In a good song, the melody gets repeated multiple times in different ways. Stories are similar. Study any good movie and you’ll find that it really tells only one story, but it does so in multiple ways. For example, “Black Klansman” is a movie based on a true story where a black police officer infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan and helped thwart cross burnings and bombings on innocent people. The basic story is will this black police officer successfully stop the Ku Klux Klan from carrying out their bombing?
That’s a compelling issue, but the story keeps upping the stakes, which is what good stories need to do. Two ways to up the stakes in any story is to increase the danger to the hero and create danger to someone the hero loves.
First, “Black Klansman” increases the danger to the hero when the black police officer has to enlist a white police officer to impersonate him at the KKK meetings because a black man obviously couldn’t attend KKK meetings. While this white police officer attends these KKK meetings, the black police officer has to be nearby to listen in on the white police officer’s hidden microphone. So that puts the black police officer close tot he KKK who will shoot him on sight.
To further increase the danger to the hero, the black police officer accidentally gave the KKK his real name, so the KKK tracks him down and knows where he lives. This puts the black police officer in further physical danger.
Now to threaten someone the hero knows, the white police officer impersonating him in the KKK meetings happens to be Jewish. Since the KKK doesn’t like Jewish people, this puts the white police officer in more danger too.
Now the KKK wants to bomb a black student union meeting and the black police officer happens to be falling in love with the woman running these black student union meetings. So if the KKK succeeds in blowing up the black student union meeting, they might also kill the black police officer’s girlfriend.
So the hero is in physical danger from being near the KKK to protect the white police officer, and the KKK knows where he lives. Then the hero also must protect the white police officer, who happens to be Jewish, and also protect his girlfriend who is the present of the black student union that the KKK wants to blow up.
Notice that the original idea of a black police officer trying to stop the KK from bombing a black student union meeting has suddenly gotten more suspenseful just because the stakes have been increased against both the hero and people the hero cares for?
Threaten the hero.
Threaten the hero’s friends and loved ones.
That increases tension and suspense, and that helps make a story more compelling.