The Villain’s Storyline

If you solely focus on the plot from the hero’s point of view, you risk creating cardboard villains to battle the hero. A better approach is to plot your hero’s story and then also plot your villain’s story.

Your story is all about your hero, but your hero can’t exist without a villain. Therefore, your story is indirectly also about your villain.

Your villain starts your story. In the beginning, your hero is basically stuck in a dead-end life with no hope whatsoever. Suddenly, your villain appears and starts pursuing a goal of his own that somehow entangles the hero into the villain’s path. In “Die Hard,” the terrorists have long ago formed their plan and have just started it in motion. Bruce Willis just happens to be there.

In “Rocky,” Apollo Creed wants to stage a bicentennial match to give a complete unknown a shot at the heavyweight champion of the world. He likes the nickname of “The Italian Stallion” and picks Rocky. Before that time, Rocky is off pursuing his own goal, which is to deal with being an aging boxer and trying to turn Adrian into his girlfriend.

In “Up,” the villain is already in a foreign country, looking for the bird. The old man just happens to blunder into the villain and get in his way.

In most stories, the villain starts the story going while the hero is trying to just deal with his crummy life and make it better. Whatever the villain does somehow provides an opening for the hero. After the villain inadvertently provides an opening for the hero, the hero leaps at the chance, providing an end to Act I.

Act IIa is where the villain is mostly oblivious to the hero’ existence. In “WALL-E,” WALL-E is roaming around the ship but Auto, the evil computer brain, doesn’t know exactly who WALL-E is. In “Die Hard,” Bruce Willis is roaming around the skyscraper, picking off terrorists, but the head terrorist has no idea who exactly Bruce Willis is.

Act IIb, which occurs right after the midpoint of the story, is where the villain starts deliberately focusing and targeting the hero. This is the point where the villain keeps trying to defeat the hero indirectly while pursuing his own goal. At the beginning of Act IIb, the hero is at his peak and the villain is starting to strike back. As Act IIb progresses, the hero slowly loses as the villain uses all his forces to take down the hero. By the end of Act IIb, the villain finally achieves his goal while the hero hits rock bottom and winds up alone, isolated, and hopeless.

In “WALL-E,” this is where WALL-E and Eve are about to be tossed out the trash compactor. In “Die Hard,” this is where Bruce Willis is trapped in a bathroom with bleeding feet. In “Finding Nemo,” this is where Marlin and Dory are trapped in the whale with no hope of getting out.

Act III is where the hero reaches a realization of some kind and heads back to do battle with the villain. The hero first takes out the villain’s allies and by the end of Act III, the hero faces the villain himself. This is where the hero appears to lose, but then applies some technique or lesson from the past that helps him win out in the end.

From the villain’s point of view, the story progresses like this. In the beginning, the villain has already started a plan in motion. By the beginning of Act IIa, the villain keeps progressing towards his goal with minor interference from the hero. At the end of Act IIa and the beginning of Act IIb, the villain starts to realize that the hero is getting in the way. This is where the villain starts targeting the hero until the hero hits rock bottom. At this point, the villain achieves his goal that got the story started initially.

During Act III, the villain is trying to complete the final step to his goal. In “The Terminator,” this is where the Terminator is trying to finally kill his prey. During this battle with the hero, the villain appears to win, but then the hero uses some new skill or technique that takes the villain down.

Your villain’s goal is just as important as your hero’s goal. Make sure your villain has a goal and that it conflicts directly with your hero. Make your villain bigger, and more powerful than your hero and your story will be compelling and interesting from start to finish as the audience keeps asking themselves, “What happens next?”

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