Uncommon Motives for your Antagonist
Updated: Feb 24
It’s been a little while since I took a moment to talk about villains or antagonists, so for this post, I’m going to suggest some different motivations for your antagonist beyond the typical revenge, money, jealousy options.
I haven’t seen this one done very often, but it can be a fun one. An example I did see recently (more recently for me than maybe for you) is from The Vampire Diaries with the Augustine Society. The premise of this society was that they learned of the healing properties inherent in vampire blood and started doing medical tests on the vampires they could catch to learn how they could use the vampire blood to heal deadly diseases and chronic ailments. Their curiosity led them to dissect the same vampires over and over again to see how far the vampire could be pushed before they couldn’t recover.
This is similar to a mentality of “I just want to know what would happen.” For example:
Hero: Why’d you blow up the building?
Villain: I was curious. Now, are you going to arrest me, or are you going to save the burn victims?
Hero: Why are you doing this?
Villain: You intrigue me. How far can I push you before you break?
Get the idea?
Another option for your antagonist’s motive is the Radical Believer option.
We’ll go with the first cause that comes to mind, probably because it’s one I do want to succeed: reducing plastic waste.
An antagonist who is a radical believer in the benefits of this could start targeting companies and corporations that either A. aren’t moving toward waste free at all or B. say they are and don’t have any plans to change anything for another fifty years. They could start stealing huge sums of money from these companies since “they clearly don’t know how to spend it well” or they could start attacking their buildings “so they see how serious ignoring this problem is.”
Or, if either of those don’t sound like your antagonist, you could try out the “Doing the Wrong Things for the Right Reason” option.
This is your typical Robin Hood mentality, but with more extreme options. This motive is unique in that
it works for hero vigilantes, too. You can have a hero and a villain with the same motive and the only thing that lets your audience know which is the hero and which is the villain is whose perspective they get the story from.
To the rich, Robin Hood was a menace. To the poor, he was a hero.
To those on his father’s list, Oliver Queen (season one of Arrow) was a threat. To those he helped through his acts of murder, he was a savior.
To the criminal, the cops are the last thing they want to see. To the civilian being robbed, the cops are a major blessing.
To Jean Valjean, Javert ruined his life and sent him on the run. To Javert, Jean Valjean’s actions send him over the edge of a bridge. Not because Jean Valjean kills him, but because Javert doesn’t know how to live in a world where a hardened criminal isn’t a hardened criminal anymore.
This last option is really good for introducing morally gray themes into your work.
What are your favorite, unconventional motives for antagonists? Let me know in the comments and on social media.
J. J. Hanna is a Professional Writing major at Taylor University. In her spare time she enjoys creating comics and Youtube videos and practicing Karate. She’d love to hear from you, so send her a note or leave a comment.
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