Every story has a hero and a villain. The hero is the person we want to win. The villain is the person or force that’s stopping the hero from succeeding. Here’s how to create the right type of villain to go against your hero.
Every story has a villain. That villain can be a person (the wicked witch in Snow White), a force of nature (the ocean in “The Poseidon Adventure”) or the abstract notion of a society or group (the male dominated society in “Thelma and Louise”). How can you decide what type of villain your story needs? The answer is a simple multi-step process.
First, identify what your hero wants. If your hero’s goal isn’t crystal clear, then no amount of special effects or explosions are going to make your story any better. You need to identify your hero’s goals. Typically, your hero has an emotional goal, such as wanting to find love.
Once you know your hero’s emotional goal, you need to find a way to make that goal concrete and physical. If your hero wants to be loved, you need to define the person that the hero wants. If your hero wants security, you need to define how that security can manifest itself in your hero’s life, such as through money by robbing a bank. Your hero’s emotional goal always defines the physical goal.
After you know your physical goal, the next step is to ask yourself what’s the worse-case scenario that could befall your hero? If your hero wants love, what’s the most painful and least desirable outcome for your hero? That the person your hero loves might die (“Finding Nemo”)? That the person your hero loves might marry someone else (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”)? Whatever is the worse-case scenario for your hero, that defines who or what your villain might be.
In “E.T.,” Elliot’s goal is to find a friend. E.T. arrives and the worse-case scenario isn’t just that E.T. might die, but that the government might take him away as a lab specimen. Knowing this worse-case scenario defines the villain for “E.T.”
In “The Shawshank Redemption,” the worse-case scenario for Tim Robbins is to be locked in prison forever for a crime he never committed. Who can keep him locked up forever? The villain, which is the prison warden.
In the latest “Star Trek” film, the worse-case scenario is that all the characters will not only die, but never live their lives together as a crew at all. The villain that can prevent this is the evil Romulan captain, who has crossed through time to confront the Star Trek crew in their early days.
Your villain is whatever or whoever can make your hero’s worse-case scenario come true. Whatever that might be, that’s your true villain. Once you know the true villain of your story, your hero will truly have someone worth fighting against to prevent the worse-case scenario from coming true, and that will help make your story compelling and interesting for everyone.