Two questions! A) what would be good motives for a prince villain BESIDES tragic backstory B) Any advice for writing a redemption arc?
Wow, I’m in love with this ask. Antagonist motivations? REDEMPTION ARCS? Yes please!!
Okay, so the plan is, I’m going to address the first question first and the second one second. I think that seems reasonable. This might get a little lengthy, I can feel it in the wind, so we’ll see at what point we’ll probably need a Read More.
Question A: (Princely) Villain Motivations
1. Perhaps the most obvious is, well, power. I know a lot of people get pretty tired of the whole “powerful villain wants more power/land/control/riches.” But the fact is, it makes sense, particularly for an antagonist that was raised in power. Keep in mind the kind of childhood this Prince might have had, and all the things they might have been told since they were young. Since they were a child, and during their most formative years, they were likely told time and again how it is their duty as the heir and future leader to uphold the reputation, stature, and altogether power of the entire kingdom. That’s quite a lot of pressure to be under, and it’s hard to get out from under that idea.
Now I’m caught up in the psychology of this trope so here are some points that are somewhat related.
- The first thing they have to fear is looking bad. A Prince is a public figurehead, many are looking to him. That’s a lot of people to disappoint. And when your only counsel is potentially people who are leading you askew, it’s hard to avoid counting on the wrong advice while under pressure.
- These people they could potentially disappoint are both people they personally care about (family/friends) and people that they are responsible for (the citizens)
- Particularly if it’s family applying the pressure, then this care stands to lose everything they have ever known of they try to stand for what they actually think.
2. Noble Ends: Maybe this character kind of has some good ideas or intentions, but for whatever reason, the execution is less than the best- as in, noble ends but evil means. This can take a number of forms, but often you see noble-ends/evil-means characters doing things like putting other people in danger if it means saving one specific character, etc. For every character, this can be different. This particular character is interesting because they are in a position of political and military power, meaning that things are pretty high stakes within their personal lives, the interior of the kingdom, and in their entire country’s relationship with other entire countries. I’m sort of going of the assumption here that you have an idea of the kinds of things your villain does, just not why.
One of the most often quoted phrases I see about antagonists is that “every villain is a hero in their own minds.” Really take that into consideration for this option in particular, but really it applies to any antagonist.
3. “The Puppet King” Approach: By this I am referring to the trope where a political or powerful figure is actually just being used or manipulated by others with ill intentions. This can be the result of many things, such as straight up blackmail, or the controlling people having leverage over them (like hostages) or, if you want to connect it back to the first idea, through emotional manipulations.
- Blackmail: The controllers have something against them that, if revealed, could be disastrous for the character.
- Leverage: The controllers have something the character desperately needs or wants and are holding it over their heads.
- Emotional Manipulation: Borderline Tragic Backstory, and relating to the first idea, but the controllers could be telling the character terrible things in order to get them to do terrible things- perhaps they told them that they are useless or worthless if they don’t do these things, and this character craves the validation, attention, interaction, etc that comes with pleasing these people.
4. “They’re Not Evil, They’re Just Misguided”: Maybe this character is completely misinformed about the situation. This could be an elaborate manipulation on someone else’s part, or really no single person’s intention, but the product of the environment in which this character lives. It sort of ties back to “Noble ends and evil means”, except with a lot more deception and miscommunication going on. Keep in mind, they still have to make the choice to do some terrible things, so it’s not like they didn’t have bad intentions ever.
There’s also a few things you should keep in mind when writing a character like this.
First… if some of these ideas make it look like I am giving the “villain” something to be pitied, or like they have qualities or intentions that one could actually understand, or even an actual (gasp) tragic backstory, it’s because I actually am. If you want to write a good villain, and I mean a really good villain, they have to be just as complex and psychologically believable as the hero. Not only that, but it helps readers keep in mind that no one is just born with a gun in their hand and murder in their hearts. That layer of real tragedy is sometimes needed to show people that hey, this person fell real hard, and that is not just their personal tragedy, but a tragedy of the very world we all live in.
That being said, I am going to jump into my second thing to keep in mind… This villain can have understandable intentions, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t gonna do villainous things. Make them do terrible, horrible, horrendous, awful, unforgivable things. After all, they aren’t really a “villain” if they don’t do entirely evil things sometimes. Yes, it kind of sucks that this person became this way, but now it’s a little too late. They are a threat that needs to be dealt with now, or they will only breed more tragedy.
A villain’s “tragic backstory” only is meant to explain their actions, not to excuse them.
As for question two… I actually think I’m going to get back to you on that one. Redemption arcs deserve an entire post, because they are remarkably complex and I just can’t limit myself to only giving a handful of tips. I will be setting that post up probably later today, tomorrow at the latest.
Thanks for the questions, as always, and look for the redemption post on the horizon.