Every story must have a hero and a villain. The trick is getting your hero and villain to keep bumping into each other over and over again.
Both your hero and your villain have goals. Your villain’s goal is usually big and often hidden from the beginning of your story. In “The Incredibles,” the villain is the boy who wants to be Mr. Incredible’s sidekick and when that fails, he vows to become the world’s greatest villain by systematically hunting down and destroying all the super heroes who have gone undercover. However, we don’t know about this plan until the end.
In “Star Wars,” we don’t know why Darth Vader is after Princess Leia and only later do we learn that he’s trying to wipe out the rebel alliance.
In “Fargo,” the villain (Jerry) wants to hire ex-cons to kidnap his wife and collect a ransom, which we gradually learn as his plan falls apart.
Every villain has a goal that’s usually mysterious to the audience at the beginning and only revealed later.
Your hero’s goal is less action-oriented and more emotional-oriented. Your hero wants something because he’s stuck in a dead end life. The hero may not know exactly what he wants, but he knows he wants something and often clearly states that at the beginning of the story.
In “Star Wars,” Luke wants to get off his dead end planet. In “WALL-E,” WALL-E wants to find love. In “Rocky,” Rocky wants to prove he’s somebody.
The hero’s goal is usually vague in the beginning. The hero knows what he wants, but doesn’t know how to get it. That’s where the villain enters the picture.
Your villain is completely responsible for messing up your hero’s life in Act I and forcing the hero to enter a new world, which marks the beginning of Act IIa.
In “Star Wars,” Darth Vader has no idea who Luke is, but because Darth Vader ordered the stormtroopers to find R2D2 and C3PO, the stormtroopers kill Luke’s aunt and uncle, which forces Luke to go with Obi-wan.
In “Rocky,” Apollo Creed just wants to give somebody a shot at the championship so he randomly picks Rocky, and that forces Rocky to have to prepare to fight.
In “WALL-E,” the Buy N Large corporation has sent Eve to Earth, causing WALL-E to fall in love with her. When Eve snatches the plant and shuts down, awaiting the Buy N Large rocket to return, the Buy N Large rocket threatens to take Eve away, forcing WALL-E to follow and enter a new world.
By the end of Act I, your villain has indirectly done something to irreparably mess up the hero’s life and forces the hero to enter a new world. The villain doesn’t even know who the hero is, but the villain’s actions have caused the hero to change.
Throughout Act IIa, the villain is still oblivious to the hero’s identity. During Act IIa, the hero is usually constantly causing problems for the villain. By Act IIb, the villain finally starts fighting back against the hero and nearly wipes the hero out.
By Act III, the villain almost achieves his goal, but now the hero pops up to stop the villain. By the end of Act III, the hero and the villain know exactly who the other person is and they’re fighting each other directly.
The villain needs to get the hero out of the way to accomplish his final goal. The hero needs to stop the villain to save other people. At this point, only one of them can win.
From the villain’s point of view, this is how each act behaves:
Act I — The villain is pursuing a goal and accidentally stumbles into the hero’s life.
Act IIa — The villain’s plan is running smoothly with minor problems from the hero.
Act IIb — The villain devotes energy to wiping out the pesky hero and nearly defeats him.
Act III — The villain almost achieves his goal but the hero stops him to save others.
From the hero’s point of view, this is how each act behaves:
Act I — The hero is stuck in a dead end life and something the villain does forces the hero to leave his dead end life.
Act IIa — The hero is thrust into a new world where he learns new skills and meets new friends.
Act IIb — The hero fights a losing battle against the villain and nearly gets destroyed.
Act III — The hero is motivated to save others and confronts the villain to keep the villain from succeeding in hurting the hero’s loved ones.
Notice how the hero and villain have different stories within the same story? The villain accidentally changes the hero’s life and forces the hero to learn something new, which eventually spells the villain’s downfall.
In each Act, the hero and villain are butting heads. In Act I, the villain has no idea who the hero is. In Act IIa, the villain still may not know who the hero is, but the villain can see that the hero is doing something that interferes with the villain’s plans.
In Act IIb, the villain finally gets sick of the hero and tries to wipe him out.
In Act III, the hero and villain clash to a fight to the finish.
A story is more than just the hero’s goal. A story is the villains’ goal, which provides a path for the hero to achieve his goal. The hero and villain’s goals keep interfering with each other and that’s what makes up your story.
Without a hero, you don’t have a story. Without a villain, your hero has no direction. With both a goal for your hero and villain, you have a complete story.