How are your hero and villain related? Now, by this I don’t mean they have to be members of the same family; however, if you can find a connection between them that parallels a familial one, then your conflict will be that much more emotional.
For instance, in John Frankenheimer’s masterpiece, The Manchurian Candidate, the mother, played to perfection by Angela Lansbury, is the villain of the story, allowing her son to be brainwashed in order to get him to commit a political assassination. When the son struggles against the brainwashing, he is therefore battling not only his captors but also his disturbed, domineering mother.
How’s that for stakes?
In L.A. Confidential, the villain is not a relative, but he might as well be. Captain Smith—the police captain whom Russell Crow’s character deeply admires—turns out to be a bad cop. Captain Smith is not, in fact, Russell Crow’s father, but he is clearly a father figure to him, which makes the story that much more personal when the two come into conflict.
The incredible action film Die Hard contains yet another variation of this device. When New York cop John McClane, played by Bruce Willis, kills the brother of one of the terrorists, the conflict escalates beyond one of pure greed and becomes a family revenge story as well.
Take a close look at your own hero and villain. Is it possible to interpret their relationship as somehow familial? Does it reflect sibling rivalry? A father-son conflict? Mother-daughter? Or is it something else entirely? Getting underneath your characters in this way will give your story a greater, almost subconscious power.
Here’s to Your Successful Writing!
Professor Marilyn Horowitz