Revealing villain motivations?

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  • #123389
    Rose
    @rose-colored-fancy

      Hi everyone!

      I have trouble writing my villain’s motivation in the story. He’s acting according to it, but I don’t know how to explain his motivation/backstory to the reader.

      Here’s a little background info:

      My story is a YA fantasy.

      My setting’s governmental system is seven tribes, all with equal power. This leads to a lot of civil wars. Ten years before the start of my story, there was one. It started over a misunderstanding in which two of the tribes, the Lehabim and the Kezbes, each blamed the other as the aggressors. (There’s more to it than that, but I’m trying to be brief.) The Lehabim won the war, but both tribes kept a grudge afterward.

      In that war, the queen of the Kezbes was killed by a Lehabim while she was trying to help the wounded on the battlefield. Her husband, king Hakan, (the main villain) was furious and kept an eternal grudge against all Lehabim because they’d killed his wife and cast his tribe into chaos over a misunderstanding.

      Ten year time skip!

      Hakan launches an attack against the Lehabim and captures their newly-crowned king, Gavril, son of the former king. This leads to a lot of chaos and eventually an actual plot. This is where the story actually starts.

      My main character, Liorah, is Gavril’s sister and the princess of the Lehabim.

      Hakan’s eventual goal is to conquer/ scatter the Lehabim, and eventually the other tribes, so the entire country will be under one central government, and there will never be another civil war like the one that killed his wife. So, he’s making war to make peace.

      (Sorry for the infodump, I really tried to keep it as brief as possible.)

      Now, what I’m struggling with is how to relay this information to the reader without all dumping it in one place (AKA villainous monologue)

      The problem is that the story is written in first-person and Liorah doesn’t know about any of this. She only knows that there was a war (which she believes the Kezbes started) and her father won. I can’t filter in the information from her point of view, since neither she nor any of her family and friends know this.

      Also, Hakan is ‘off-camera’ for most of the book, even though he’s directly influencing everything that happens. Liorah and he are together for about two chapters, but I can’t have him monologue the whole history.

      The one thing that might help is that there’s a character who knows about it. (I can’t mention names, it’s spoilers.😉)  He’s close to Hakan, so he knew about all of it. Through a series of unlikely events, he and Liorah come to spend a lot of time together, so he might tell her about it. But, how do I do that without info-dumping? Also, it would be out of character, since it isn’t something he likes to talk about, and he and Liorah aren’t on the best of terms.

      In short, how do I relay the backstory of the villain to the reader when none of the main characters know about it?

      Thank you for reading the detailed and rambly summary of my problem! I’d appreciate any help, tips, or advice!

      "I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right." ~The Book Thief

      #123391
      Zee
      @zee

        @rose-colored-fancy, sounds like you have a very complex story going. I’m impressed!

        I wonder if part of the difficulty lies in the fact that the plot of your story is on such an epic scale, tribes clashing, royal rivalries, etc. Hakan might be the main villain at the back of all the other wars and villanies, but since he is out of the picture for most of the story, I wonder if you might not have a smaller-scale villain, who is in closer contact with Liorah and is trying to hurt or thwart her on a more “personal” level, if you know what I mean.

        Perhaps he’s an acting as an agent of the enemy king, but he also has reasons of his own for hating Liorah and her family. I don’t know all the details, but you might be able to make this work with the (unnamed) character you already have, which would be great, because it sounds like your character roster is already pretty long.

        Epic rivalries between kingdoms make cool backdrops for stories, but it’s the trials and triumphs of well-written characters that make a story one I want to keep reading. Your heroine’s struggle should be focused, clear, personal and immediate, and so should that of your villain.

        #123409

        Hey, @rose-colored-fancy. I read your question and found myself quite intrigued with your story and problem.

        On a side note, your story sounds amazing, and I’m not saying that lightly. When I first started reading to see if I could help you at all, I got drawn into the world you described in a few sentences. 🙂 Sounds amazing, and I wish you well on it!

        Now in answer of your question, this is the first thing that came to mind. I have problems with this as well, and a writing friend of mine gave me an idea when I was struggling with this. Instead of having one character who knows about a certain situation tell another about it (which tends to load down the reader if there’s too much detail or go on too long), you can change the POV. For instance, since you need the reader to know the situation at hand and only a few people know about it, change the POV to one of those characters’ perspectives, and then it makes the job of explanation a lot easier. (Other than the fact that you then have to know the character extremely well to be able to tell it from his/her POV.) I realize this may not be appealing to you, because your story is only from the princess’s POV, but when my friend told me this, it actually enhanced the story. A lot. I’m not saying having a story from only one person’t POV is bad – I’ve read tons of books that were fine without multiple POV’s – but if you change it to another person’s perspective, it tends to grab the reader’s attention. So if you have small scenes from either your main villain’s POV or another person who knows the situation, it could solve your problem and add a little more spice to your story. And you wouldn’t have to have big scenes or a lot of them, just enough to change things up and give you time to explain what’s going on.

