Most screenwriters make the mistake of thinking the villain only exists to oppose the hero. This simplistic thinking creates bad movies where the villain only seems to exist to cause problems for the hero and rarely seems to have a goal of his or her own. The better way to think of your villain is the one person who can force the hero into changing into a better person.
In “Die Hard,” John McClane wants to get back with his wife but initially gets into an argument with her instead. Only when the terrorists arrive does John McClane eventually realize how much his loves his wife and how he drove her away from him by being a jerk. The her would never have changed without the villain.
In “Star Wars,” Luke wants an adventure so Darth Vader as the villain provides him that path to an adventure. In all great stories, the villain exists not just to oppose the hero, but to provide a path for the hero to change.
Even in stories lacking a single villain, the “villain” is simply the set of people and events working to keep the hero from achieving his or her goal. In “Little Miss Sunshine,” the hero wants to get to a beauty pageant. That’s her physical goal, but her emotional goal is to bring her family together. Conspiring to keep her from getting to the beauty pageant are various people and events, but they all work to help bring the family closer together in ways that would have been impossible if the hero had never tried to get to the beauty pageant in the first place.
All stories are about change in the hero. The hero changes from a flawed character to a better person by confronting the forces of the villain. Without the villain, the hero can’t change.
So when creating your own villain, make sure your villain forces your hero to change in ways that would never have been possible had the hero never encountered the villain at all.
The villain isn’t just an obstacle opposing the hero, but the one person who forces the hero to change. The hero needs to change. The mentor teaches the hero to change. An ally helps the hero and in return, the hero helps the ally change. The villain forces the hero to change by forcing him or her to face the main flaw holding the hero back.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step to changing is to admit you’re an alcoholic. Likewise the first step for your hero to change is to admit his or her flaws.
In “Liar Liar,” the hero finally admits to himself that he lies. In “School of Rock,” the hero finally admits to himself that he’s a loser. In “Tootsie,” the hero finally admits that his deception can no longer continue.
Heroes must face the truth about themselves so they can change, and the only way they’ll face this truth about themselves is through the actions of the villain.
That’s why your villain is just as important as your hero. Don’t create a cardboard, stereotypical villain who simply exists to cause problems for the hero. Create a villain whose goals somehow force the hero into changing and becoming a better person.
Your villain is a twisted, evil version of your hero’s mentor. Both your villain and mentor teach your hero how to change. The mentor teaches the hero a unique lesson or skill. The villain forces the hero to use that unique lesson or skill.
Make your villain more than just an obstacle to your hero. Make your villain the only person in the world who could force your hero to change for the better.