations, none of these villains would have done the things they did. They wouldn’t even be villains at all.
So we know every villain has to have a motivation, but now the question is, how do you give them a good motivation?
There are many ways to do this, but in this post, we’ll go over a few main ones.
Make Your Villain’s Motivation Personal and Give them a Reason
Consider the real world for a minute. Most people have motivations; motivations to eat, motivations to get a job and pay the bills; motivations to learn; the reason people do what they do is because they have a motive.
It should be the same with all your book characters, especially your villain.
Now, oftentimes, people are motivated to do things for others; caring for the poor; preaching the gospel — and they do these things just because they want to help others, not because of any other selfish motive.
However, with villains it’s different. selfishness is a quality most villains have. The things they do are naturally supported by some kind of selfish motive, as is natural for human nature.
In giving your villain a motivation, consider why they have that motive. What’s in it for them and their personal life? By trying to destroy the protagonist, what does the villain get out of it? How does it affect them?
Take Bonifer Squoon from the Wingfeather Saga for example. (WARNING: this paragraph contains Wingfeather Saga spoilers for those who haven’t read the entire series). When Bonifer met Madia and discovered he loved her, immediately his motivation turned into winning Madia’s love. But when Madia married Ortham Greensmith instead of him, Bonifer’s heart was corrupted, leading to jealousy and a thirst for revenge, and eventually the willpower to steal Madia’s own son. Because of Bonifer’s motivation to love Madia and hate Ortham, he turned into one of the villains in the story and was a lethal threat to the Wingfeathers.
Think if Bonifer hadn’t met Madia, or had let go of his love for her after Ortham married her. Then Bonifer likely wouldn’t have stolen their son, and then Gnag would have never existed, and then there wouldn’t be Fangs taking over all of Aerwiar… do you see where I’m going with this? If Bonifer didn’t have his motivation, and if his motivation hadn’t been based on something personal in his own life, there would be nothing for the protagonists to go up against. And then you’d have no story.
So, make sure your villains’ motivation is based on something personal; something that has to do with themself and their own selfishness, and maybe something that happened to them in the past.
Think about your protagonist for a moment. Let’s just say their motivation is to save the world from some impending danger. That would automatically make your villain’s goal to stop your protagonist from saving the world. Right?
However, before you can make either of these goals work for your two characters, you need to answer these couple of questions:
- Why is your villain a villain?
- Why is your hero a hero?
Consider both of the characters you call “hero” and “villain”. Why, specifically, are these characters against each other? There has to be a reason based on something personal that happened in their own lives. There has to be some reason why the hero, out of all the people in the universe, is the hero of this story, and the same with your villain. There are any number of people out there that could be a villain, so why did you choose that one specific person to be the villain of your story? Your villain has to be unique to your story. And it’s the same with your hero. There has to be logic behind the fact that both of them are fighting each other.
Maybe your villain is going against your hero because he was rejected when he tried to be on the hero’s side (The Incredibles).
Make Your Villain’s Motivation Go Directly Against the Protagonist.
This may seem kind of obvious, but occasionally writers overlook this very crucial detail of writing their villain’s motivation. You can’t just have a villain that is motivated to destroy your protagonist for no reason. There has to be some sort of motivation for both your villain and hero.
So basically, you want to make your villain’s motivation as directed toward the protagonist as possible. Make sure those two characters are hitting each other head on. Again, to make your villain’s motivation go directly against the protagonist, then making the villain’s motivation personal is a great way to go. Make your villain’s motivation related to your protagonist in some way; give your villain a motivation that they think will give them personal gain.
Make Your Villain Believe their Motivation is Right
Some of the most powerful villains are the ones that truly believe that they are the heroes; that they are the ones doing the right thing. When crafting your villain, make sure that their motivation is something that they truly believe is right.
And here’s another tip: put some doubt in the reader’s mind too. Now, you have to be careful with this, because you obviously don’t want your readers to be led astray in thinking that it’s okay to do bad things like your villain. But, for a temporary period in your story, sometimes it’s really cool to add that element of doubt within your main character’s mind and your reader’s mind.
Make your villain understandable for your readers, too. A lot of times in stories, you have these really really evil villains, and it’s super obvious to readers that they’re the bad guy. But if you create a villain that has a motivation that readers might question more, it makes things a lot more interesting.
Take my WIP, Identity, for example. The “villain”, Orion, seems to be the villain at the beginning of the story, but as the story progresses, the readers realize that Orion isn’t actually a villain, just a man with a lot of hurt in his past. Eventually, Orion begins to repent, and soon after, we realize that the real villain is Terrence Richard, a guy who’s trying to destroy all of the merfolk.
You could use a strategy similar to this. Make a villain decoy. Add an element of mystery that keeps the reader interested and wondering who is right and who is wrong. Create plot twists and different villains that all have the same purpose but in different ways. Change things up a bit.
Anyway, I’m basically just rambling now. Basically, there are so many things you can do to make your villain’s motivation realistic and relatable, and sometimes it’s helpful to use some of those different strategies when writing your story.
