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.

I’ll tell you why revision is the best part of writing in your complimentary 15-minute consultation.

Guilliean Pacheco, your friendly neighborhood creativity concierge


Guilliean Pacheco (she/her) is a writer and editor of Filipino heritage and the host of the City of Writers podcast. Her work has appeared in TechTarget, Nevada Humanities, and Helen: A Literary Magazine. She has an M.F.A. in Writing from the University of San Francisco and is an Anaphora Arts poetry fellow. She’s a misplaced California girl who lives in Las Vegas normally, if one could call living there normal, on Southern Paiute land. Follow her on Twitter.

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