Think of any story and ask yourself why does the hero need to fight the villain and why does the villain need to fight the hero? In bad movies, there’s no logical reason. They just fight because otherwise there’s no physical action. However, in good movies, there is a reason why the hero and villain fight each other and that depends on the Symbol of Hope.
The Symbol of Hope is either an object or a person that both the hero and villain want. The hero wants the Symbol of Hope because it will lead the hero towards his or her goal. The villain wants the Symbol of Hope for the exact same reason, because it will lead the villain towards his or her goal too.
Since only one person can possess the Symbol of Hope, the hero and villain must fight each other for it. That means only one can get their goal, and that’s why the hero and villain must fight each other. Thus the Symbol of Hope is the link that ties the hero to the villain and the villain to the hero like handcuffs. The only way either one can win is to fight the other.
Sports stories are the easiest to identify the Symbol of Hope because it’s usually the championship that both the hero and the villain want to achieve. Since only one person can win the championship, they must fight each other to get it.
Pick any story and look for what ties the hero and villain together. In “Star Wars,” Luke wants to protect and save Princess Leia while Darth Vader wants to kill her because she represents the rebellion. If Princess Leia were to die, Darth Vader would be happy, but Luke would be sad. If Luke were to save Princess Leia, Luke would be happy but Darth Vader would be (temporarily) defeated.
The Symbol of Hope is anything that forces the hero and villain together so only one can possess it. In romances, the Symbol of Hope is usually the hero’s true love. He or she needs their true love, but the villain is often fighting to keep true love away from the hero.
In “Titanic,” the Symbol of Hope is Jack, who is Rose’s true love. Rose’s fiancé sees Jack as a threat to winning Rose’s love, so he wants to get rid of Jack. Rose sees Jack as her hope for true love and a better life, so Rose wants to save Jack.
Take Jack out of the story and the motivation for Rose to fight her fiancé disappears almost entirely.
Take Princess Leia out of “Star Wars” and Luke has little reason to fight Darth Vader.
Take the championship out of any sports story like “Rocky” and the hero and villain have no reason to fight each other.
In “WALL-E,” the plant is the Symbol of Hope. WALL-E wants to save the plant because it will make Eve happy and WALL-E wants to win Eve’s love. Auto, the villain, wants to destroy the plant because that will keep the human race marooned in space forever, which is the villain’s goal.
The Symbol of Hope is the binding link that forces the hero and villain to fight. Without a Symbol of Hope, your story will be much weaker because there’s no logical or emotional reason why the hero and villain need to fight.
In your own screenplay, identify an object or person who the hero and villain both need. Then that’s what your story is all about, the hero and villain fighting for the Symbol of Hope where only one can achieve their goal.