In nearly every story that contains a single, dominant villain, there’s a twist in the story. In the first half of the tory, the audience is lead to believe one thing is happening. Then halfway through, the audience suddenly learns that something else is really happening. This misdirection is crucial because it keeps the story interesting as the audience tries to predict what’s going to happen ahead of time.
In “Get Out,” the hero thinks the real villain is being with a white girlfriend and not being accepted by her family. Gradually we learn that the white people not only accept him, but everyone treats him strangely, even the black people who work on the property. About halfway through the story, we finally learn what’s really the hero’s biggest problem. It’s not being accepted by white people, but being sold to white people who want his body.
In “Star Wars,” the first half the story is about Darth Vader trying to retrieve something in R2D2. In the second half of the story, we learn that Darth Vader’s real goal is to find and blow top the rebel base.
In “WALL-E,” the hero is a lonely robot who thinks his biggest problem is to find a companion and when he does, stay with her. Then at the second half of the story, he realizes that his real problem is to get the human race back to Earth again so he can get fixed and save humanity while also getting his robot girlfriend as well.
The first half of the story presents a horrifying outcome that the hero tries to avoid. Then the second half of the story ratchets up the danger to the hero even more.
Think of your story in two parts. In the first part, misdirect the audience into thinking the story is really about something scary, but not too terrifying. Then in the second part, blast the audience with the realization that things are actually much worse than they could have thought possible.
In “Django: Unchained,” the first half of the story is about finding the hero’s wife, who’s a slave ruled by a sadistic owner. The hero’ initial plan is to buy his wife and get away. Then when the villain finds out about the hero’s plan, the hero is forced to shoot it out with the villain’s forces until he runs out of bullets and surrenders. Now he’s going to sent away to work in the mines until he dies from exhaustion. Suddenly what appears to be a simple story about rescuing his wife turns into an all-out gun battle to rescue his wife.
The hero’s goal never changes, but just gets far bigger than the hero originally thought. The villain’s goal seems scary at first, but then blossoms into something far more sinister. By breaking your story into two parts, you can properly pace your story so it leads to a halfway point where the hero thinks he’s succeeded, only to discover the villain’s far more sinister plot.
This two-part structure that initially masks the villain’s goal before revealing it keeps tension high throughout the story. In “Die Hard,” imagine if we knew from the start that the villain just wanted money. Suddenly all sense of tension and mystery would evaporate from the story. What if in “Star Wars” we knew that Darth Vader just wanted too ind the rebel base? Then all the mystery of his actions earlier would no longer seem as interesting. Instead, we’d just be impatient for him to find the rebel base and blow it up.
Your story is always in two parts. First, a challenge to the hero. Second, a huge challenge to the hero. The hero would likely never have tried to stop the villain if he or she knew the villain’s real goal, but by the time the hero finds out, the hero’s already committed and so are we as the audience.