Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Expanded Ultimate Story Checklist: Does the hero’s pursuit of the opportunity quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?

As any artist considering a follow-up project will tell you, it’s much easier to commit to a big undertaking if you don’t know what you’re getting into. Just because you know an opportunity is intimidating doesn’t mean you comprehend how much trouble pursuing that opportunity will cause. 

It’s best if your heroes are not fully aware of the scope of the problem before they commit. Audiences prefer heroes with a limited perspective, who quickly get in over their head. Given how bad things are going to get, it’s hard to sympathize with anyone who would intentionally put himself at risk.

This is a dangerous moment where the story can lose its momentum. You’ve finally arranged all the pieces on the playing board, so it’s tempting to take it easy for a few pages, but you need to wallop the hero right away to keep the reader from putting down your manuscript.
  • The couple in The Awful Truth has just one problem with their divorce: Who gets the dog? 
  • The hero of Speed has accepted the danger of leaping on the bomb-rigged bus, but he doesn’t know that a passenger will freak out and accidentally shoot the driver, instantly making the entire task a lot tougher. 
  • In Goldfinger, The French Connection, and Silence of the Lambs, the hero realizes the villain is a lot smarter than anybody thought. 
  • Almost always, the unexpected conflict should come from an actual person, as opposed to an animal, the weather, a physical obstruction, or a faceless bureaucracy. Sheriff Brody in Jaws isn’t just opposed by the shark or “the townspeople.” He’s specifically opposed by the mayor, who refuses to protect his own town.

The 40 Year Old Virgin

YES.  The first girl he meets is drunk, endangers him, and throws up on him.


YES. Ash opposes her throughout.

An Education

NO. Her parents put up feeble, half-hearted resistance. The true antagonist in this movie is the general notion of propriety, which nobody really stands up for (except her teacher when it’s too late) but which turns out to be well worth heeding.

The Babadook

YES. The doctor is dubious of her plan, child services is suspicious, Claire cuts her out entirely.

Blazing Saddles

YES. The townspeople want to kill him.

Blue Velvet

YES. Dorothy, then Frank.

The Bourne Identity

YES. he’s almost arrested, then Cooper finds out he’s alive, sends assassins after him. 


YES. It turns out that there’s a rival for the position: Helen.


YES. Lazlo, it turns out that Ilsa is married. Also, Strasser has guess he has the letters.


YES. Lots of people: thugs, farmers, etc.

Donnie Brasco

YES.  He winds up caught between Lefty and Sonny Black.  His wife turns against him.

Do the Right Thing

NO. It’s nor really unforeseen. Buggin’ Out continues his boycott attempts despite Mookie, and Pino’s racism is also escalating. 

The Farewell

YES. Well, it’s not really unforeseen, but her grandma immediately asks her what’s wrong.  Her grandma tries to teach her a Chinese exercise routine but she resists.  

The Fighter

YES. His family doesn’t approve of her.


YES. She meets Kristoff, and tries to get him to help her, but he refuses, then pushes back after agreeing. 

The Fugitive

YES. it turns out that the world’s best marshal in on his trail.

Get Out

YES. He regrets it the next morning.  Georgina and Walter just keep acting more threatening to him.  So does Jeremy.

Groundhog Day

YES. The police, then Rita. 

How to Train Your Dragon

NO. Not yet. The dragon is hard to train, but not as much as he thought it would be. Astrid finds out what he’s doing, but that’s later. 

In a Lonely Place

YES. Laurel’s masseuse is opposed to the relationship, his cop buddy’s boss and wife both distrust Dix.

Iron Man

YES. Stane isn’t happy about his new direction. For that matter, neither are Pepper or Rhodey.

Lady Bird

YES. Her mom fights her at every turn, and she get pushback from her brother too. 

Raising Arizona

YES. The brothers escape prison.


YES. Many. She’s not interested and Dr. Guggenheim is opposed to all of Max’s tricks.


YES. SNCC is pissed that he’s taking over their campaign.

The Shining

YES. Both: Not with another person at first, but with the demons of the hotel.  Eventually with each other and both will clash with Wendy.


YES. Jack, who wants him to drink Merlot, and insists he be fun, but tells him right beforehand that his ex got remarried

The Silence of the Lambs

YES. with Chilton and others.

Star Wars

YES. Mos Eisley turns out to be a hive of scum and villainy. Their pilot turns out to have a price on his head.

Sunset Boulevard

YES. Norma won’t let him write a good script. 

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