Both your hero and your villain needs a goal. Here are the variations for how you can get your hero and villain to create maximum conflict.
The typical story is about a hero who wants something and a villain who keeps getting in his way. In “Rocky,” Rocky wants to prove that he’s not a bum and to do that, he needs to fight the heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed. In this example, the hero has a goal and the villain is just standing in the way.
Goal variation #1: The hero strives for a goal and the villain gets in the way by reacting.
In “Die Hard,” Bruce Willis just wants to get back with his wife, and then suddenly finds himself trapped in a terrorist takeover of a skyscraper. In this case, the villain wants a goal and the hero gets in the way.
Goal variation #2: The villain strives for a goal and the hero gets in the way by reacting.
Those are the two basic goals for your hero and villain. The key is to make each goal linked. Even though Bruce Willis could care less about the terrorists’ goal, he does care when they put his wife in danger.
In “Independence Day,” the president is the hero and his goal is to prove to the world that he’s a leader. To do that, he just happens to battle against the aliens who are trying to destroy the human race. In this case, the aliens have a goal and the humans react.
Villains are usually embodied as a single character, such as Hans, the head terrorist in “Die Hard.” However, sometimes the villain isn’t a single person or object but a general object that appears in different disguises. In “Saving Private Ryan,” the German Army is the real villain, but they aren’t trying to specifically stop Tom Hanks from saving Private Ryan. They’re just reacting to Tom Hanks’ goal by getting in the way.
In “Finding Nemo,” the threat of predators is the villain, but sometimes that appears in the form of a barracuda, sometimes as a carnivorous fish with its own light, sometimes as jellyfish, and sometimes as a whale. Ultimately, the dentist is the main villain, but he’s not specifically fighting Marlin or Nemo. He’s just reacting to their goals and getting in the way. The real villain personified is the dentist’s niece who is known as a fish killer.
In thinking of your own story, ask yourself if your hero is striving for a goal and the villain keeps getting in the way (“Saving Private Ryan”) or the villain is striving for a goal and the hero keeps getting in the way (“Die Hard”).
Once you know your hero’s goal and your villain’s goal, you’ll know the major point of your story, which is who’s fighting and what’s really at stake? If your hero’s goal is fuzzy, define your villain’s goal first. Once you know your hero’s goal, you’ll also know your villain’s goal and vice versa.