What Is Your Villain’s Motive?


Admit it: you love writing in evil characters.

It’s fun. It’s different. But it can also be challenging, to create a villain that is evil for a good reason—maybe even enough to feel sorry for her. Or him. 

In most (but not all) cases, villains are people, too. There’s always a motive—a reason why they, intentionally or not, do bad things. Adopting the villain lifestyle for the sake of pure evil can work, but it’s just not as realistic. It might turn some readers off.

While you don’t need to please everyone all the time, characterization that is believable is what makes a story readable. Relatable. Likable.

If your story has a villain, but you’re not sure of her or his exact motive for “living the evil life,” here are some questions you can ask yourself to find a reason that works. 

Does her/his personal past result in resentment toward another character or situation?

You can’t just come up with a villain for the sake of having a villain. Not only does your main character sometimes need someone to battle against, but back stories and haunting revelations (no really, I’m your dad, dude) add suspense, mystery and excitement to your main plotline.

Sometimes it’s the “bad guy”’s past that sends him on an evil streak. Let that drive the villain to act irrationally, even if you don’t reveal the exact motive right away (or even if you don’t figure it out right away, either). Roll with it. At some point in the story, hopefully, it will all come together. 

Did your main character do something to tick your villain off?

Not all villains are born evil. Come on, Anakin was cute when he was 10. The most ordinary, harmless characters can be pushed over the edge, even unintentionally, by other characters. Some people are really good at holding grudges. For a long, long time.

The Incredibles comes to mind with this point, but it’s not a new concept. Twist it whichever way works for your story and set of characters. Even better, switch the roles around. Your main character is the villain, and doesn’t know much about her motive other than the fact that she hates so-and-so and wants him dead/captured/etc. 

Is she/he power-hungry, or fearful of losing power she/he already has? 

As we’ve learned from about every hero vs. villain story out there, power can make anyone do things she or he would not normally do. Toss in a need for your character to gain, or maintain, power over something. Even if it’s just for the sake of taking power away from someone else.

We’ve planned out a series of posts over the next few weeks that are a bit more fiction-specific, maybe a little “out there” in some cases, but we’re just trying something different. Even we get bored with doing the same old thing, day after day, every once in a while.

Come back later this week for more on new ways to reveal your villain’s motive to other characters and the reader.

This is going to be a fun week.

Image courtesy of sciencefiction.com.

5 thoughts on “What Is Your Villain’s Motive?

  1. great post! my current villain is a loathsome man who’s motive is revenge with a side of family protectiveness. He hates my hero be she is getting in his way and solving disputes between his people and hers peacefully when he wants revenge. Also his son stand on her side and is defying my villain because he also want’s piece.

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