Make Your Villain’s Motivation the Same as your Protagonist’s
This step in writing your villain’s motivation is optional, but it can be very powerful when used in the right way. When your villain and your hero both have the same or similar motivations, then it can really add to your story by making the contrast between your villain and protagonist even clearer.
For example, maybe both your villain and your hero have the same motivation to win a woman’s love. This type of thing can work well for a story, as it makes the readers wonder which of the two characters will win in the end.
When doing this, though, you still want to differentiate your hero and your villain. Maybe they both have the same motivation, but the way in which they try to fulfill that motivation is different. Going back to our earlier example, maybe the hero tries to win the woman’s love by showing her he truly cares for her, and the villain tries to force the woman to love him by making her parents arrange a marriage. This still allows the hero and villain to have the same motivation while also giving them different ways to fulfill it.
Some of that comes with each character’s personality, too. Maybe your hero’s personality is quiet and secluded, while your villain’s personality is obnoxious and outgoing, giving them both different ways of naturally trying to win the woman’s love. It’s also good to consider that when writing villain motivations – what are the differences between the villain and the hero and how does this affect the story? So now, I’ll leave you to read Kaley’s part of the post.
Make Your Villain’s Motivation Based in Weakness
So very often, a villain does the thing they do out of a weakness: Bonnifer Squoon felt robbed of his rightful bride. The White Queen felt weaker than she wanted to be. Hook was weakened by Peter and hated him for it. These villains all used their weakness to prompt them to action.
In so many ways, a well-written villain is a motivated character pursuing a desire while trying to cover up their weaknesses and it seems the main character is getting in their way. Human nature is to protect ourselves from threat and to thrive, pursuing enjoyment and desire. So really, both the hero and villain have the same mind set of getting what they want and not getting hurt.
In the example of Peter Pan and Hook, Pan cut off Hook’s hand and fed it to the crocodile. This gave Hook a hook for a hand, and this weakened him. He made the most of it but he was still angry. Hook was also chased by the crocodile because the croc wanted more, which caused Hook to run from something, to be vulnerable to something. He didn’t want to be weak and blamed Pan for his weakness. This motivated him to seek revenge on the boy.
Think about your own worst moments. Have you ever had a moment when someone proved you wrong and you pretended you were right in an attempt to save yourself? You lied and did the wrong thing because you felt exposed.
What about when you’re scared, sad, or hurt? You expect worse to happen and guard yourself by shutting others out, acting upon the weakness to protect yourself and sometimes get what you want, such as when you yell at the sibling who hurt you so that they’re hurt, too.
In our own families and friend groups, we have each played the villian in a moment in time. We acted on weakness. This is the link to making the villain’s motivation believable.
Make Your Villain’s Motivation Understandable and Clear
The most powerful stories feature not only believable and relatable main characters but also a villain that we can understand and almost feel bad for even though we know he or she is wrong. Why? We get to show the negative side of our central theme. By making the motivation clear, we display what happens when you don’t learn the central lesson. We give a clear incentive to the reader, even if the main character doesn’t exactly see it.
In my WIP, What Matters Most, I present a villain who is the epitome of what the main characters aren’t by the end of the story. He’s under the mirror-image illusion of the theme. Wyatt, the villain, is a boy who conforms to those around him and expects others to as well. He is motivated by the idea that, by being the “ideal” person, he will gain position and popularity. He desires to be noticed and so he breaks rules to get noticed by the people he thinks are best, the football players. In the end, our main characters realize that they need to be unique.
In mystery novels, finding the motivation of a villain is a big part of the story. But in other genres this sometimes gets overlooked. In real life, every criminal also has a mother and father, a spouse or relationship, a child, or a dear friend. They have moments in which they’re actually pretty great people. If we don’t see a clear motivation behind a villain’s actions, we assume that there is no good side. They are evil in this way for no reason, so why wouldn’t they be evil in other aspects? You need to show your readers why the villain does what he does, not only know why.
In this article, we went over some of the most important points to consider about a villain’s motivation. We talked about why motivations matter (because it makes their action understandable and logical) and the ways to write powerful villain motivations. To do this you need to:
- Make your villain’s motivation personal, rooted in their backstory, and give them a reason to do the things they do.
- Make your villain’s motivation go directly against your protagonist, something that causes them problems.
- Make your villain believe they’re right and doing something for a good purpose.
- Make your villain’s motivation the same as your protagonist’s if you want to contrast their actions and personalities.
- Make your villain’s motivation based in weakness, using survival instincts and sinful nature to spur them on.
- Make your villain’s motivation understandable and clear, visible to the reader and almost able to be sympathized with.
Was this post helpful? Did we miss anything? What do you do to create great villain motivations? Are you enjoying the Words tour? Leave a comment below to tell us your thoughts!
Kaley Kriesel is a 15-year-old Christian author from Oklahoma, USA, where she pursues Jesus and studies from her home. She has been writing for as long as she can remember, and when she isn’t writing, learning, or socializing, you can most often find her playing ukulele or reading a book. She has two blogs, Words and Sketch Scribble Scribe. This tour is for Words.