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March 7, 2017

@lsfabre #Motivating the #Villain #mfrworg #amwriting #amreading

In more than one of the many writing classes I completed, the instructor would note at some point, “the villain is the hero of his own story,” the antagonist has as strong a motivation as that of the hero. In the opponent’s mind, what’s behind his/her actions is as compelling and just and right—albeit sometimes quite twisted—as that of the hero or heroine’s. This point is usually followed with a reminder to give the villain a chance to explain his/her deeds. A number of ways exist to do this:

- The story can switch between the villain’s and hero’s point of view
- A character may share what they know of the villain’s life to describe events that shaped him/her into the antihero
- Giving the villain a chance to explain their world view to the hero—usually while holding the hero or heroine at bay with a gun, bomb, or other weapon and often as part of the climax

In the two recently released stories, I chose the third method for both.

In my recently re-released Russian thriller, Saving Hope, the villain is someone the heroine trusted, and she finds herself negotiating with him to save her daughter’s life. At one point, he explains his actions as:

“I thought I finally had all I wanted, but you ran away. When I saw you with Ahmed and those other men, I knew I had to fight for you, or lose you again. I was the one who told them about the FSB. It almost cost me my deal.”

In “The Case of the Tainted Blood,” my alternate universe Sherlock Holmes tale, the detective and Dr. Watson search for a murderer in a world inhabited by vampyres. When they discover him, he describes the wrong he sees himself as correcting:

“How ever did we come to this point? Two species fighting for control of the planet? Especially when you consider your species was our species only a few years ago. And what has yours accomplished? Stagnation and decay. Nothing has been created or achieved except the hunting of all mammals almost to extinction. And what will become of the world once extinction is achieved? What will your species do then? You may live forever, but where? And how? Revert to caves and learn to live on reptilian blood? It is the humans that created civilization. What will your species contribute?”


Story conflict arises from a villain’s strong motivation, which puts his/her actions in direct opposition to the hero or heroine’s. The more the two characters believe their cause is the only true one, the higher the conflict and the more tension in the story. Giving the villain a chance to tell his story ups the stakes for both.


Can you think of a story or movie you seen or read lately that had a compelling villain? What was the motivation behind him/her? Any favorite villains? Hannibal Lector comes to mind....

About Liese Sherwood-Fabre:

Awarding-winning author Liese Sherwood-Fabre grew up in Dallas, Texas and knew she was destined to write when she got an A+ in the second grade for her story about Dick, Jane, and Sally’s ruined picnic. After obtaining her PhD from Indiana University, she joined the federal government and had the opportunity to work and live internationally for more than fifteen years—in Africa, Latin America, and Russia. Returning to the states, she seriously pursued her writing career and has recently published several pieces: a non-fiction essay collection on Victorian England--The Life and Times of Sherlock Holmes--a thriller set in Russia--Saving Hope--and a short story, "The Case of the Tainted Blood" in the anthology Curious Incidents: More Improbable Tales.

Her books are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and ebookmall