Every story needs conflict. The purpose of a villain in every story is to provide that conflict. However, if the villain does nothing more than just get in the way of the hero, it creates a one-dimensional villain and a boring story (“Terminator 3”, “The 355,” or “Mortal Engines”).
Besides just getting in the way of the hero’s pursuit of a goal, the villain’s real purpose is to force the hero to change. Remember, the hero’s struggle isn’t just about achieving a physical goal, but to change emotionally.
For a hero to change, he or she must start in a dead end life and become a better person by the end. In “Legally Blonde,” the hero starts out thinking she needs to be dependent on a man. By the end of the story, she realizes she’s smart and strong enough to be independent of a man.
So the real purpose of the villain is to keep the hero from changing. There are several ways the villain tries to do this.
First, the villain tries to keep the hero from achieving a physical goal because without this physical goal, the hero can’t change. In “Legally Blonde,” the hero wants to follow her ex-boyfriend into law school to win him back. So the villain’s first task is to keep her out of law school completely, and when that fails, drive her out of law school.
Notice that all the villains in “Legally Blonde” strive to make the hero’s life difficult in law school so she’ll quit. The hero’s ex-boyfriend even tells the hero to her face that she’s not smart enough to be in law school.
Second, when blocking the physical goal doesn’t work, the villain tries to attack the hero emotionally. That often involves temptation to keep the hero stuck in his or her limiting belief.
In “Legally Blonde,” the hero thinks she’s not strong enough to live life without a man. That’s why her law professor propositions her for sex because that will help confirm her belief that she can’t pass law school without the help of a man.
Temptation represents the easy way out. The hard way is to keep striving towards the ultimate change, which in “Legally Blonde” means proving to herself that she is strong enough without a man.
Third, when temptation fails, the villain’s final threat to the hero involves death, either physical or emotional death. In “Legally Blonde,” that moment of death comes when the hero takes over the case from the sexist law professor and finally emerges as the strong, independent person she needs to be. But she must pass one final test.
That test appears to be external but it’s actually internal. The hero must finally embrace a more empowering belief and demonstrate that through a physical action.
In “Legally Blonde,” the hero finally realizes she’s strong enough on her own when she realizes how to prove her client’s innocence. When she wins her first court case, her ex-boyfriend finally wants to take her back but that’s when she finally rejects him (and her initial limiting belief that she needed a man).
So the purpose of the villain isn’t just to physically fight against the hero but to keep increasing the challenges to hold the hero back. Yet paradoxically, each time the villain tries to hold the hero back, the hero overcomes each obstacle and gets stronger.
Ultimately, the villain’s real purpose is to act like a mean teacher who helps the hero change emotionally (internally) and become a better person in three ways:
- Keep the hero from achieving a physical goal
- Tempt the hero into giving up willingly
- Threaten the hero with physical or emotional death