Your hero is a slug. He or she may want a goal, but often has no reason to pursue it and no clear direction for getting it. That’s the purpose of your villain.
Your villain provides the way for your hero to achieve his or her goal. The most important role of the villain is to provide the hero with a Symbol of Hope.
The Symbol of Hope is something or someone that the hero wants to pursue at all costs, even overcoming his or her previous feelings of lethargy, indifference, and insecurity. In “Star Wars,” Luke has been bored most of his life but hasn’t found a reason to do anything until he sees the hologram of Princess Leia appear out of R2D2.
The villain, Darth Vader, indirectly forced Princess Leia to send her hologram to Luke, and now Luke is fixated on her image.
Despite seeing a Symbol of Hope, the hero may still not want to pursue it, so the villain has to cut the hero off from his old way of life. Now the hero has no choice but to pursue this Symbol of Hope. In “Star Wars,” Luke doesn’t want to go with Obi-wan to Princess Leia’s planet, but when Darth Vader’s stormtroopers wipe out his aunt and uncle, Luke has no reason to stay. Now his choice to go with Obi-wan is an easy one, and he does so voluntarily.
Getting Hans Solo’s Millennium Falcon to get him off his boring planet is just one step, but Luke’s real goal is to take R2D2 to Princess Leia’s planet. Once again, that goal gets foiled when Darth Vader blows up her planet and captures the Millennium Falcon on the Death Star.
Although Luke’s goal has been foiled, he suddenly finds that Princess Leia is a prisoner on the Death Star and that she’s scheduled to be executed soon. That gives Luke the motivation to pursue his Symbol of Hope (Princess Leia) once more.
After rescuing Princess Leia, Luke now has to protect her and get her off the Death Star. After much running around and fighting, Luke succeeds. In the final battle, Luke has to blow up the Death Star to keep it from killing Princess Leia on the rebel base.
The Symbol of Hope is the main thread that keeps your hero on track. Your story’s Symbol of Hope structure looks like this:
- Act I — The hero meets a Symbol of Hope that gives him or her a reason to do something
- Act IIa — The hero leaves the old way of life to continue pursuing the Symbol of Hope into a new world
- Act IIb — The hero achieves the Symbol of Hope and now has to protect it
- Act III — The hero must defeat the villain to save the Symbol of Hope or risk losing it forever.
In “Die Hard,” the Symbol of Hope is the hero’s wife:
- Act I — John McClane reunites with his wife and screws up their meeting
- Act IIa — John McClane escapes from the terrorists and tries to call for help
- Act IIb — John McClane needs to wipe out the terrorists single-handedly before they kill his wife
- Act III — John McClane has to defeat the villain or he’ll kill his wife
When creating your own story, identify the Symbol of Hope that motivates your hero from beginning to end. A hero without a Symbol of Hope is directionless, which risks creating a story that’s unfocused and scattered. The Symbol of Hope keeps your story focused and directed so it stays on track so make sure your hero has a Symbol of Hope to pursue at all times.