Recurring Villain: Evolving Motive

I said I’d make up for last week and I meant it! But after bringing up recurring villains last post, how could I not bring them back?

Anyway I want to talk about how to make a recurring villain more interesting. For some types of villains, this won’t work as well, as their motive must remain stable. But heroes, as they progress through the story, may have a gradual shift of motive. Maybe it’s that they’re motivated by money and then slowly they become motivated by their developed love for another character, or nobility to protect. A goal might stay the same – protect the city – but why may change.

Your villain should also experience character growth because he is, after all, a person. How does your villain’s motive shift over time? Did they want to fight your hero because he was in the way, but now it’s out of aggravation and a desire for vengeance? Maybe it was just for fun, but now the hero is a legitimate threat?

Only ONE can be the very best. Red goes from being just any old challenger to legitimate competition to become the champion.

Perhaps the motive doesn’t change, but the execution of the motive should if nothing else. As long as it’s the same tune, second verse, same song second quarter, your villain is, in one way or another, the goldfish poop gang. Unless they’re The Pursuit, I suppose, whose purpose is to start off at an incredibly high level and be scary and terrifying. Not just scary, but scary AND terrifying.

Your hero changes over time, and if your villain doesn’t, not only do you make your villain cardboard, but he is no longer a match for your hero. Cardboard is, after all, neither interesting nor difficult to defeat.

The recurring villain goes offscreen for anything that isn’t an interaction with the hero, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore and forget about him, too. You need to know exactly what’s going on, what he’s doing, how he’s growing. If you have a hard time with it, try writing all the scenes of his time away from the hero for yourself. I find that if I write a scene I never intend to include in the actual book, I have an easier time weaving that scene into the subtext; that scene might not exist physically in the book, but in a whispered way, it still exists in the book.

You might also consider this evolution of motive as a consideration for timing. When he’s changed significantly, maybe it’s time for him to show his face again.

Especially if it’s his face that changed.

Just remember your villains are people too, and that your characters are all your children. While the story might be about one in particular, each of your children needs proper love and attention for them to be full and complete. And with an MC as important as your villain, upon which your entire book hinges, you really can’t slack off just because he only shows up from time to time.

About Rii the Wordsmith

An aspiring author, artist, avid consumer of storytelling medium, gamer, psychologist (insomuch as one with her bachelor's is a psychologist), wife, mother, DM, Christian, a friend to many, and, most importantly, an evil overlord.
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5 Responses to Recurring Villain: Evolving Motive

  1. Good post Rii. Villains definitely need to evolve and grow throughout the story. It’s been helpful for me to have my villain’s accomplice/lover as a POV character because I’ve been able to see the character development of both of them and to know their motivations better. It’s helped my villain become more real.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nice, a villain with a lover! Don’t see enough of those, unless the relationship is horrid. But then, horrid relationships are usually due to crappy villains, so sounds like the situation you have probably would make me smile. ^^


      • It’s a fun situation to have even though it’s really weird to write at times because their relationship is so different from what I’m used to writing. Something seemed like it was missing in the first draft of my novel and when I added the lover, things made a lot more sense. Villains need love too.


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