In every good story, the hero has a fear that he or she hopes will never happen. That’s why you need to make sure that big fear actually does happen because it forces the hero to change and change is what every good story is all about.
On a simple level, making the hero face his or her greatest fear creates more intense drama. In “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Indiana Jones reveals early that he’s afraid of snakes. Later when he has to enter a tomb, he’s horrified to see that the floor is crawling with snakes. Seeing a bunch of poisonous snakes is scary enough, but since we know Indiana Jones is terrified of snakes, this makes his task even harder, and that makes the scene more intense.
In “Die Hard,” John McClane’s biggest fear is the safety of his wife so naturally, the villain eventually discovers who John McClane’s wife is so he can take her hostage and threaten to kill her. Now when John McClane faces the villain, he must not only defeat the villain, but he must do it before the villain can kill his wife.
On a more complicated level, making the hero face his or her greatest fear backs the hero into a corner and forces the hero to change. Watching a hero physically defeat a villain is actually relatively boring. Think of all those bad James Bond movies where James Bond finds a way to kill the villain with plenty of special effects and explosions. What’s far more interesting is watching the hero defeat the villain physically but also overcome his or her own limitations and changing into a better person in the process.
In “Rocky,” Rocky’s biggest fear isn’t losing to Apollo Creed because Rocky already thinks he can’t win against anyway. However, Rocky’s biggest fear is having the world dismiss him as a bum. That’s why Rocky’s goal is to be the first man to stay on his feet the entire fight because nobody has ever done that before against Apollo Creed. Yet early within the fight, Rocky’s greatest fear is realized when Apollo Creed effortlessly punches Rocky in the face and the announcers joke that it looks like Rocky’s blocking the punches with his head. Then Rocky knocks Apollo Creed down and everyone suddenly takes Rocky seriously.
If Rocky didn’t face his greatest fear of looking foolish in front of the world, his knockdown of Apollo Creed wouldn’t have been as dramatic. Making the hero face his or her greatest fear simply creates greater drama, but we have to know what’s the hero’s greatest fear in the first place.
Every hero has a greatest fear so you must clearly reveal it early in the story and then force the hero to face that greatest fear. Doing so will make your story much stronger because the hero faces his or her greatest fear and survives, and that’s a minor victory in itself.