Do you know what motivates your villain?

Photo of a sharpened pencil, next to pencil shavings and small, gray pencil sharpener

Today, we’re going to talk about motivation.

Motivation is what keeps you going. Motivation is what keeps you going in the face of adversity. Motivation can be a powerful thing.

Motivation is what keeps your villains going, too. There are many reasons the villains in our stories do what they do. Sometimes they’re motivated by greed; sometimes, it’s vengeance. Sometimes it’s simply power. And sometimes, the reasons are complex beyond those base emotions.

Understanding their motivations is essential, allowing us to create more exciting and complex characters. This also allows us to explore the complexities of human nature and create characters that readers can empathize with, even if they still root for the hero in the end.

You may have seen this list in the past, and I provide it alphabetized for your use here.

Insights into villainy

  • Achieve a goal
  • Achieve destiny
  • Ambition
  • Betrayal
  • Better oneself
  • Catastrophe
  • Conspiracy
  • Control the kids
  • Corruption
  • Desperation
  • Destroy
  • Discovery
  • Dishonor
  • Distinguish oneself
  • Escape destiny
  • Fear
  • Gain acceptance
  • Greed
  • Grief and loss
  • Hate
  • Honor
  • Justice
  • Leave me in peace
  • Love
  • Persecution
  • Rebellion
  • Recover what’s lost
  • Revenge
  • Rivalry
  • Romance
  • Rule part of the world
  • Rule the whole world
  • Save humanity
  • Self-sacrifice
  • Serve a master
  • Social cohesion
  • Survival
  • Unnatural affection

It’s best to remember that a villain isn’t a villain just because they have a different worldview than the hero. The villain is willing to use violence, intimidation, and destruction to achieve their goals — and the hero is willing to stop them.

Consider playing around with them, torn between their internal conflicts and the thrill of an evil act. Being able to do whatever they want might give them power over others. The sense of freedom they feel may be intoxicating, and they may be compelled to do something they know is wrong.

There’s a reason why they do the terrible things that they do.

Go and explore it!

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