What Motivates Your Villain?

Photo by Florian Olivo on Unsplash

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. And motivation is what keeps your villains going, too. Motivation can be a very powerful thing.

There are lots of reasons the villains in our stories do the things they do. Sometimes they’re motivated by greed, sometimes it’s vengeance, sometimes it’s simply power. And sometimes, the reasons are complex. It’s hard to say what causes the villain to join the side of evil, but one thing is for certain – they don’t do it out of financial need.

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

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

In summary, the villains in our stories should be complex and compelling characters. Consider playing around with them being torn between their own internal conflicts, and the thrill of an evil act. There’s a reason why they do the terrible things that they do.


Guilliean Pacheco (she/her) is a writer and editor of color, but you may also know her as the host of the Raconteuse Radio podcast. Her work has appeared in Nevada Humanities and Helen. She has an M.F.A. in Writing from the University of San Francisco. She’s a misplaced California girl who lives in Las Vegas normally if one could call living there normal. Follow her on Twitter.

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