Here’s the problem: I never really wanted to make people cheer. Just the opposite: I always want to send a shiver of dread up a reader's spine, or to make them blush with furious indignation at unfair treatment, or to yank the carpet from under their feet with a shocking reversal of fortune. Whether I’m writing a bio-pic or a thriller or a comedy, I love to put my hero and my audience through the wringer.
Making an audience feel is great, but it becomes a problem when all they feel is pity. Nobody ever said: “I just saw a great movie, the hero was totally pitiful! I hope he comes back for a sequel!” The audience wants to invest emotion in a hero, and they only invest if they can expect a satisfying pay-off. To get that investment, you have to write about the person they would pick to be the hero, the person that they would choose to root for.
I had the wrong idea that the best way to amp up the conflict is to maximize the challenge to the hero. But then I figured it out: You’re supposed to maximize the conflict for the villain. This changes everything.
But in that case, more conflict would have meant less excitement. Here’s the problem: if Bonnie, with no training and no experience, could take out Hans, then we would suspect that anybody could take out Hans. Ironically, we would feel less tension, not more, with every moment she remained free, because this whole plan would start to seem half-baked. After all, Hans knew that the building would be full of bankers. At the very least, his plan should be banker-proof!
The writers didn’t start out by asking “how do we maximize conflict for our hero?” They asked “How do we maximize conflict for our villain?” Hans drives the movie, and the audience secretly loves him, and he has a great plan. But then a terrible thing happens to him. Something he never could have prepared for: our hero. This was another a-ha moment: The hero needs to be the wrong person to pick on. Let’s pick up there tomorrow.