In fantasy, villains are often depicted as power-hungry, evil sorcerers (I’m picturing Jafar, in Aladdin). In most fantasy, there is no real motivation – the villain is just intent on destruction. There are issues with that. First off, a good character needs motivation. Yes, they may be the antagonist, but they can still be well-written. Second, generally speaking, people have a drive for self-preservation. If a villain is trying to destroy the world, what do they get out of it? Are they going to be destroyed right along with the world? I don’t think many villains are willing to go that far, and definitely not in an intriguing story.
So what is a villain’s motives? That is always a hard thing for me to come up with. In the beginning, I am much more likely to have a villain-caricature than a well fleshed-out bad-guy (or gal). And you know what? That is okay. In the beginning, things don’t have to be perfect, they shouldn’t be perfect. The task is to develop that caricature villain into something better. Motive is, in my opinion, the best way to do this. Build the back-story. Why does your villain have a beef with the MC? Why does the villain want to gather all the power to her/himself? Let’s take a step beyond “because as a child they were abused/neglected/etc.” and think a little more.
Think about Regina, from Once Upon A Time. Admittedly, I think the writers/producers could have played up her circumstance more and made it more intriguing. Regina became evil in order to escape her mother’s power. She didn’t mean to become evil, she just did. And guess what, she keeps messing up. And so no one will give her a chance to be good again, even though she is clearly at war with herself.
Motivation tells us a lot about our villains. I am in the process of rewriting my WIP, mainly because my villain was not strong enough. How am I addressing it? By adding motivation.
Another point that Nick over at Fictioner’s Net brings up is that the bad-guy needs morals. Sure, they can break their guidelines, but they have to start with them in place. You can read the article here.
My second point was that people have a drive for self-preservation. It may be better to give the villain the goal for control or causing the other characters the most pain and heart-ache possible. For goodness sake, don’t let your villain have a goal of hurting others and then make dramatic, and stupid, decisions that endanger him/herself. The villain is going to protect him/herself.
If your villain really wants to destroy the world, give them a good reason. Make sure that their psychology lines up with their actions. Check out the 12 common archetypes and use them to your advantage when creating your villain.
Don’t let the villain risk everything just to destroy everything – risking everything is the protagonist’s domain.
Take care, fellow travelers.