Friday, January 21, 2022

The Expanded Ultimate Story Checklist: Does the hero hesitate until the stakes are raised?

This is what distinguishes a big life-changing problem from a small no-brainer problem. Hesitation proves the opportunity is intimidating, indicating it carries both high risk and high reward. 

While it’s tempting to skip hesitation to speed up the first quarter and make the hero seem more forceful, it’s equally important to cheer and fear for a hero. A healthy wariness reminds us to worry about the dangers and trust that the hero is not foolhardy.

Hesitation scenes often establish the role of the hero’s friends, who either counsel caution or recklessness. The good friends in Salvador and Juno are dubious, but the more reckless friends in Risky Business and Mean Girls say to go for it. Or, as they say in the dubbed-for-TV version of the Risky Business: “Sometimes you gotta say, ‘What the hey!’”

These scenes can also ease the audience into suspension of disbelief by giving the hero a moment to stop and say, “Hey, this is crazy! This can’t be happening, can it?” as seen in movies such as Back to the Future and The Terminator.

The 40 Year Old Virgin

YES. He runs out of the store.


YES, she hangs back and doesn’t assert much authority as the problem grows.

An Education

YES. She won’t get in the car, at first.

The Babadook

YES. She hesitates forever.  

Blazing Saddles

NO. He’s amused by the scheme and happily dives right in.  

Blue Velvet

NO. he plunges in willfully and heedlessly.

The Bourne Identity

YES. when he opens the bank box, he leaves the gun behind: He’s reluctant to use his skills. 


YES. She vacillates as she accepts the job. 


YES. he’s very reluctant to take the letters, and to let her into the bar.


NO. Well, the movie is 18 minutes in by the time he finds out what’s really going on, so it’s too late for any hesitation.

Donnie Brasco

YES.  he avoids getting sucked into Lefty’s world at first, until he realizes how valuable the connection is. 

Do the Right Thing

YES. Nothing but, for most of the movie.

The Farewell

YES. Her parents try to convince her to not to come, sure that she can’t lie convincingly.  

The Fighter

YES. He ditches out of their first date.


NO. that’s her problem.

The Fugitive

YES. briefly, he’s the only one who hesitates to leave the bus, then he’s hesitant to take the other convict’s hand.

Get Out

YES. He doesn’t trust them or his own perceptions. 

Groundhog Day

YES. He refuses to believe it until it repeats twice.

How to Train Your Dragon

YES. Goes to dragon training, tries to be like the others.

In a Lonely Place

YES. he hesitates about pursuing Laurel.

Iron Man

YES. He wants to just die, but Yinsen convinces him to do it. 

Lady Bird

NO. she’s not a hestiater. 

Raising Arizona

NO. Not that we see.  They go for it.


NO. he jumps right in.


Sort of.  He’s apologetic with Coretta and seems rather weary and unenthusiastic, calling Mahalia Jackson in the night to have her sing to him just to prop himself up. 

The Shining

YES. Jack: Yes, he’s a little taken aback by the warnings. Danny: Yes, he tries to ignore his visions.


YES. He refuses, insists that Maya is married. 

The Silence of the Lambs

Sort of: has mini-breakdown in the parking lot after interviewing Lecter, but quickly recovers and charges ahead.

Star Wars

YES. Only commits to taking Obi Wan to Anchorhead

Sunset Boulevard

Not really.  He tells us that he’s dubious, but he makes little attempt to leave once the offer is made.  

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