Writing Forums

Writing Forums is a privately-owned, community managed writing environment. We provide an unlimited opportunity for writers and poets of all abilities, to share their work and communicate with other writers and creative artists. We offer an experience that is safe, welcoming and friendly, regardless of your level of participation, knowledge or skill. There are several opportunities for writers to exchange tips, engage in discussions about techniques, and grow in your craft. You can also participate in forum competitions that are exciting and helpful in building your skill level. There's so much more for you to explore!

How important is it to explain villain motivation? (1 Viewer)

Status
Not open for further replies.

ironpony

Senior Member
I was advised before that I don't go into the villains' background and motivation enough, so I should explain more. But I was having trouble doing it without the story becoming a character study, or without the villains overexpalining things through dialogue like James Bond villain types, who have a tendency to explain more than they would naturally in a conversation.

I was told by one reader so far, that I should just forget about explaining motives, and just allow it to be a mystery. Lots of stories do that where the reader does not know the 'why', and it doesn't matter. Or maybe he thinks that the readers will figure out the motivation for themselves, and as long as you show the physical crime, the motivations will be explained through that. But would they and that's enough to read the character's minds? But what do you think? Is that true though, or does the reader have a point?
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
The motivation needs to be decipherable, which is not the same as being explained. The key thing is to establish these things in your head. So long as you know what the motivations, stakes, goals, etc. are then those will filter into your writing.

That does not mean you should go into great depth telling readers the specifics. Show, don't tell, and sure, be mysterious if you like. But 'being mysterious' isn't a crutch for half-assing. There's a massive difference.

You strike me as somebody who would probably benefit from the snowflake method because I suspect you aren't thinking through your characters in great depth and you aren't able to wing it.
 

ironpony

Senior Member
Oh okay I thought I was using the snowflake method, but what do you mean by wing it, as oppose to not winging it, exactly?

As for making it decipherable I am not sure. Can a character commit a physical crime for example, and then the reader will be able to tell why, just from the physical action of the crime itself?
 
Last edited:

luckyscars

WF Veterans
Oh okay I thought I was using the snowflake method, but what do you mean by wing it, as oppose to not winging it, exactly?

I mean know what you're doing. I doubt you are doing the snowflake method properly if you are still not sure what your character motivations are because the method requires that to be established before a word is written.

As for making it decipherable I am not sure. Can a character commit a physical crime for example, and then the reader will be able to tell why, just from the physical action of the crime itself?

Sure, happens all the time. Here's a *good* written depiction of a physical crime scene:

As he kissed his wet lips down my face and neck and then began to shove his hands up under my shirt, I wept. I began to leave my body; I began to inhabit the air and the silence. I wept and struggled so I would not feel. He ripped open my pants, not having found the invisible zipper my mother had artfully sewn into their side.

"Big white panties," he said. I felt huge and bloated. I felt like a sea in which he stood and pissed and shat. I felt the corners of my body were turning in on themselves and out, like in cat's cradle, which I played with Lindsey just to make her happy. He started working himself over me.

"Susie! Susie!" I heard my mother calling. "Dinner is ready." He was inside me. He was grunting. "We're having string beans and lamb." I was the mortar, he was the pestle. "Your brother has a new finger painting, and I made apple crumb cake."

Mr. Harvey made me lie still underneath him and listen to the beating of his heart and the beating of mine. How mine skipped like a rabbit, and how his thudded, a hammer against cloth. We lay there with our bodies touching, and, as I shook, a powerful knowledge took hold. He had done this thing to me and I had lived. That was all. I was still breathing. I heard his heart. I smelled his breath. The dark earth surrounding us smelled like what it was, moist dirt where worms and animals lived their daily lives. I could have yelled for hours.

I knew he was going to kill me. I did not realize then that I was an animal already dying.

"Why don't you get up?" Mr. Harvey said as he rolled to the side and then crouched over me. His voice was gentle, encouraging, a lover's voice on a late morning. A suggestion, not a command. I could not move. I could not get up.

When I would not—was it only that, only that I would not follow his suggestion?—he leaned to the side and felt, over his head, across the ledge where his razor and shaving cream sat. He brought back a knife. Unsheathed, it smiled at me, curving up in a grin.

He took the hat from my mouth. "Tell me you love me," he said. Gently, I did. The end came anyway.

