The Villain’s Goal

Almost every screenwriting book tells you how to plot your hero’s goal from start to finish. However, almost no screenwriting books teach you how to plot your villain’s goal, which is just as important as your hero’s goal.

Every hero needs a goal. That goal must be something difficult that forces the hero to change and grow as a human being.To define your hero’s goal, you also need a villain and that villain also needs a goal.

Your villain’s goal is nearly identical to your hero’s goal in the sense that if the hero wins, the villain loses. If the villain wins, the hero loses. It must be that clear cut.

In “Rocky,” only one fighter can win the heavyweight championship of the world. In “Independence Day,” either the humans or the aliens win. In “Die Hard,” either Bruce Willis or the terrorists win.

The main criteria of your villain’s goal is that it must directly conflict against the hero’s goal. Once you know your hero’s goal, you know your villain’s goal and vice versa.

Sometimes your hero and villain are chasing the same goal, such as winning a karate match in “The Karate Kid.” Sometimes your villain is trying to achieve a goal and your hero is trying to stop him such as in “Die Hard.” Bruce Willis’ goal isn’t to stop the terrorists; it’s to save himself and his wife from getting killed. The only way he can succeed at that is to wipe out the terrorists.

Until you know what goal your villain wants, you don’t have a strong villain. Instead, you’ll wind up with a villain who just gets in the way of the hero just for the sake of making the hero’s life miserable. There must be a reason why your villain is harassing your hero. They both either want the same thing or one can only succeed once the other one gets out of the way.

Villain goal criteria #1: The villain’s goal must directly conflict with the hero’s goal. Only one can win.

Making the hero and the villain’s goal directly opposing one another ratchets up the tension because if only one can win, we’ll want to root for the hero and boo the villain. Now to crank up the tension even more, make the villain’s goal something terrible that really makes us want to see him lose.

In “Die Hard,” the terrorists want to rob a company. We might not care if they win or lose, but what really makes us want them to lose is part of the terrorist’s plan is to blow up the hostages on the roof. Again, we may not really care too much about nameless hostages blowing up, but suddenly we do care when our hero risks losing someone he loves. In this case, Bruce Willis’s wife could die if he doesn’t stop the terrorists.

By seeing something terrible if the villain achieves his or her goal, we’ll really be swayed to hate the villain and not want him or her to win.

nIn “Star Wars,” Darth Vader isn’t just going to blow up a rebel base, but an entire planet. We may not care about an entire planet full of people we’ve never met before, but we do care because one of those people at risk is Princess Leia, and we do care about her (and Luke does too).

In “The Shawshank Redemption,” the warden is dishonest, cruel, and despicable, especially when he realizes that Tim Robbins is innocent, but he conspires to kill the only witness who could free Tim Robbins with his testimony. Now it appears that Tim Robbins is trapped in prison forever, even though both we and the warden know he’s an innocent man.

Villain goal criteria #2: If the villain wins, somebody the hero knows may get hurt.

Your villain’s goal must conflict with the hero’s goal and must threaten other people who the hero cares about. In the “Shawshank Redemption,” the warden isn’t just threatening to keep Tim Robbins locked up forever even though he’s innocent, but we also know he’ll treat the other prisoners unfairly as well. Both the hero and the hero’s friends risk losing if the villain wins.

Your villain is an integral part of any story. Know who your villain is and what your villain wants. Then make sure your villain’s goal conflicts with your hero and that if the villain wins, your hero will lose and others who the hero cares about will get hurt as well.

Do this and you’ll build your story strong from the start. Neglect the villain’s goal, and you may have a strangely weak story that doesn’t grab the interest of anyone.

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