The great ocean spirit towers over a building.

Grasping victory from the jaws of defeat makes a delicious ending. But after you establish your heroes can’t survive the millions of zombies swarming their cabin or overpower the villain who explodes cities with their mind, how can you create a satisfying victory? Well, you could say that if the heroes concentrate their attacks on one critical component, everything else will fall apart, like in Lord of the Rings, Star Wars: A New Hope, Edge of Tomorrow, The Strain, Stranger Things 2 … oh dear. Because no one likes to eat the same thing for every meal, I’ve got seven other recipes that’ll cook up a dramatic victory.

1. Villain Infighting Soufflé

You’re probably familiar with this dish from its appearance in Return of the Jedi. This soufflé combines two antagonists that, when working together, will easily overpower the protagonist’s flavor. However, with the addition of a compassionate or crafty hero, those antagonists end up at odds. Just think of the end of Return of the Jedi, when the Emperor is sautéing Luke with some lightning. Luke begs for Vader’s help, and Vader tosses the Emperor down the drain! Mmmm… delectable.

You Will Need

Two villains – a big boss and a smaller boss work best. The smaller boss might be a sympathetic villain, a lieutenant to the big boss, or a wild card. The two villains continually coordinate their efforts, with devastating results. Your hero has no chance of beating both of them.

Sprinkle With Foreshadowing

Your audience should see that the villains are not always on the same page. The sympathetic villain might swear loyalty to the big boss, yet have pangs of conscience. Or the two villains have the same goals but disagree about the details, such as whether it’s okay to microwave the heroes or if they must be baked for optimum crispiness. These differences don’t feel significant, but they are noticeable.

Bring to a Boil

Your hero either appeals to the sympathetic villain’s conscience or creates a situation where the bosses’ differences come into the spotlight. Whatever the hero does, it must be responsible for one villain turning on the other.

Garnish and Serve

The smaller boss sides with the heroes, or at least works against the big boss. This tips the balance and gives the heroes a chance. Serve with a light topping of redemption for the lesser villain.

2. Radical Tactic Change Cocktail

Commander Riker and Dr. Crusher oberve Captain Picard, now a borg

Watch out for this strong drink – it put a whole Borg cube to sleep in “The Best of Both Worlds” from Star Trek: The Next Generation. This cocktail begins with a mixer that has a powerful kick. The mixer is a well-known tactic, like some desperate space combat. The heroes are dismayed as the antagonist consumes glass after glass of this tactic and still stays on their feet. Finally, the hero realizes that to defeat the villain, they must do something different. They finally put some alcohol in that cocktail, and it’s nighty-night for the villain.

You Will Need

A struggle against an adversary that comes with an obvious tactical response. For instance, if the good guys are cornered and the antagonist attacks, the obvious response is to fight back. If the adversary is a gigantic predator, the obvious response is to run.

Sprinkle With Foreshadowing

Demonstrate or explain at least one unusual characteristic of the antagonist. Maybe the monster is chewing on a sweater or the assassins all have the same tattoo with a Latin saying. This characteristic should set up an unusual tactic that will work instead of the obvious one. Your hero notices the strange characteristic but isn’t sure what it means.

Bring to a Boil

When all seems lost, your hero thinks really hard about the strange characteristic and comes up with an explanation. For instance, the monsters just want to eat our clothes – get nude everyone! Or the assassins will back up if we say the magic Latin pass phrase! The hero may have to convince their fellows to trust them and stop fighting.

Add Garnish and Serve

The new tactic works! If you haven’t already mixed it in, make sure to garnish with an explanation of how the hero figured it out.

3. Powerful Ally Elixir

Everyone’s heard of strange elixirs claiming to cure all ills, but no one believes they’ll do anything. That’s why Aang’s friends in Avatar: The Last Airbender were so surprised when his new elixir of Giant Ocean Spirit actually destroyed the Fire Nation invaders for him. You too can use this recipe to cure your story’s ills.

You Will Need

A world with a powerful force that does not get involved in the fights of petty mortals. It might be a god, an unknowable alien race, or a legendary giant troll that’s been in stone for the last hundred years.

Sprinkle With Foreshadowing

Create hints that make it conceivable for the powerful force to participate in the hero’s struggle. If the neutral force takes action in response to anything, like guarding a McGuffin, that can be used to motivate it. There might be legends of the force being more active, or the hero might feel a strange connection with the stone statue.

Bring to a Boil

When the situation looks desperate, your hero thinks critically about the nature of the neutral force and works to recruit its help. Perhaps the hero makes a convincing argument that the villain will endanger the McGuffin or recreates the conditions of the legend where the force actually did something.

Add Garnish and Serve

It looks too late for the nuetral force to intervene; your hero is about to be pulverized. That’s when the new ally finally steps in and prevents catastrophe. Garnish with a sweet moment of bonding between the hero and the new ally. Caution: powerful allies must be consumed quickly or frozen for much later. If you try to keep them for the next story, they’ll spoil everything.

4. Sacrifice à la Mode

A great city being enveloped in flames

I have a sweet tooth myself, but we all know that Thor: Ragnarok wouldn’t be satisfying without the bitter tang of Asgard’s destruction. Sure, watching the hero succeed without a cost is fun at first, but by the end your guests will be sick of all the empty calories. Add a sacrifice, and now you can serve it with ice cream.