In this scene, we can tell the murderer (Mr. Harvey) is motivated by sexual desire toward the victim. That part is 'explained'. However, the fact he commands the victim to tell him she loves him speaks to deeper motivations. Why is he asking her to do that? It's not explained, but we can decipher things from it. We can decipher that he is simply a psychopath who wants to make his victim suffer emotionally by forcing her to say she loves him as he kills her. Or, we can maybe decipher that he has some deep seated issues that make the request sincere. Either way, it offers something. The rest of the story can further hone in on the character and allow for deeper inspection.
 

ironpony

Senior Member
I mean know what you're doing. I doubt you are doing the snowflake method properly if you are still not sure what your character motivations are because the method requires that to be established before a word is written.



Sure, happens all the time. Here's a *good* written depiction of a physical crime scene:



In this scene, we can tell the murderer (Mr. Harvey) is motivated by sexual desire toward the victim. That part is 'explained'. However, the fact he commands the victim to tell him she loves him speaks to deeper motivations. Why is he asking her to do that? It's not explained, but we can decipher things from it. We can decipher that he is simply a psychopath who wants to make his victim suffer emotionally by forcing her to say she loves him as he kills her. Or, we can maybe decipher that he has some deep seated issues that make the request sincere. Either way, it offers something. The rest of the story can further hone in on the character and allow for deeper inspection.

Oh okay, well I know the villains motivations are, it's just that if I choose not to explain them to the reader, and leave it a mystery, will that be a problem? But I feel I know what they were, when I created the story.

For example, in the plot, the villains want to recruit a new member in their organization. They set up a test where the new member has to commit a crime against a potential victim. Later on in the story, the victim of the turns out to be one of the villains all along.

Can the reader decipher why the villains used one of their own to pose a victim for an initiation test, or no?
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
Oh okay, well I know the villains motivations are, it's just that if I choose not to explain them to the reader, and leave it a mystery, will that be a problem? But I feel I know what they were, when I created the story.

For example, in the plot, the villains want to recruit a new member in their organization. They set up a test where the new member has to commit a crime against a potential victim. Later on in the story, the victim of the turns out to be one of the villains all along.

Can the reader decipher why the villains used one of their own to pose a victim for an initiation test, or no?

I already answered your question. I'm not going to help you with your story. It's circular and doing your job for you.
 

ironpony

Senior Member
Oh okay, it's just even if I offer the reader something, it was not enough before, and the reader wants more. So I thought maybe I am doing something wrong then.
 

Smith

The Fox
Senior Member
Can a character commit a physical crime for example, and then the reader will be able to tell why, just from the physical action of the crime itself?

From just the physical act of the crime? Sometimes. I mean, this is what investigators do in real life, e.g. shows such as First 48; they arrive at a crime scene, do their investigation, seek out witnesses, follow leads on suspects, and try to deduce who would have a cause to commit the crime. Was it a competitor? An angry ex? But there's a lot of reasons why somebody would steal, or rape, or kill. There are instances in which a person does not commit a crime just for one singular reason, but several. There are also instances in which the perpetrator has no prior history with the victim, in which case a motive can be even more challenging to figure out because it's impersonal.

In terms of the example that you've provided, if I am the reader, I can handle the motivations of the villain being mysterious. But they need to be later revealed. Why did they do it? It shines a whole new light and comprehension of everything I've read up to that point. Otherwise, to me, it just seems like some random, meaningless drivel.

If any mysteries are left unresolved, they better be very unimportant to the story (namely, the message) and its characters.

In other words, should you have this story in which the villain sets-up another villain, or the villain sets herself up, and then you NEVER EVER explain this, then why even bother? Just because it's convenient to moving the plot along?

If it's not outright explained directly, told by the narrator or literally translated to the reader by the protagonist/antagonist, then it needs to be obviously interpretable by the reader unless it's clear that it doesn't actually matter.

As in, "Oh. The villain set-up the sub-villain because it was conducive to their complete and total rise to power." Or, "The villain set himself up because it would lead the protagonist directly to him, and that's exactly what he wanted; setting himself up was actually a trap."

If things are ultimately left a mystery, then so too are the motivations, and generally an antagonist without knowable motivations is uninteresting, because then it just seems like things are happening for no reason. The only exception I can think of would be cosmic horror.

Frodo and company have to destroy this ring. It's like, really bad. There's orcs and stuff. They gotta' fight them. But Sauron? Who's that guy? And the ring? Yeah, just a piece of jewelry.

That's not good writing.

On the other hand: Sauron created all of the rings, including The Ring controlling all the others, and they were explicitly designed for his plan of total domination of Middle Earth? Now that's a story. But the motivations need to be at least somewhat clear for that to function, even if we don't fully know why Sauron wants power.

