Most heroes are timid, frightened, and unsure of themselves in contrast to a villain who is totally confident and working towards a plan with overwhelming odds in his favor. In the hero’s shoes, most people might do the obvious, which is hide and do nothing, but in Hollywood, that won’t work. In a screenplay, your villain has to force your hero to react.
In the beginning of every good story, the hero is trapped in a dead-end life. Then suddenly the villain does something that changes the hero’s life forever.
In “Star Wars,” Darth Vader tries capturing the Death Star plans from Princess Leia, but she manages to send them off with R2D2, who winds up running into Luke.
In “WALL-E,” WALL-E is stuck on a dead planet when the villain sends Eve to scout out the planet.
In “Die Hard,” Bruce Willis is separated from his wife when the terrorists bust in and take everyone hostage.
Your villain forces your hero to act. Then your hero voluntarily decides to follow a path that will lead to eventual confrontation with the villain. Act I is about the villain forcing the hero to react and then ending with the hero making a conscious decision to act.
What drives Act IIa (the first half of Act II) is the hero pursuing a goal of some kind. In “Star Wars,” Luke is trying to get to a planet with Obiwan. In “WALL-E,” WALL-E is trying to stay with Eve. By the end of Act IIa, the hero achieves this goal initially set into motion by the villain.
In Act IIb (the second half of Act II), the villain starts taking control, making life miserable for the hero. Now the world starts falling apart for the hero as the villain actively works to shut down the hero. By the end of Act IIb, the villain has nearly succeeded and left the hero helpless.
At the beginning of Act III, the villain is on his way to achieving some goal with horrible consequences that will directly affect the hero. This causes the hero to react once more until the hero and villain clash.
At all times, the villain is prodding the hero to act. Left alone, the hero’s natural tendency is to sit and do nothing, which makes for a dull story. If your screenplay feels flat and dull, chances are good that your villain isn’t forcing the hero to act.
Think of your villain as a cattle prod that keeps pushing the hero along his journey. Without the constant prodding of the villain, the hero would sit and do nothing. The villain is the driving force behind the hero’s motivation, which is why your villain is the most important character in your screenplay.
Would Luke be compelled to take action against the Death Star if Darth Vader wasn’t aiming it at Princess Leia and the rebel base? Probably not.
Would Bruce Willis be compelled to take on the terrorists if his wife wasn’t being held hostage? Doubt it.
Would Thelma and Louise drive their car off the edge of a cliff if the cops weren’t surrounding them? Highly unlikely.
Your villain always and constantly forces your hero to act. If your screenplay slows down, find a way to make the villain make the hero act, and you’ll be surprised at how fast this one decision can perk up the pace of your screenplay.