In every story, the hero has something at stake and the story is about whether the hero will succeed or not. In most cases, we know the hero will succeed; we just don’t know how, and that’s what keeps us watching. What keeps us in suspense is that the hero’s worse fears must be realized and this worse case scenario must be shown through the fate of a secondary character.
In “Crazy Rich Asians,” the hero is a Chinese-American economics professor who falls in love with a man who’s family is extremely wealthy. The worst that can happen to her is that she’ll be forced to give up her love for this man because she doesn’t belong, and that’s exactly what happens. To further show the hero’s predicament, a secondary character is a rich woman whose husband feels he doesn’t belong in the wealthy family, so he nearly breaks up with the wealthy woman.
This breakup between the wealthy woman and the man who doesn’t feel like he belongs in that type of society mirrors the hero’s fears that she doesn’t belong in her boyfriend’s super wealthy family.
So the general rule is to find what’s the worst that could happen to your hero and then make that nearly happen. Then make sure that fate happens to someone else.
In “Star Wars,” the worst that could happen is that Luke could get shot down by Darth Vader. He almost does get shot down by Darth Vader after Darth Vader shoots down all of Luke’s escorting X-Wing fighters. To make matters worse, Luke’s best friend does get shot down by Darth Vader, showing Luke’s fate.
In “Die Hard,” the worst that could happen is that the villain could kill John McClane or kill his wife, and that’s almost what does happen. To foreshadow this worse case scenario, a man hitting on John McClane’s wife does get shot in the head by the villain while John McClane listens on the phone. This shows the hero’s fate if he fails.
In “Coco,” the worst that could happen is that the hero will never get to play music because of his family. He almost loses his family when he pursues his dreams of playing music and this is foreshadowed ahead of time when the hero’s real relative will die if his relatives completely forget about him.
In your own screenplay, identify the worst that could happen to your hero, then make that almost happen anyway. Then have another character actually suffer that worse case to show the audience what could happen to the hero if he or she fails.