I went to Guatemala for a week. I helped pull ten teeth. Five of them were from one lady who was over 70. The heat during the day is incredible. The humidity is unbearable, to the point you sweat at 75 degrees. I was a leader, and that was new emotional and mental pressure.
Then I had a training half the week. I found out how much I can survive on caffeine, sugar, and adrenaline. Three weeks of four to six hours of no sleep is an incredible obstacle to fight through. I’ve no doubt that more than a few of you are insomniacs. It’s amazing what can keep you up at night, too.
This week I go help lead a men’s retreat. I already have nothing to give, and I have to go one more week. I will. Like college students suffer through midterms and finals. Like an Olympian makes it through the final stretch. Heck, can you imagine how that fourth event feels? Nurses and doctors work over 12 hour shifts. They endure through life and death situations and save people. What about soldiers? Our soldiers out in the Middle East, where it is hot, dirty, and they are being shot at. They are being shot. Some of these guys were shot multiple times and continued to fight. They endured.
Is your character getting off too easily? What have they endured?
The protagonist is always supposed to be at a disadvantage. They are supposed to go into odds that are nearly impossible, usually while juggling numerous challenges at once. They do not walk in through the front door and fight the antagonist, walk up to the throne room, and fight.
Sleep deprived, hungry, with a gunshot to the left arm, the protagonist goes to the lair where three dozen goons are waiting. The antagonist is fresh, well armed. He has a fresh weapon that was made specifically for him. The protagonist is likely low on bullets, is using a chipped sword, and so on.
Cowboy Bebop is my favorite example of this. Spike walks in to kill Vicious. Throughout two episodes Spike is getting run down, sleep deprived, and the love of his life is gunned down in front of him. He’s shot, cut, and so on. After breaking in to basically a fort, he’s half dead when he faces Vicious.
Season 2 of Arrow, Oliver loses everything. Before his final battle, all the resources at his disposal are stripped from him. His mother is killed. Slade has Oliver down on his emotional and financial knees before unleashing an army on the city. Oliver must fight the army and take on Slade.
Harry Potter’s always on a last leg, having lost more than resources whenever he reaches the climax. Lord of the Rings puts Frodo at a weak point physically and mentally when he’s about to throw the ring into the volcano.
Before the climax, make sure you cripple your protagonist. Really give us an exciting final conflict.