Identifying the Real Villain

The real villain isn’t just a single person or evil organization, but something that goes much deeper. The real villain is the hero himself.

In the first “Night at the Museum,” the hero is a down-on-his luck guy who has to take a lowly job as a museum night watchman. To achieve his goal of winning over his son, he must overcome all the museum exhibits that have suddenly come to life along with the scheming of the original night watchman played by Dick Van Dyke. Perhaps the biggest villain is really the hero himself as he tries to overcome his own reluctance and disbelief to get the museum back into order again.

In the sequel, “Night of the Museum 2,” there is no emotional dilemma of the hero. Once again, he’s battling museum exhibits that have come to life, but there’s little emotional restrictions that are holding him back, and that’s what makes the sequel (like most sequels) unsatisfying. Strip away the underlying foundation for a good movie and all you’re left with are the surface appearances, and that’s what most sequels do over and over again.

In great movies, there are two villains. First, there are the physical villains who are opposing the hero. More importantly, there’s the hero’s own flaws that are holding him back. think of every romantic comedy around where boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy gets girl back. The problem aren’t physical barriers keeping the boy and girl apart, but their own character flaws that they must overcome before they can get back together as stronger people.

When creating your own story, think first of what’s the worst that could happen to your hero and who or what is in power to make that worse-case scenario happen. Whoever or whatever this is, that’s your physical villain.

But don’t stop with just a physical villain. Go deeper and identify the main character flaw of your hero and that’s the real villain. That character flaw is what your hero must recognize and overcome before he can achieve his goal.

Every story must have:

  • A physical villain
  • A character flaw of the hero that limits the hero’s options

Although “Die Hard” is considered a classic action film, there are two villains: the head terrorist himself and Bruce Willis’s own fear. In the opening scene, Bruce Willis is actually afraid of flying so that’s why he’s so tense that he takes his shoes off and eventually is forced to go barefoot. Throughout the story, Bruce Willis must not only battle terrorists, but his own fears. That makes a stronger story than just seeing someone battling computer-generated special effects with no emotional investment behind it whatsoever.

By making your villain multi-dimensional as a physical being or force, and the hero’s own character flaw, your villain will be that much more imposing and intimidating, and a strong villain is the heart of a great story.

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