In the best stories, your hero must constantly overcome problems. However, the best way to put your hero at a huge disadvantage and make the hero’s goal seem far from certain is to place your hero in the villain’s stronghold, otherwise known as the belly of the best.
Think of any story with a hero and a villain. What’s most frightening? The hero and villain fighting on a random street, or the hero forced to go into the villain’s stronghold, battle through the villain’s henchmen, and fight the villain face to face on unfamiliar territory where the villain has all the advantages?
When your hero confronts your villain for the final battle, nothing puts your hero at a major disadvantage faster than putting your hero into your villain’s stronghold. In the Stephen King book “Salem’s Lot,” the hero is a man and the villain is a vampire. In the book, the hero hunts down the vampire in a random house, but in the television movie version, the hero hunts down the villain inside the vampire’s own house.
That change alone makes the battle that much more frightening because the hero is exploring unknown territory and the villain knows all the secret passageways, thus holding all the advantage. That’s how you ratchet up the tension by putting the hero in the villain’s stronghold.
“Star Wars” does this much earlier in the movie by putting Luke inside the Death Star. However, most movies save the villain’s stronghold for last. In “Die Hard,” Bruce Willis has to seek out the villain on the floor that the villain has taken over. In “Ratatouille,” Remy the rat has to confront one villain in the villain’s own restaurant and the second villain (the food critic) in that same restaurant. In “Finding Nemo,” the hero has to enter the dentist’s office. In “Inglorious Basterds,” the American soldiers have to enter a movie theater packed with Nazis.
In most cases, the hero has to confront the villain in an environment that completely favors the villain and puts the hero at a huge disadvantage from the start. This alone makes the hero’s task harder and places his success further in doubt. Even in a comedy like “Beverly Hills Cop,” Eddie Murphy has to confront the villain inside the villain’s heavily guarded mansion.
When writing your own screenplay, find a way to put the hero in a place that favors the villain. This is the best way to make your hero’s life tougher and put the final outcome of your story in doubt. Then when your hero does win, it’s a much more satisfying victory because the hero not only defeated the villain, but did it in an environment where the odds were already heavily stacked against him.
Put your hero in the belly of the beast.