Hero Motivation vs Villain Motivation

I was asked a few months back to write about the motivations of heroes and villains.  This was the be done separately, but I found the topics overlapping.  That and I thought it would work better as a comparison.  After thinking and comparing various pairings, I find that the above picture is true and so is this:

Heroes are defined by their villains.

Yes, they have individual aspects, but a hero is only as good as his or her villain.  If they are facing a bungling fool that is easily toppled then they can seem weak or overpowered.  A hero can be the underdog, but not the villain.  Otherwise, you wonder how the bad guy got so far in the first place.  This is why the motivation of antagonists should probably be designed before those of the protagonist or at least connected in some fashion.  It will be a strange story if the villain is out to steal a precious gem, but the hero is out to save the world.  Those don’t really match up unless the gem is essential to destroying the world in the first place.

I’m just going to list some tips in regards to motivation because it will always vary depending on the story.  A cattle rustler in a Western will differ to some extent from the undead dragon that has recently awaken from its crypt.  So, I’m going to try to talk in generalities instead of specifics.

  1. Even if it doesn’t start that way, the hero needs to develop a motivation that counteracts those of the villain.  They can’t keep following a path that won’t lead to conflict.  If the story ends with the hero succeeding in finding his true love while the villain has blown up the planet then you have a problem.  In fact, you may have been telling two stories at the same time by accident.
  2. Villains can possess a heroic motivation such as saving a loved one.  It’s how they go about doing it that makes them the antagonist.  A hero may travel the world to get the cure for his dying mother.  A villain may harvest organs from unsuspecting college students or rob a bank.  So, the motivation can be anything, but it’s evolved by the character’s actions.
  3. Heroes and villains can possess the same motivation if they are chasing the same thing.  It could be the throne of kingdom, a magical relic, the hand of a potential lover, or anything.  While actions can define who is who, this is where the second half of a motivation can come into play.  This would be what they plan on doing with the target of motivation after gaining it.  For example: Character A and B want the McGuffin.  Character A wants it to prevent his college from being shut down.  Character B wants it to buy a nuclear weapon and take revenge on his high school football team.  Both are motivated to get the same thing, but their motivations split when it comes to what their final goals are.
  4. Motivations can change as situations change.  In most cases, it’s the antagonist who causes this to happen or at least makes the jump faster.  Seems protagonists are commonly a few steps behind here.  A villain progressing faster can force a hero to alter their course, so this again shows how they are connected.  You can really sense how they feed each other in terms of a driving force.  Even if the hero gives less to the villain, their presence means things won’t run smoothly.  Those pesky do-gooders tend to get in the way.

As you can see, motivations are interlinked to some extent.  Personally, I believe villains guide this area of a story more than heroes.  At the very least, they give the heroes something to aim at in terms of getting stronger.  A secondary motivation to gain more powerful for either side will stem from their rivalry.  That’s another point I should make before I finish:

Characters can have more than one motivation!

They’re just like goals in that way.  We’re all driven by multiple influences in our life, so we can be motivated by more than one thing as well.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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23 Responses to Hero Motivation vs Villain Motivation

  1. Excellent post, Charles! Good insight! 👍

    Liked by 3 people

  2. L. Marie says:

    Great post! Totally agree that a hero and a villain both have to be great. We’ve all seen stories where the villain was way more interesting and complicated than the hero. Motivation is key.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m loving these recent posts. Your McGuffin comment had me thinking of the Arc of the Covenant. We didn’t even have to see the real villain to get the point.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    Great insights from Charles 😃

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I liked the comment about characters being able to have more than one motivation. I think it is so true especially as a story progresses. I think too, motivations can be subverted by pressing needs. For example, our hero wants to discover America but after sailing finds himself in a lifeboat with a tiger.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. A great example of your point is the characters of Magneto and Professor X. Both share the goal of mutants living free from persecution. However, Magneto has concluded that this can never happen until all “normal” humans are subjugated or dead (how extreme he is depends who is writing it). Whereas Professor X works toward mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence. Despite their common goal, only one scenario can prevail, and thus Professor X has to oppose Magneto.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Divyen Gadhavi says:

    Really great post

    Liked by 2 people

  8. jonboi121 says:

    Great post, love your take on the relationship between hero and villain and how neither really takes off without their nemesis

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Pingback: Hero Motivation vs Villain Motivation — Legends of Windemere – Dormitory

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