Unless you’re writing a tragedy, your hero never gets completely defeated. However, he or she must constantly be challenged and backed into a corner. To do that, you must keep making your hero’s life as miserable as possible.
Because your hero always survives the worst possible situations, audiences know that your hero will survive. The only question is how will the hero survive.
To make the threat to the hero more believable, you need to show the worst that could happen but have that happen to other characters.
In “Star Wars,” Luke’s life is fairly mundane and dull. The worst that could happen is nothing, and that’s exactly what Luke sees in his aunt and uncle. They simply live and do nothing exciting, which is why Luke wants to leave. Seeing his aunt and uncle shows Luke the worst that could happen and that’s to spend the rest of his life on a boring farm.
Once Luke chases after R2D2 and discovers storm troopers had blasted the crawler that had held R2D2 and C3PO before selling them to Luke’s uncle, the worst that could happen to Luke is that he could get killed by the storm troopers.
Lo and behold, Luke (and the audience) sees his greatest fears come to life when he spots the burned bodies of his aunt and uncle at the farm.
As Luke sneaks into the spaceport with Obi-wan, he goes into a seedy bar filled with shady characters. The worst that could happen is that someone might kill Luke so what happens? Two seedy characters try to pick a fight with Luke and Obi-wan cuts them both down. The worst that could happen is that Luke could die, and Luke sees those two shady characters die before his eyes.
Later when he’s trapped on the Death Star, the worst that could happen is that he could be shot and killed by a storm trooper. So it’s no surprise that numerous storm troopers get shot and killed.
Finally when Luke is attacking the Death Star in his X-wing fighter, the worst that could happen is that he might get shot down, so he sees lots of other people get shot down and he nearly gets shot down as well. Even worse, he sees his best friend, Biggs, get shot down trying to protect him.
Watch any good movie and ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen to the hero and you’re sure to find that worst case scenario happening to somebody else.
In “A Quiet Place,” the worst that could happen is you could make a sound and the monsters will rush out and kill you. So the hero spots an elderly man who deliberately yells to attract the monster to kill him.
In “The Invisible Man,” the worst that could happen is that people will think the hero is crazy for saying an invisible man is tormenting her. So naturally that worst case scenario happens when the villain kills the hero’s sister and frames the hero. Then the authorities lock the hero in an asylum.
Always think of the worst that could happen and show it happening to others or the hero. By showing us the worst that could happen, it highlights the threat to the hero and makes the hero’s struggle seem far less certain as a result.