Monday, December 31, 2012

Villain Motivation

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about villain motivations, and what will convince me of the villain's authenticity and/or the danger that the villain poses. I've come up with a few that I think are dead turn-offs. Let me know what you think.


I.E. The villain reveals all speech. Oh, how I loathe these moments. Quite honestly, as a reader, I would prefer it if I didn't even know the villain's motivation, if it's between that and the tell-all speech. I don't want to hear from the villain, "Ha! See! This is why I'm doing what I'm doing! Admire my brilliance! Now engarde!" The villain looks more ridiculous to me when that happens. I mean, seriously, though. If you were a villain, do you think you would take the time to explain your reasons to the pest of a hero(ine)? Do you think you would waste your time on that? Do you think that you would take the chance of revealing your next plan? Unless you're a villain who's specifically revealed these things because it's a part of your plan, you're just not acting as smart as someone who has a dastardly plan should.

Sometimes it's not even the villain who has the tell-all speech about the villain either. Sometimes it's the supporting cast that keeps telling you to fear the villain. You know what plays with this really well? Harry Potter. Because you're constantly told about Voldemort, but you don't discover a lot of what he's done until later. What makes it great is that Voldemort lives up to all that fear, which is not something I think a lot of villains do.


My gawds. Usually this doesn't work for me (exception: Shadow & Bone, etc.). Why? Because half the times, it's the villain that wants the hero(ine), it's the romantic interest(s) that wants the hero(ine), it's the supporting cast that loves the hero(ine). No! And meanwhile the protagonists are usually unaware of their effect on others. But the world doesn't work like that.

Plus, more often that not, the villain wanting the hero(ine) is some sort of ruse to make the villain more human-like  Or at least, it seems that way. But here's my question: if you're a villain, and you're dead-set on your goals and this person is blocking your path, do you really care what the person looks like? Not unless you're about to seduce said person into compliance.

(This kind of situation I could agree with in a romance novel, or where the romance isn't merely a sub-plot, so it's necessary to expand on villain/hero(ine) dynamics.)


This one bothers me less, because I think a lot of books are saturated with them, and we're trained to recognize that some "creatures" "are beyond redemption" (i.e. Strigoi in Richelle Mead's world - the "evil" vampires who kill and have no emotion and are not human). But those are the least interesting villains, IMO.

So, ultimately, what bothers me about this one is that some worlds doesn't necessarily have a combination of irredeemable + redeemable villains. Some books just have the irredeemable ones (which works fine, if you have a horde of zombies that you're fighting off. But again, that works for a pure action flick/book and not for much else).

If you want me to believe in the villain, you have to show me how the villain got to that state. Because let's face it: how many things in life do we look at with a completely black and white eye? Even murder-- sometimes we accept murder because of self-defense, right? And stealing is against the law, but books include plenty of protagonists and characters who do because it's necessary, because they have family to feed, because it's all about perspective. If you want me to believe in a person who has this completely black and white world view, you damn well better show me why.

What villains scare you the most? the least? What things do villains do that bother you?


  1. indeed, misbehave is not without reason
    I'm sure, everyone wants to be a good person who is much loved.
    situation make them evil..

  2. Awesome idea for a post! I totally agree with your first point, it drives me crazy.

    I'm your 1,000 follower here, by the way! Congratulations! x

  3. Ugh, YES. I can't stand the first type of villain. It cheapens everything as soon as the villain leaps into Tell All mode. It also usually goes along with having pretty silly reasons for doing what they're doing. Or, I don't know, maybe that method of revealing their motives just makes the motives seem weaker.

    I prefer it when the heroine discovers the villain's motivation in a less direct way. Piecing together events from the villain's past, something like that.

    I also agree on the other two points. I'm so tired of heroines who are desired by EVERYONE. Black and white villains are definitely more boring, but they have their place and can be ok in some stories, like you said.

    I LOVE your posts like this, btw. They're my favorite :)

  4. Oh my gosh. All of this is so true. (And it made me happy to be able to go through this with my own novel in mind and discover I wasn't really breaking these rules too badly.)
    What I really want to see is the hero falling in love with the villain. Why doesn't that ever happen? (And I don't mean the stories about abusive boyfriends, or crushes on mean jocks, or whatever.)
    Thinking about that actually gave me a reeeeaaalllly good idea for one of my side projects, which is from the POV of the villain, and has one of the good guys falling in love with her...(I literally went running across my house to write this scene down when the idea came to me just now. Sooo gooood. So thanks. :D )

    Sorry for the long comment--great post!
    Happy New Year!

  5. OMG Christina this is such a GREAT post! I love it. Really got me thinking...I think the villains I find scariest are the dystopian ones...the governments. Because they have so much power and are so corrupt and ruthless...I find that scary. I do kinda like the whole villain in love with the protag thing, but only when it really works...have you read The Forbidden Game trilogy by LJ Smith? That's a perfect example

    also, congrats on reaching 1000 followers!!

    Cait x

  6. Great post! Drives me crazy when the villain stops what he's doing to explain why to the hero! Hello? Really? Just shoot him already!!! *L*

    Alexia's Books and Such...

  7. Villian exposition is definitely an eyeroll for me. I really like this topic! I think the most interesting villians are the ones who have a human motivation--so there goes your category of villian that's beyond redemption. That is just not interesting to me. I agree that Harry Potter did the villian thing very well, with all of the supporting cast to be the ones who inspire fear. I think villians are the scariest when they remain on the edge of the story--they're not in the same room as the hero, but you always know they lurk just around the corner. I think Lord of the Rings did this really well--Sauron is an eye. An EYE! And it's still terrifying.

  8. I agree most of the time the main character doesn't even know why the villain is after him or her. I have yet to read a book where I actually like the villain.

  9. 1. Pretty much the only time this works is in a parody, like in Mothership or Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities. Both of those had an expositional villain, but that was the point.

    This is just such a juvenile technique.

    2. "do you really care what the person looks like? Not unless you're about to seduce said person into compliance." <--This is why Shadow & Bone works. Though maybe he does mean it?!?!? THE FEELS. You could cut their sexual tension with a freaking knife.

    Good points. Usually, it's like he could have been good, but you didn't date him and now he's bent on world destruction. Stupid heroine, FEEL GUILT. And I'm like, really, victim blaming?

    3. Black and white world view is a bit juvenile as well, but it does work better, I think, than some of the other tropes. It's not complex, but some people (or zombies) aren't.


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