If you want to write a mediocre movie, let the villain live. Even worse, let the hero go through the bulk of your story without encountering obstacles from the villain. That’s a true recipe for failure and that’s a simple way to avoid writing a dead-end screenplay.
Consider the difference between “Star Wars” and “The 5th Wave.” In “Star Wars,” the villain (Darth Vader) starts the story and constantly threatens Luke through his storm troopers who try to stop Luke from getting into the space port and then stopping him from taking off. Then more storm troopers try to keep keep Luke from escaping off the Death Star. Finally in the end, Luke defeats Darth Vader by blowing up the Death Star.
In “Star Wars,” the hero doesn’t kill the villain, but does kill the villain’s plan to destroy the rebel base with the Death Star. So your story always needs to kill either the villain or the villain’s dream forever.
In “Avatar,” the hero kills the villain. In “Die Hard,” the hero kills the villain. In “Happy Death Day,” the hero kills the villain.
In “Star Wars,” the hero kills the villain’s dream. In “Titanic,” the hero kills the villain’s dream of marrying her. In “The Karate Kid,” the hero kills the villain’s dream of tormenting and bullying him.
So make sure the villain either physically dies or the villain’s dream dies such as in “The Hunger Games” when the hero kills the villain’s dream of keeping the country oppressed and afraid.
What happens if you don’t kill your villain? You get “The 5th Wave” where the hero’s goal is to rescue her little brother from aliens masquerading as human soldiers. When the hero succeeds, she doesn’t kill the villain nor does she kill the villains’ dream. The villain simply flies away without even knowing that the hero even exists. That’s what helps make “The 5th Wave” such a mediocre story despite being a great book. Novels immerse readers into experiences, but screenplays must be far more structured to create a compelling ending.
Even worse, not only does the villain in the “The 5th Wave” not even know of the hero’s existence, the villain doesn’t even threaten the hero anywhere in the movie. The hero and villain are completely oblivious toe each other and their dreams and fates can happily co-exist without either one affecting the other. “The 5th Wave” fails for two reasons:
- The villain never threatens the hero throughout the story
- The hero never kills the villain or kills the villain’s dream
What happens if the villain never threatens the hero directly or indirectly? Then there’s no conflict and no tension or suspense on what will happen when the hero and villain meet. This creates a dull, tension-free ending. “The 5th Wave” is a perfectly example of how novels are loosely structured and when faithfully turned into a screenplay, they fail because of their loose structure.
To convert novels into screenplays, the novel must either be well-structured (such as “The Hunger Games” novel) or the screenwriter must take vast liberties to add structure to the novel’s story where no structure previously existed (the screenplay of “Forrest Gump” is far superior to the novel).
In 2018, watch for “The Sisters Brothers,” based on the novel of the same name. In this story, a man hires two assassins to track down and kill a man who has discovered a formula to find gold. However if you read the novel, the villain is the man who hires the two assassins, who are the heroes. Yet throughout most of the story, the villain has nothing to do with the story until the very end. As a result, the story is mostly about random people appearing and disappearing in the heroes’ lives. Only until the end does the hero actually face the villain but because the villain has had nothing to do with the hero, this final conflict in the end is relatively meaningless.
As a novel, “The Sisters Brothers” is okay, but if the screenplay closely mimics this story, it will be mediocre at best. Watch in 2018 how the actual movie comes out and if it’s good, it will have to deviate substantially from the novel.
So when writing your own screenplay, make sure you have the hero kill the villain or the villain’s dream, and have the villain constantly attack and threaten the hero from start to finish. The hero may not realize the villain is behind all of his or her problems, but the villain must be constantly threatening the hero or else the villain just won’t seem that important in the end. If your villain isn’t important in the end, then no part of your story will feel important at all.