Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Expanded Ultimate Story Checklist: Do the stakes pace and motivation all escalate at this point?

At a certain point, when dealing with a large problem, things slip out of our control and we are overtaken by events. This feels horrible, but it’s ultimately necessary for us to have the motivation and urgency we need to solve the problem. 

Again, it’s tempting to overmotivate the hero in this section. Beware of the tendency to prop up a flagging story by tacking on additional motivation, such as revealing that the villain also killed the hero’s family years ago. If you want to strengthen your hero’s motivation, then simplify it instead of multiplying it.
  • This is frequently where the “double-chase” begins: The hero is both hunter and hunted now. The heroes of Some Like It Hot and Blue Velvet discover that the bad guys now know who and where they are, and they’re coming for them. 
  • This is where the ticking clock sometimes comes in, as in both Alien and Aliens. 
  • Or where a family member is threatened: The baby is kidnapped in Raising Arizona and Mary Jane is kidnapped in Spider-Man. 
  • This is sometimes where events happen that force a decision, such as David’s marriage proposal in An Education.

The 40 Year Old Virgin

To a certain extent.  The third quarter is a little limp, ironically enough.


YES, they realize they have to blow up the ship.

An Education

YES. He proposes marriage.

The Babadook

YES. Stakes are now life or death, etc.

Blazing Saddles


Blue Velvet

YES. there are car chases and his world is invaded.

The Bourne Identity

YES. he’s in love now, and realizes that he must find Conklin and “end it” to protect her.


NO. Not at this point. The wedding is approaching but she’s not going so it doesn’t matter. It’s only when finds out Lillian needs her and there’s only a day left that this kicks in.


YES. Lazlo is told he can no longer stay in Casablanca.


YES, the cops are closing in on both Jake and Evelyn, he’s falling in love with her, etc.

Donnie Brasco

YES.  he almost gets made, gets caught up in a mob war, loses family

Do the Right Thing

YES. Very much so.  

The Farewell

Sort of.  She confronts her uncle, convinced he’s the ringleader.  

The Fighter

YES. he starts winning fights.


YES. she’s now dying, the winter is getting worse, Elsa might be killed, etc.

The Fugitive

YES. Very much so.

Get Out

YES. both for him and also for Rod, who now becomes our second hero.  

Groundhog Day

YES. He realizes that he only has one day (over and over) to save the old man’s life. 

How to Train Your Dragon

YES. His father goes off to the nest. 

In a Lonely Place

YES. His marriage proposal creates a crisis.

Iron Man


Lady Bird

YES. She has to race to Julie before prom ends, sort of. 

Raising Arizona





YES. His new army increasingly demands action.  Johnson increasingly demands he stand down.

The Shining

YES. Jack cuts off contact with outside world, Wendy knocks him out.


YES. He and Maya have sex, possibly fall in love…

The Silence of the Lambs

YES. They’re running out of time, in danger of being fired.

Star Wars

YES. It becomes very thrilling, cross-cutting between four groups in danger.

Sunset Boulevard

Somewhat.  Artie proposes marriage to Betty.  Norma catches him.

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