A plot is only as good as the characters supporting it. Readers don’t stay for the chaos as much as they stay to see the people unwillingly swept up in it survive or suffer. Your plot should have a memorable meeting followed by powerful, hard-hitting tests, climbs and summits that result in a triumph or fall which transforms your characters by the time they depart.
Scarface is an incredible and tragic journey where the protagonist almost has total agency over the events that take place. A conniving and ruthless character like Tony Montana will inevitably get themselves into more dangerous situations as their plot goes on. The action and stakes will always be high, and this is what an audience wants to see.
Start with a small problem, perhaps a stroke of bad luck or a petty argument that, at that moment, seems like nothing. It shouldn’t shake your characters or knock them over, not yet, but it should just startle them. No matter how horrible a person your character might be, your readers need to like them and sympathise with them before disaster strikes.
Scarface opens with Tony trying to convince American immigration officers to grant him a green card. Tony makes the statement, ‘You wanna work eight, ten fucking hours, you own nothing, you got nothing?’ in his opening monologue which immediately reveals his wants, fears, and resentments. From this meeting, the audience gathers that Tony is confident, ambitious, and willing to deceive others in any way to get what he wants. He causes trouble, it doesn’t follow him.
This is your protagonist’s first contact with the villain, problem, or their ‘destiny’. It should take place soon after or be a direct result of the meeting. It can be an attack or temptation, either has a different impact which serve as the catalyst for your character’s final transformation. Like the meeting, the test should be subdued, don’t pack it with too much action because the stakes will be raised in the climb, summit, and rise. The test should ask your characters, ‘Is this what you really want? Can you handle this and more?’
In Scarface, Tony is petitioned to kill Rebenga while in a detention centre to prove his loyalty and ambition. He hates communists so much he says he kills them for fun; this shows that his life is dedicated to violence and amorality, he’s the right man for dirty work. Tony’s test tempts him further into a degenerative lifestyle, but it is his ambition to get what he wants that endears the audience.
Your character has completed their test and are now taking their first steps toward getting what they want and need. Depending on the length of your manuscript, your character’s climb should include two or more challenges. The climb increases the action and tension, but it should still be easy enough that your characters will overestimate their abilities and make mistakes that can fuel a potential fall after the summit.
In Scarface, the end of the test and beginning of the climb is marked by Omar Suarez hiring Tony and his entourage to conduct a drug deal with Hector, a member of the Colombian cartel. Tony’s wants and resentments are introduced with the two scenes that make up the climb: Tony publicly killing Hector and securing a position with Lopez; and later, Tony collaborating with Sosa after the latter’s guards murder Omar for being a police informant. The shocking action and tension is consistent with the tone growing darker and crueller as the plot rises toward the summit and triumph.