Writing Wednesdays

Ask Yourself, "What Does the Villain Want?"

By Steven Pressfield | 9 Comments

  For James Bond villains, the answer is easy: world domination. That’s a pretty good want. Here are a few others:   To eat your brain. To eat your liver. To eat you, period.   Or even better:   To destroy your soul. To destroy your soul and laugh about it.   If you’re keeping score, the answers to the above (among others) are 1. All zombie stories, 2. Hannibal Lecter, 3. The shark, the Alien, the Thing, etc., 4. the Body Snatchers, 5. the devil in The Exorcist. Why is Hillary Clinton such an inexhaustible object of hate to…

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Give Your Hero a Hero Speech

By Steven Pressfield | 12 Comments

  Let’s take a break today in this series on Villains and turn to the guy or girl opposite him: the Hero. We’ve been saying in these posts that the Antagonist needs to be given a great Villain Speech, a moment when he or she gets to try to convince us that greed is good or that we can’t handle the truth. The hero needs her moment to shine too. It’s our job as writers, yours and mine, to serve up some juicy, soul-defining, U.S. Prime dialogue for our protagonist to deliver. Here’s one of my faves from the movie…

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Keep the Heavies in Motion

By Steven Pressfield | 5 Comments

This is the second of Stephen Cannell’s axioms (see last week’s post for #1) that Randy Wallace taught me. What Steve meant was not just “Keep the villain active during Act Two,” but “Keep him coming at the hero from as many directions as possible.” This works even for interior villains, for antagonists that reside only inside our characters’ heads. Consider one of my all-time faves, David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook. The villain exists only inside Pat Solitano’s (Bradley Cooper) head. It’s his obsession with getting back together with his estranged wife Nikki. The inciting incident of the movie…

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The Second Act Belongs to the Villain, #2

By Steven Pressfield | 10 Comments

  I learned this from my friend Randall Wallace (“Braveheart”), who learned it from Stephen Cannell, the maestro of a thousand plotlines from The Rockford Files to Baretta to 21 Jump Street. What Steve Cannell meant was not that the second act should be packed with scenes of the villain twirling his mustache or plotting in his lair. He meant bring the villain’s effects on the heroes into the foreground and keep them there. Why? Because the havoc and jeopardy incited by the villain energizes the story and keeps it powering forward. The villain in The Godfather (at least the…

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The Villain Believes in "Reality"

By Steven Pressfield | 27 Comments

  It seems like a long time ago—pre-Trump, pre-Obama—but I remember vividly when Vice President Dick Cheney declared in the wake of 9/11 that to counter the threat of terrorism the U.S. was now going to have to start “working the dark side.” Cheney articulated this thought with barely-suppressed glee. I remember thinking at the time, “Wow, this guy is the ultimate movie villain,” not just because he was expressing a classic Dr. No/Dr. Evil/Dr. Strangelove sentiment but because his point of view contains more than a modicum of truth. I’ve always wished that Dick Cheney would write a book.…

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The Villain Embodies the Counter-theme

By Steven Pressfield | 9 Comments

   If our hero’s object is to save the world, our villain’s object is to destroy it. Whatever the protagonist wants, the antagonist wants the opposite. But it’s a little more complicated than that. Every story must have a theme. It must be about something. The theme, as Blake Snyder so helpfully declares in Save the Cat!, is the case that the story is making to the reader.   Better to sacrifice oneself (or one’s personal happiness) for the greater good than to live a life of prosperous selfishness.   Or   We are defined by our past and cannot…

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The Villain is Not Always a Person

By Steven Pressfield | 21 Comments

  Or even a creature. Sometimes the villain is entirely inside the characters’ (almost always the protagonist’s) head. The villain can be a fear, an obsession, a desire, a dream, a conception of reality, an idea of what “the truth” really is. The villain in Blade Runner 1978 would seem at first glance to be the replicants, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) and his team of Leon (Brion James) and Pris (Daryl Hannah), who have escaped off-world and come to Earth sowing destruction. But the real villain is an idea—the conception of creating faux-human slave labor. The replicants are actually the…

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The Villain Drives the Story

By Steven Pressfield | 15 Comments

  I sometimes get asked, “Why does Resistance exist?” It’s a good question. Why did Creation include this monster? For what purpose? Just to screw us all up and make life difficult? (When I say “Resistance,” I mean in story terms “the Villain.”) Isn’t Resistance entirely negative? What possible evolutionary purpose could it serve? Here’s my answer. It might not be anybody else’s answer, but it’s mine.   Resistance gives meaning to life.   Or to put it in narrative terms:   The villain gives meaning to the story.   Think about it. If there were no villain, there’d be…

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"Keep Working"

By Steven Pressfield | 31 Comments

  [I’m gonna interrupt this series on Villains for a quick “Bulletin from the Trenches.”]   When I first came out to Hollywood from New York and I was scuffling around desperately for employment, I wound up doing a couple of small writing jobs for the director Ernie Pintoff. Ernie was a seasoned pro (he had actually won an Oscar for a short subject, titled The Critic). My frantic state was very clear to Ernie and, one day after we had finished work, he drew up and gave me a look that told me he was about to impart some serious…

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The Difference Between Heroes and Villains

By Steven Pressfield | 14 Comments

  We’ve seen in prior posts that villain and hero are often opposite sides of the same coin. Hero believes X; Villain believes Opposite-of-X. Hero seeks Outcome X; Villain seeks Outcome Opposite-of-X. Does this mean the Good Guy and the Bad Guy are equivalent? Is the hero really no “better” than the heavy; he just happens to believe something different? What separates the Good Guy from the Bad Guy (at least some of the time) is the Good Guy is capable of sacrificing himself for the good of others. In fact, the climax of many great stories is exactly that.…

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