You Will Need

Something precious the hero can lose besides all the innocent lives at stake. It might be their beautiful home city, a power source that supports their way of life, everyone’s freedom, or the hero’s own life. Whatever it is, it should be something that your audience will assume must be preserved.

Sprinkle in Foreshadowing

When discussing the hero’s strategy for success, work in extra things the hero has to do to preserve that precious something. Alternately, earlier in the story you can give the hero a chance to win by giving up that something, and the hero can turn it down. The hero’s choices should feel natural and obvious.

Bring to a Boil

When your hero is finally ready to admit defeat, they should be reminded of what really matters. Generally, this will be the lives of those around them. They will realize the precious something is nothing compared with that. Besides, if the antagonist wins, the precious thing will probably be lost anyway. However, the hero may have to convince others that giving it up is the right thing to do.

Add Garish and Serve

The precious thing is destroyed or taken by the villain, but almost all the innocent people survive. Garnish with scenes of them starting anew.

5. Emerging Superpower Casserole

Harry Potter creates a glowing white shield to fend off shadowy figures

This classic recipe will fill your guests with nostalgia. As soon as they see the melted top layer – a protagonist with hidden potential – they’ll know some new superpowers are on their way. But just because we all knew Harry Potter would become powerful enough to save the day didn’t make it less scrumptious when he drove back a cloud of dementors.

You Will Need

A world where individuals have magic powers, and a relatively untested hero with unrealized potential. If you’re on a magic-free diet, you can do this with technology by giving the hero a mysterious artifact that no one can get to work. Perhaps the hero doesn’t know their locket is anything more than it seems.

Sprinkle With Foreshadowing

Sneak in clues that the hero can use later to unlock their powers. Show the hidden power being used in tiny amounts, discuss how the hero’s long-lost parents had the power, or tell tales of a powerful device that couldn’t possibly be that locket.

Bring to a Boil

Start your climax with the antagonist giving the hero a terrible beat down. Just before the hero is gone for good, they rise back up again, powers in hand. In many stories, the new powers are unlocked by desperate circumstances. This is easy to cook up but less satisfying than alternatives. For a better climax, make your hero solve a puzzle or overcome a flaw to get their new powers.

Add Garnish and Serve

Finish off your casserole by letting your hero use their powers to save the day. Be careful though, because antagonists are an important ingredient in this recipe. If you ever want to serve this meal again, the hero shouldn’t be so powerful that no antagonist could counter them. Give the hero only enough power to win the struggle at hand.

6. Villain Appeasement Stew

Steven Universe sits next to Lapis Lazuli as she describes her longing for home

If you want a dish that will warm your insides, this simmering meal is the one for you. And as Steven Universe shows, it can be fun for the whole family. Unlike other recipes, the antagonist in this one has a soft center – like a soup-filled dumpling. When the hero gets past the antagonist’s hard exterior and makes a connection with the person underneath, the stew is ready to serve.

You Will Need

A somewhat sympathetic villain who has understandable grievances, a continuing cause of pain, and an emotional motivation for doing damage.

Sprinkle With Foreshadowing

Let the villain voice some of their grievances to the hero. They could explain their motivation after the hero reaches out to them, or they could do it without prompting because explaining will make their revenge more satisfying. You can keep their continuing cause of pain hidden for a while. It can be discovered by your hero shortly before or during the climax.

Bring to a Boil

Even though the villain will cause unthinkable damage, the hero can’t hate them. Instead, they feel sympathy. That causes the hero to reach out to the villain, discover their ongoing pain if they don’t already know it, and offer a balm for that pain. It could be an important token from a lost loved one or a cure for their illness. This balm must be given unconditionally. The kindness of the hero’s unconditional offer makes the villain rethink what they were about to do.

Add Garnish and Serve

The villain thanks the hero and leaves in peace. Garnish with additional recognition of the tragedy that the villain suffered, and efforts to ensure it never happens again.

7. Hostage Taking Fillet

Katniss and Peta contemplate share poisonous berries

If you need something bloody to appease the carnivores in your household, this fillet is for you. It’ll also make for a more peaceful meal – just ask Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. While she didn’t have the power to win the way she wanted to, she did have the power to make her opponent lose. With the big prize held hostage, everyone at your table will realize they have to share that last cut of mouth-watering goodness.

You Will Need

A villain with something important to gain by defeating the hero. They might be destroying the magical city to take its power source, or they might need to defeat the hero to receive recognition they’re desperate for.

Sprinkle With Foreshadowing

Show how important this thing is by making the villain go to extra lengths to preserve it. Perhaps they only shoot cannons at portions of the city that they’re sure doesn’t hold their prize, or they’re luring out the hero so they can battle them one on one.

Bring to a Boil

When the hero is about to lose everything, they will figure out what the villain wants so desperately. Then the hero should threaten to destroy it. It’s critical for the hero’s threat to feel believable, even if it means the hero will take their own life.

Add Garnish and Serve

To prevent the loss of their goal, the villain will accept a smaller victory in place of the big one they’d planned on. However, the hero may need to compromise as well. If you’d like, you can garnish with the hero becoming the villain’s hostage. That will make your guest look forward to the next time you serve this meal.


All of these recipes share a critical ingredient: foreshadowing. Plan ahead if you want your hero to overcome long odds, or your dish will be ruined.

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