Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Expanded Ultimate Story Checklist: Does this challenge represent the hero’s greatest hope and/or greatest fear and/or an ironic answer to the hero’s question?

At the beginning of a story, all heroes must want something, but that doesn’t mean they will necessarily want the opportunity they are presented with. 

The relationship between what your heroes want and the actual opportunities they discover can play out in many different ways:
  • Some heroes, like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, get the opportunity they've always dreamed of: Luke always wanted to run off and become a heroic space pilot, and then that opportunity presents itself in an unexpected way. 
  • For other heroes, the opportunity that appears is the opposite of what they’ve always wanted. Brody in Jaws wants to prove himself as sheriff, but the opportunity to do so arrives in the form of one of his deepest fears, going into the ocean. 
  • For others, like Sarah Connor in The Terminator, it’s more of an ironic “be careful what you wish for” situation. She drops a bunch of dishes at work and then wonders, “In a hundred years, who’s gonna care?” It’s just a rhetorical question, but she gets her answer in spades. 
  • Sometimes, the connection between the character's want and opportunity is even more abstract. Marty McFly in Back to the Future wants to be cooler than his lame parents. Getting sent back in time isn’t something he’s always wanted to do or something he’s always been afraid of, but when he gets there, he stumbles upon a strange opportunity to solve his problem: First he comes to understand his parents better, and then he improves their lives retroactively, solving his original problem in a very roundabout yet satisfying way. 
Beware of stories in which the character and plot arcs never intersect, because the story will never come together. This is why you need to ask yourself the next question we’ll look at.

The 40 Year Old Virgin

YES. Greatest hope: get laid, greatest fear: have to hit on women. And it’s ironic that the fear leads to his hope.


YES. Ironic answer: “Whatever happened to standard procedure?”  She finds out the pros and cons of standard procedure.

An Education

YES.  All three, the question being “Is it really worth it to get an education?”

The Babadook

YES. Greatest fear: her feelings of grief must be confronted, her bad mothering gets out of control.

Blazing Saddles

NO. We don’t find out a lot about his hopes/fears/questions.   He’s seems to be largely emotionally unaffected by his extraordinary journey, except one moment at the exact midpoint.

Blue Velvet

YES. all three.  Ironic answer: Why do there have to be people like Frank, he asks, but he’s becoming Frank.

The Bourne Identity

YES. his big question “who am I?” at first means “Who was I?”, then it become “Who do I want to be now?”


YES. Greatest fear: losing her friend. Ironic answer: she wants to get married, but has to help someone else do it.


YES. it’s his greatest hope, and an ironic answer to his question (Of all the bars in the world…)


YES. Well, his greatest suspicion, that the world is hopelessly corrupt

Donnie Brasco

YES.  both greatest hope (first Fed to be on track to be a made man) and greatest fear (loses family, almost gets turned)

Do the Right Thing

YES. Greatest fear and ironic answer to his question: The mayor says, “Do the right thing” and Mookie responds, “That’s it?” It turns out to be a tough question.

The Farewell

YES. It represents her greatest fear: That’s she’s too American for China but too Chinese for America. 

The Fighter

YES. Greatest hope: he becomes champion and ultimately doesn’t have to give up either side of his life.


YES. Greatest hope: She finally gets to be around her sister, in a very ironic way.

The Fugitive

YES. It’s his greatest fear: losing his wife, confronting the politics of being a doctor, etc.  Also he’s afraid of being discovered as an imposter in the upper class world (worries that he’ll only look like a waiter in a tux, his wife had the real money) and then has to sink down into that world. 

Get Out

YES. Greatest hope: Someone finally loves him. Greatest fear: That he’ll be passively trapped inside a screen again, as he was when his mom died.  (But as a photographer, he hides behind a lens, so his relationship to glass is complex.) 

Groundhog Day

YES. Greatest fear and ironic answer: The first line is: “Somebody asked me today, ‘Phil, if you could be anywhere in the world, where would you want to be?’” as his hand hovers over an empty greenscreen.

How to Train Your Dragon

YES. Greatest hope: impressing dad. Greatest fear: having to fight dragons.

In a Lonely Place

YES. greatest hope: return of love and career passion, greatest fear: his anger goes out of control, ironic answer: he asks “what happens in the book?” then he lives it.

Iron Man

YES. Greatest fear, and ironic answer to rhetorical questions he asks about when he’d stop making weapons.

Lady Bird

YES. Her greatest hope is to leave Sacramento and be cool. 

Raising Arizona

YES. Greatest hope (have a family) and greatest fear (return to crime).


YES. Greatest fear: getting kicked out, Greatest hope: the love of Miss Cross.  


YES. Greatest hope: Freedom to vote, general uprising.  Greatest fear: That he will be killed and/or lose his family (which almost happens in an unexpected way)

The Shining

YES. Jack’s greatest hope (time alone to write) becomes his greatest fear (hurting his family).


YES. It’s his greatest fear (losing his ex and his hopes of publication)

The Silence of the Lambs

YES. She’s been hoping for such an opportunity and living in fear of having her past revealed.

Star Wars

YES. Greatest hope: he finally gets his chance to go be a pilot.

Sunset Boulevard

YES. his greatest fear and an ironic fulfillment of his desire for a pool.

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