The Villain as a Sadistic Teacher for the Hero

Every hero begins the story with a fatal flaw. By the end of the story, the hero has changed to become a better person. Since the hero can’t change on his or her own, the hero needs two characters: a mentor and a villain.

The mentor helps the hero until the hero is able to defeat the villain by changing. While the mentor gently teaches the hero how to change, the villain viciously forces the hero to change.

If a villain exists solely to provide obstacles to the hero, that villain will likely be boring. What makes a villain far more interesting is when the villain has a goal of his or her own and when the villain provides obstacles that force the hero to learn and change.

In “Legally Blonde,” the hero has followed her boyfriend to Harvard law school, only to discover that her boyfriend is engaged to another woman. This other woman represents the first villain confronting the hero, but this villain serves a subtle purpose to show the hero that the boyfriend isn’t worthy of her.

Initially the hero thinks she’s going to marry her boyfriend and chases him to Harvard law school just to win him back again. Yet this boyfriend is completely wrong for the hero that she would never have learned this lesson if it wasn’t for the villain blocking her way and ultimately teaching her this harsh lesson.

Another villain the hero meets in “Legally Blonde” is the lecherous law professor who only wants the hero around because she’s attractive. This teaches the hero to stand up for herself and show herself and the world that she’s more than just a pretty body but also has a brain as well.

In “Die Hard,” John McClane would never have admitted how much he loves his wife and would do anything to get her back if it wasn’t for the villain threatening to kill her.

In “Finding Nemo,” the hero would never have learned to trust his son if the scuba diver had never taken his son away in the first place and put him in an aquarium where he eventually learned how to escape from a fishing net.

In “WALL-E,” WALL-E would never have found someone to love if the villain hadn’t sent Eve to Earth so WALL-E can meet her.

Rather than think of the villain as someone who exists only to cause trouble for the hero, think of the villain as the most sadistic, vicious teacher possible. Your villain exists to teach your hero a harsh lesson. Every obstacle isn’t just to block the hero, but to hammer home a lesson to force the hero to change. Only when the villain has backed the hero into a corner and nearly defeated the hero does the hero finally realize why he or she needs to change.

The villain makes it possible for the hero to change. At the simplest, least satisfying level, the villain simply provides obstacles for the hero to overcome for no apparent reason.

At a more emotionally satisfying level, the villain tries to stop the hero from interfering with the villain’s own goal. The only reason why the villain in “Die Hard” really cares about the hero is because the hero keeps threatening the villain’s goal of controlling the skyscraper, breaking open the vault, and escaping with the corporate bonds. The villain doesn’t try to kill the hero just for the sake of killing the hero, but to protect his own goal.

On an even more emotionally satisfying level, the villain’s actions eventually force the hero to change. So the three purposes of the villain are:

  • To provide obstacles for the hero
  • To stop the hero from interfering with the villain’s own goal
  • To force the hero to change for the better

Think of every great movie and you’ll see how the villain forced the hero to change. Think of every weak sequel and the villain rarely forces the hero to change, such as in bad James Bond movies where James Bond never changes at all.

Make your villain force your hero into changing. That will create a far stronger emotionally satisfying story than one where the villain exists solely to make trouble for the hero.

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