How to make my villain more relevant to the story?

This is a story in a videogame, but considering I approach it as basically a story-driven experience, let’s forget that it’s a game and treat it as, say, a novel or a film.

The setting is basically a steampunk victorian era - the true victorian era, with imperialism, racism, sexism, inequality, and rampant unchecked capitalism, with ongoing industrial revolution being thrown into this mix like a glass of water into a pan full of boiling oil. Fun times.

So the rundown of my story is basically as follows: the MC is an orphan living under the wing of an exploitative workshop owner that adopted her to run chores, she’s basically a street rat otherwise. But she dreams of becoming a big shot and getting into the aristocracy somehow. One day she tries to pickpocket a stranger, it goes badly, she tries to escape, but the stranger manages to catch her and, impressed by her skills, offers her to join a heist of a bank. During heisting, she accidentally snags an artifact belonging to the villain of the story. It’s a noble asshole that wants to establish a new world order and silently were paving the road to orchestrating a takeover. After that the MC goes on an adventuring voyage with the heisters, trying to fugure out the thing she stolen, which ultimately brings her back to the villain, who learns about the true value of the artifact and finally comes down to collect it himself, which leads to the culmination, drama, and final battle.

The MC and the villain seems to work off each other well on an ideological level IMO - one’s a good-hearted opportunist that wants to claw her way to the top and escape poverty, other is a rich elitist scumbag that believes in his inherent superiority, despises the idea of common rabble elevating themselves into the aristocracy and wants to destroy and oppose any parvenu, and to bring back the good old society where rightless peasants were rightless peasants. Direct opposition, everything looks promising on this front.

But on the story level, I struggle to find ways for them to interact much prior basically the middle of the third act. I feel like the villain just pops out basically out of nowhere and then suddenly everything begins to revolve around their plot of world domination. It should become relevant much earlier, but I’m kinda struggling to figure out how, given that MC is an orphan on the run in the asscracks of the world, and the villain is scheming his schemes in his mansion and it would be kinda stupid for him personally to come chasing the MC, given that before that he wasn’t even been aware that MC even exists (especially in the beginning, when it isn’t apparent how important the artifact really is and the villain just wants to get his stolen goods back).

One idea that I have is to make as many troubles for MC to be indirectly caused by the villain or tied to him (For instance, the player confronts a cult at some point… make the villain an important figure in this cult, or something), but I’m unsure if that’ll be effective.

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This sounds like a good idea! Also try having other characters mention him early in the story too but in a subtle way, therefore he is always present and around but not revealed as the overall villain until the middle. At least that’s gow I would do it if I wanted them to be more relavent from the early stages.

@Writers any more advice?

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Kill the hero and turn the villain into an anti-hero?

You should probably introduce them in the first act even if they aren’t involved in the plot ATM , It helps prevent them “Coming out of nowhere” and can build tension for when they appear. Also it’s good to have a connection between the MC and the villain , even if it’s not direct. Like having one backstory involve the other , or even have a relationship between them before the story.

Here are some other plot ideas:

  • Maybe the workshop owner is under the employ of the villain/ Him and the workshop owner are business partners (Basically he is responsible for the workshop existing)

  • Maybe The villain and the Stranger have a past together

  • Maybe the Villan is the MC’s father and he faked his death as part of his evil plan

  • Maybe his plan has ruined the lives of all of your party members

  • Maybe the MC and the villain are connected to the artifact, and they just don’t know it yet