Every hero must be in danger whether that danger is physical or emotional. At some point in every story, the hero needs to see a character who represents the hero’s own fate if he or she should fail.
This other character’s fate serves as a visual warning to both the hero and the audience what should happen if the hero should fail.
In “An Officer and a Gentleman,” a woman is trying to win the heart of a military officer. Her friend is trying to do the same thing and tries to pretend she’s pregnant to get a man to marry her. Instead, the man drops out of the military to marry her. That’s when this woman reveals she wasn’t pregnant after all and refuses to marry him because he’s no longer going to be an officer. This points out the possible fate of both the hero (a fellow officer candidate) and the woman he’s wooing.
In “Die Hard,” the fate of the hero is revealed by a sleazy man who’s hitting on the hero’s wife. When this sleazy man reveals the hero’s name to the villain, the villain shoots the sleazy man, thinking that this sleazy man means something to the hero. Seeing the villain shoot the sleazy man highlights the fate of the hero if he fails to defeat the villain.
Think of the worst that could happen to the hero. Then show that to the audience.
In “Bloodsport,” the hero is fighting in a brutal martial arts tournament. To intimidate the hero, the villain kills a man in the ring, then beats the hero’s friend unconscious. That visually highlights the danger to the hero. Even though we know the hero could be seriously hurt or killed in the tournament, seeing other people get hurt and knocked unconscious visually emphasizes this threat.
Ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen to your hero? Then make it happen to someone else. That will create greater tension and suspense and will make your hero’s victory far more rewarding in the end.