Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Ask Yourself, “What Does the Villain Want?”

By Steven Pressfield | Published: January 24, 2018


For James Bond villains, the answer is easy: world domination.

The Night King and the Army of the Dead. When we know what these suckers want, we can write the next season of "Game of Thrones"

The Night King and the Army of the Dead. When we know what these suckers want, we can write the next season of “Game of Thrones”

That’s a pretty good want.

Here are a few others:


  1. To eat your brain.
  2. To eat your liver.
  3. To eat you, period.


Or even better:


  1. To destroy your soul.
  2. 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 the Right? Because she, in their view, wants all five of the above.

(For the same notion from the Left, see Donald Trump.)

The hero’s “want” often changes over the course of the story. She may start out in Act One wanting her marriage to succeed, only to evolve by the end of Act Three into wanting to come into her own as an individual.

But the villain’s “want” remains the same from start to finish.

Identify it.

Be able to articulate it in one sentence or less.

Then build your story around it.

If we know what the Army of the Dead want, we know what our heroes in Game of Thrones’ next season are up against and what they have to do to combat it.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

8 Responses to “Ask Yourself, “What Does the Villain Want?””

  1. Maura
    January 24, 2018 at 5:56 am

    “But the villain’s ‘want’ remains the same from start to finish.” That’s why I hate him so much! There is nothing I can say or do that will change his mind!

  2. January 24, 2018 at 7:33 am

    What does the villain want, yes. But then you have to ask ‘why does he/she want it?’ For me this is where things really get interesting.

    • Dick Yaeger
      January 24, 2018 at 10:36 am

      Good point, and the more difficult to come up with a unique reason.

  3. Mary
    January 24, 2018 at 8:26 am

    The single-minded determination of my villain is what interests me most about her – thanks again for this series!

  4. January 24, 2018 at 9:09 am

    That sounds simple enough. The villain’s agenda never changes. (That describes Resistance perfectly.)
    And that rule seems consistent with Shawn’s rule that only 2 people can change or evolve in a well-crafted story.
    In many of the cartoon or Marvel-based blockbusters, the hero also only wants one thing. E.g., Thor. So my question is this: Is that a flatly drawn hero? Why go to the movie?

  5. January 24, 2018 at 5:21 pm

    Thank you 🙏

  6. January 24, 2018 at 6:36 pm

    The Body Snatchers as in ” Collier’s magazine called it….THE NIGHTMARE that Threatens The World” ? Saw the B&W version, Ritz Theater, Big Spring, TX 1955. Thanks for the context of your insight— “But the villain’s ‘want’ remains the same from start to finish.” and the memory.

  7. Julia Murphy
    January 24, 2018 at 7:01 pm

    Villains don’t change…I never actually thought about it like that before.

    So could we then extrapolate that the degree of villainy in a character is the degree of their willingness to change?

    Food for thought…thanks.

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