We love our heroes. We created them and so, like any parent, we have a tendency to protect them. This is a mistake! They need to be tested, they need to challenged, and sometimes they need to be destroyed. I’m going to tweak that old stock phrase 'Misery builds character’ and say 'Misery build compelling characters and great stories.' Our goal is not only to show our audience what our protagonist's greatest insecurities, doubts and fears are, but to use these secrets against them in moments where failure could mean death …. or something not so traumatic if it’s a picture book... especially a bedtime story (Then Tommy the Train engine died in a fiery explosion… night night sweetie)
My favorite example of this comes from 'The Raiders of the Lost Ark.’ In the opening sequence Indy has narrowly escaped death by jumping into a seaplane, however in his seat he discovers a snake and FREAKS OUT!!! “I hate snakes Jock, I hate them!!!" Not only is this funny, considering what Indy has just done, but by doing this we set up Indy’s paralyzing fear of snakes and also humanize Indy a little... "Hey he's afraid of something too, just like me and you!" (Rhyming is fun)
After setting up Indy’s paralyzing fear of snakes in the opening sequence, we bring back his fear in the third act. Only this time we increase it to about a thousand creepy crawlers!!! This raises the tension in the third act making it so much more fun to watch Indy struggle through this challenge. Set it up and Knock it down :)
In Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen’s ‘The Dark,’ they set up the fact that the main character, Laszlo, is afraid of the dark on page one. Then, not only do they bring the darkness into his bedroom, but they force Laszlo to walk alone at night down to the darkest part of his house… the basement. The authors have set up the conflict in the opening illustration, then after the inciting event (bedroom light going out) they constantly raise the stakes, bringing our hero to a darker and darker place... Now that's great story telling :)
Will Laszlo overcome his fear or will he be eaten by a monster? Could go either way with Mr. Snicket. P.S. You should buy this book!!! It's fantastic!!!!
1) Establish the conflict 2) Raise the stakes 3) Raise it again only times a million 4) Your Hero succeeds or fails.