The Villain Defines Your Story

If you enjoy amusement parks, you might know that Disney recently shut down their Splash Mountain ride to shift its focus from Briar Rabbit and its negative association with “The Song of the South,” to Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, based on the movie “The Princess and the Frog.” However, the ride is meant to tell a story and when telling any story, you always need a villain.

Strangely, Disney took out any danger, threats or villains from Tiana’s Bayou Adventure and created a ride that depicts nothing but joy and happiness. Not surprisingly, many people, including Disney’s own CEO, said the ride is boring. You can even view the ride by watching Disney’s own video or read about the problems with Tiana’s Bayou Adventure here.

When you strip a story of any villain, you literally have no story. That’s because the villain shapes the story and creates conflict. Without conflict, there’s nothing for the hero to fight against. With no villain and no conflict, there’s nothing. Watch the following scene from “Inglorious Basterds” and imagine it without the Nazi SS officer searching for Jews on a French farmer’s land. There would be nothing of interest.

A strong villain creates a strong hero. A weak villain creates a weak hero. Therefore to make your hero as strong as possible, you need a strong villain who has more power than the hero.

Despite this seemingly simple idea, you’d be surprised at how many people write screenplays lacking a strong villain. If your villain isn’t memorable in some horrifying way, your villain is too weak.

In the “Inglorious Basterds” scene, the villain is well-mannered, multi-lingual, and charming while also being ruthless. This makes him much stronger than the hero and thus more terrifying. For the hero to defeat such a strong opponent, the hero will have to become much stronger as well.

One reason why screenwriters omit a villain is because they don’t want to put their characters in danger since they see their characters as reflections of themselves. Thus they want their characters to live peaceful, stress-free lives, so they write screenplays lacking a strong villain.

Don’t do this. You are not your story’s hero. You do not exist to write a story where the hero’s life is easy because nobody wants to see an easy life. You want to torture your hero to make them stronger because that’s what makes a great story.

If you’re too afraid to write a strong villain, then you might as well forget about becoming a fiction writer of any kind because even children’s books have villains. Your villain shapes your hero.

Take Darth Vader out of “Star Wars” and there’s nothing for Luke to do. Take out President Snow and the oppressive government of the future from “The Hunger Games” and there’s nothing for Katniss to do. Get rid of the alien monster in “Alien” and you just have a bunch of people traveling in a starship freighter going back to Earth.

In some movies, there is no main villain like Darth Vader. Yet the story still needs conflict and obstacles to force the hero to grow and become stronger. In “Little Miss Sunshine,” the hero wants to compete in a beauty pageant so she meets multiple minor villains who all conspire indirectly to keep her from getting to the beauty pageant.

Each minor villain isn’t scary by themselves, but they possess the power to stop the hero. Since “Little Miss Sunshine” lacks a single terrifying villain, the movie substitutes a single terrifying villain for the family fighting amongst themselves to create additional conflict.

The lesson is that you absolutely need conflict and conflict can come from a single villain or multiple, unrelated villains. In “Thelma and Louise,” the multiple villains threatening the hero are the rapist in the bar parking lot, the police trying to find the hero, the hitchhiker who steals their money, the sexist truck driver who annoys the hero, the state trooper who pulls the hero over, and finally the army of police trying to capture (or kill) the hero.

Without a villain (or an army of villains), there is no conflict. Without conflict, there is no story. In “Little Miss Sunshine,” the family’s internal conflict with each other substitutes for conflict from an outside villain, but you need conflict in every scene because conflict is what makes any story interesting.

When you write your own screenplay, you might fantasize that life should be all sunshine and roses so you’ll write a story where nothing bad happens to the hero and everything the hero wants comes true. That might be great for understanding your own mind, but that type of screenplay doesn’t even tell a story. A story is about a hero struggling to overcome obstacles to achieve a goal. Take away the obstacles (and the villain) and you have no story at all.

Sign up to take a FREE course about how to write scenes in a screenplay.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.