The other option: You would have to painstakingly show how The Ring controls the other rings, and how they make the lesser ring bearers serve The One Ring, which would take numerous scenes to develop. Not just one singular "crime". It would have to be so obvious that it's not a matter of interpretation, but a matter of deciphering.

Tolkien opted for the option of more or less telling the reader everything, because the story isn't about figuring out how the rings work. After all, the characters already know all that, so there'd be no reason to keep it all a mystery. The story is about destroying The Ring because we already know how they work and why they were created, and the protagonists need to stop Sauron's plan.

So tl;dr, if the motivations and reasons for the antagonist's actions are not the focal point of the story, just tell the reader and get on with the real point of the story. If discovering the motivations and reasons of the antagonist ARE the point, then you need to spend the story developing that via showing, so that the reader can clearly decipher them in the end and there is nothing unresolved.
 
Last edited:

ironpony

Senior Member
Oh okay, I was advised to keep it as a mystery, but I should reveal it later then.

What about the plot example I gave, is that decipherable for example, or do I need to give more explanation?
 

Smith

The Fox
Senior Member
Oh okay, I was advised to keep it as a mystery, but I should reveal it later then.

What about the plot example I gave, is that decipherable for example, or do I need to give more explanation?

So far, the only details we seem to have are "villain sets-up test in which new recruit must commit crime on sub-villain".

There's such a plethora of reasons why a villain would do this that it's not realistically decipherable. For one, I don't even know what this test is. What the crime is. I don't know who the villains are. I don't know who the new recruit is. And I don't know what the outcome of this test is.

What a James Bond type villain does, is explain their plan *before* they've even set it in motion (or right as they've set it in motion, with enough time for Bond to stop it at the last second). "Muahaha, I'm going to start this 5 minute countdown and this device I have in my hand is going to blow up the whole world!" That is what Bond-style villain basically does. He never just kills Bond and guarantees that he succeeds.

That is to say: a Bond-style villain doesn't only explain his whole plan, but gives the protagonist a prime opportunity to foil his plan too.

Based on the information you've provided, your villain would not at all be acting like a Bond villain by having a new recruit completely and successfully fulfill his plan, and then explains why to the new recruit after the fact. If the plan's already over and done with, and the results are in, then there's nothing for the hero to stop. It's over. Done.

If I had to guess, the reason why your villain is doing this is because if the new recruit can "defeat" his own sub-villain, then the new recruit qualifies as being competent enough to serve him. However, even if this is true, and seems self-evident to you, there really is nothing self-evident about it. I'm literally just guessing and there's no actual evidence to support my theory.
 
Last edited:

ironpony

Senior Member
Oh okay, well the villains are a group that have been going around committing a series of kidnapping and sexual assault and rape crimes. They invite in a new recruit but have him commit a rape on a new victim as a test to get in. However, they also have the victim be in on it with the group and agree to fake that she is a kidnapped hostage being raped, as oppose to using a real victim for the test.

The reason why they do it this with a fake victim is, in case the new recruit may be an undercover cop. If he is an undercover cop, and the victim were to be real, then he could meet them to do the test, with the real victim, but then all of a sudden the police swarm the place, and now have a kidnap victim who can testify.

By using a fake victim who is on it with them, if the police swarm the place, then the fake victim will not testify to be kidnapped, since she is in on it with them, and there will be no kidnapping crime to charge them with.

That is why they use a fake victim who is in on it with them, but does this need to be explained in detail? Or is it better to have the reader infer the possibilities of why this is done, without getting the real and full explanation?
 

MikeDwight

Senior Member
You heard of Amy Bishop in Alabama shot 8 people? That's a villain, that's some cure for cancer cell-testing biology idiot villain. What do they want from you there, you're one, and whats your self-image. We're the Professor problem-solvers and whats Your self-image for a setup for a cannibalistic and parisitic world in a Marvel comics universe. Why doesn't Superman and Joker sit at the same workshop table and get a job?
 

Davi Mai

Senior Member
This reminded me of Chris Rock asking "Whatever happened to crazy?". in response to people trying to blame movies and video games for mass shootings. Some villains are just plain crazy, and no other motivation needs to be explained?
 

ironpony

Senior Member
Oh okay, I just thought a lot of readers would not accept villains who are crazy just for the pure sake of being crazy, if that's what you mean?
 

ironpony

Senior Member
Oh okay, but if you are writing a screenplay, how else do you write the villains reasons for doing things, without dialogue, since in screenwriting, you are not allowed to write a person's thoughts at all, or background, or anything that the audience would not see or hear?
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top