        I hope this helps, but if it doesn’t, I totally get it. Hope you get a helpful answer to your problem soon, so you can continue with your writing. 🙂

        Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.
        -JRR Tolkien

        #123410
        Princess Foo
        @princess-foo

        @rose-colored-fancy

        The good thing is that Liorah already has a lot of the background information necessary, so the conversation doesn’t need to be a monologue. It can be a really quick explanation.

        One way I see explaining this is a brief conversation, either with Hakan himself, or simply someone on his side, such as a captured soldier or the messenger that has come to ask for their surrender since their king is gone, etc. It could go something like this:

        Liorah: How could you do this/this is an outrage/we’ve never done anything to justify this betrayal.

        Scene antagonist: Don’t pretend innocence/How dare you say that/You killed OUR QUEEN as she was HELPING THE WOUNDED—you are not the wronged party here. I/the king is simply preventing the situation from ever happening again.

        That’s it.

        The scene could then end, they could change subjects, they could argue over whether that is true or not, or something else entirely could happen. Liorah doesn’t even have to believe him, but I think something along the lines of this short exchange could explain everything the reader needs to know about the king’s motivations.

        The cake is a lie. acaylor.com

        #123411
        Rusted Knight
        @rusted-knight

          @rose-colored-fancy

          I actually read something with a similar villain. He was doing though because he thought the government wasn’t strong enough to maintain national integrity.

          The best and time honored way is to find the middle man/men. (generals and other ranking officials) Once you know who he uses, show how he places them for their skills. From there one can look for the common denominator that is the big boss or the trail to him. As for how to reveal it, my suggestion is to have the main character think they have him figured out and get surprised when he moves to phase two.

          The Devil saw me with my head down and got excited. Then I said Amen

          #123427
          Rose
          @rose-colored-fancy

            @zee

            Hi Zee, thank you so much for the advice! Great minds must think alike because Unnamed Character is indeed a minor villain who’s constantly getting in Liorah’s way. He has a lot more ‘screen-time’ than Hakan, so that helps. I actually have several antagonists, (not all villains, some mean well, they just get in Liorah’s way.) and I was afraid Hakan isn’t doing enough because he feels a bit impersonal, but I have several of his subordinates that are ‘antagonizing’ on a much more personal level.

            Epic rivalries between kingdoms make cool backdrops for stories, but it’s the trials and triumphs of well-written characters that make a story one I want to keep reading. Your heroine’s struggle should be focused, clear, personal and immediate, and so should that of your villain.

            That’s brilliant advice! Thank you so much, I’ll definitely keep it in mind!


            @olivia

            Hi Olivia!

            I read your question and found myself quite intrigued with your story and problem.

            On a side note, your story sounds amazing, and I’m not saying that lightly. When I first started reading to see if I could help you at all, I got drawn into the world you described in a few sentences. Sounds amazing, and I wish you well on it!

            Thank you so, so much! Your kind comment made my day!

            I saw the premise of your WIP on your profile and I love the idea! It sounds like a really fun book.

            That’s a great idea! I actually have a few chapters in different POVs, including a character who knows about Hakan’s backstory, so I could just incorporate it! I have no idea why I didn’t think of that, it’ll work perfectly! Thank you, that helped a lot!


            @princess-foo

            That’s an amazing idea! I actually have an interrogation scene where it’ll fit perfectly! Especially since you mentioned Liorah doesn’t have to believe it. (She’s terribly stubborn. XD) Thank you!


            @rusted-knight

            Thank you so much for the advice!

            As for how to reveal it, my suggestion is to have the main character think they have him figured out and get surprised when he moves to phase two.

            I love that idea! I’m totally going to use that, it’ll create a spectacular twist! I love making my characters have a perfectly set up plan and then there’s a shift that throws it out the window. Thank you!

             

            If anyone has any more ideas, I’d love to hear them!

            "I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right." ~The Book Thief

            #123432

            @rose-colored-fancy

            Glad I could help! 🙂  I never thought of it myself either, so don’t feel bad. My friend had to give me the idea as well. Haha, that’s why there are writing groups like this and others, to share advice and the little things that we know. Even if the high majority of us on here are amateurs, we all know at least a few things that others don’t, and are therefore good to share.

            Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.
            -JRR Tolkien

            #123433

            Oh, and thanks about my WIP. 🙂 I’m not really working on that one anymore, but I might finish it sometime. The one I’m working on now is actually by far my favourite story that I’ve thought of yet. I’ll change my profile so it has that as the WIP instead.

            Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.
            -JRR Tolkien

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