Karma is a concept where if you do something bad to others, that same thing will happen to you as punishment. While this can be a soothing belief when other people wrong you, it’s a good technique to use to torture your hero.
Every hero has a flaw and that flaw needs to be fixed. To highlight the importance of overcoming this flaw, make the hero constantly suffer from others who suffer this same flaw.
In “Die Hard,” John McClane is the hero who wants to get back with his wife, although he doesn’t realize that what broke him up from his wife was his own arrogant attitude. Now when terrorists take over the skyscraper, John McClane has to face his own arrogance when he keeps trying to contact the police and the police chief and FBI agents arrogantly dismiss him. In this way, John McClane gets to experience his own arrogance directed at him through other characters.
In “Tootsie,” the hero treats women poorly, so when he disguises himself as a woman and gets a role in a soap opera, he’s suddenly treated poorly by the men on the set. When he’s a man and tries to get to know his female co-star, he acts arrogantly and she refuses to talk to him. By having other men lust after him and treat him poorly, the hero experiences his own poor attitude towards women directed at him through other characters.
When a hero doesn’t have a fatal character flaw but instead simply clings to a limiting belief, then the hero can still face karma by constantly facing this limiting belief over and over again.
In “Back to the Future,” Marty doesn’t believe he’s good enough to be a guitarist. Once he goes back in time, he’s horrified to meet his dad who writes stories but doesn’t believe he’s good enough to get any of them published.
Later Marty is at his parents’ school dance where they kiss and know they’re going to get married from that point on. However, one of the band members hurts his hand, forcing Marty to play his guitar and confront his fear that he’s not good enough.
The basic idea is to find your hero’s character flaw or limiting belief and force your hero to face this time and time again until he or she finally learns to overcome this by changing into a better person.
It’s karma. While karma might not be true in the real world, it’s a powerful tool to force your hero to change in the fictional world of screenwriting.