In many movies, both the hero and the villain have a goal that’s initially mysterious. As the story goes on, we gradually learn bits and pieces of this mystery until we finally get to the end and discover what this goal has been all this time.
You can plot the gradual revelation of this mystery by looking at it in four steps:
- The hero or villain has a goal right from the start, but all we see of it initially is a hint, so the final goal is a mystery.
- The hero or villain gets one step closer to the goal, although all we get as the audience is another hint of what this goal is.
- The hero or villain runs into complications trying to achieve this goal.
- The hero or villain finally reveals the goal.
In “Die Hard,” the villain’s goal is mysterious because it appears it’s nothing more than a bunch of terrorists taking over the building.
After taking everyone hostage, the villain starts working to crack the safe open.
The hero starts fouling up the villain’s plan by contacting the police and the police storm the building, forcing the villain to beat them back.
The hero finally learns the villain’s plan to blow up the roof with all the hostages to allow him to escape.
When defining your hero or villain’s goal, first define what that goal might be, then reveal it as a hint. Second, show your hero or villain getting closer to achieving that goal. Third, throw complications in the hero or villain’s way to delay achievement of that goal. Fourth, reveal what this goal has been all this time.
Often times a movie either has a mystery surrounding the hero or the villain, but not always both. In “Die Hard,” the big mystery is the villain’s goal that we gradually learn about over time. In “The Terminal,” the hero flies in from another country to visit New York. His goal is initially mysterious, but we gradually learn that it involves a can. Then when the villain threatens the hero’s friends, the hero’s goal seems impossible. Finally, we learn what the hero’s goal really is, which is to get the last autograph of a jazz musician for his father.
By having a mystery surrounding the hero or villain right from the start, your story has a direction that drives your story forward. Now instead of just writing scenes that sound good but don’t support your story, you can write scenes that support the mystery of the hero or villain.
In “Oblivion,” you can see this villain’s mystery in four parts as follows:
- The world has been nearly destroyed and the remaining survivors are planning to leave the Earth. (The real goal is a mystery initially.)
- The remaining humans are busy sucking up the remaining natural resources before they leave Earth.
- The remaining “aliens” on Earth capture the hero.
- The hero learns that the real villain is the alien computer that actually destroyed the Earth.
Study any good movie and notice if there’s an initial mystery involving either the villain or the hero. Then see how this mystery pulls the story along until the end when this mystery finally gets revealed. Once you understand what this mystery is, you can loo back at the earlier part of the story to see how this goal was initially kept hidden and only gradually revealed over time. By the time you understand the mystery of the hero or villain, the story is almost over. Then the final climactic battle takes place.