QUALITIES OF A GREAT NEMESIS #1: Powerful
Depending on how you look at it, this is either the fifth in my series of articles on how to captivate your audiences and readers with the use of conflict, or the first in a new series examining the qualities of a great Nemesis.
To give your stories as much emotional impact as possible, your heroes must face overwhelming, seemingly insurmountable obstacles as they pursue their desires. This means that each hero’s NEMESIS – the character that prevents the hero from achieving his or her goal – must be far more powerful than your hero. The villain, monster, opponent or rival your hero faces must be some combination of bigger, stronger and smarter, with more skill, smarts, authority, protection, weaponry and/or followers than your hero.
When I’m not working, I like to spend my time in pursuit of higher ideals and accomplishments, with activities that will edify and expand my life while serving nature and humanity. So this weekend I watched BOTH It and It Chapter Two.
Besides scaring the crap out of me, these movies provided me with a perfect example of a very powerful nemesis.
The clown Pennywise is a terrifying, ruthless, unstoppable killer, an inhuman, supernatural shapeshifter who’s been gruesomely killing the children of Derry off and on for more than a century. He can grow in size, change form, impersonate dead people, move quickly, turn his victims into zombie-like minions and create horrific, threatening hallucinations. He also has a whole lot of sharp, pointy teeth, and an apparently endless supply of red balloons.
In It, these qualities give Pennywise extraordinary power over our heroes, seven kids whose physical weaknesses are immediately clear, as we see them physically bullied by classmates at school.
These self-proclaimed “losers” are victims of abusive or deceased parents, they’re plagued with physical challenges (a speech impediment, asthma, obesity, poor vision), and three of them feel responsible for the deaths of family members. They have no particular skill, no weapons, and no one to defend them.
So their visible goal – simply to stop Pennywise from killing any more children – seems impossible. Pennywise’s immense superiority is the source of immense conflict for the heroes, and emotion for the audience.
In It Chapter Two the fears and suppressed memories these characters have carried into adulthood become the very thing that allows Pennywise to threaten and terrorize them. Their even more difficult goal is now to destroy Pennywise forever. And as we learn the true source of his power, the level of conflict – and emotion – becomes even greater.
Admittedly, Pennywise was a pretty easy choice for me to illustrate a nemesis’ power. But in creating your own stories for the screen, stage or page, you don’t have to resort to supernatural horror to employ this principle.
In the romantic comedy Wedding Crashers, John’s (Owen Wilson) goal is to win the love of Claire (Rachel McAdams). But she is already committed to his rival Sack (Bradley Cooper). This nemesis is rich, a member of the upper crust, and favored by her parents. He is smart, manipulative, deceitful, and has the ability to discover and reveal that John is an imposter. This gives him more power than John, and creates a lot more conflict for John as he pursues Claire.
If you’re creating an autobiographical story for a speech, book or webinar, identify an individual in your story who stood between you and your objective. Then reveal the ways that person was more powerful than you were. The more likely he was to stop you, the more we will connect with you, and the more impactful your story will be.
Coming up Next in the Series: QUALITIES OF A GREAT NEMESIS #2: Threatening
Previous CONFLICT articles in this series:
CONFLICT #1: Tiger
CONFLICT #2: Combat vs. Conflict
CONFLICT #3: Follow the Pain
CONFLICT #4: The Nemesis
I have a question. I was working on an idea where the hero is better than the villain in every way. He is mentally and physically greater, more charismatic and wealthy, etc. but the villain uses his anonymity, along with dirty tricks (sugar in his gas tank, late night phone calls to disrupt his sleep) to stymie his good deeds.
Would that work as a form of having more power while actually having less?
As always, Michael, you make storytelling so much richer and more accessible for me. Thank you for sharing your amazing and provocative insights.
Love this article.. It will help me with my new script.
Very compelling concept, Mr. Storytelling Master, Michael Hauge. Don’t just make the nemesis a person/thing that we dislike, but give him/it power over the hero of our story. That will take some character development, but will give us more “umph” to the conflict and conflict management part of the story. LOVE IT!
I am huge fan of yours and watched all your lectures on YouTube.
Yes, I am writing a screenplay for a movie and find it the most challenging job. But your available guidance matters a lot to me.
The main challenge in my screenplay is that it has no antagonist or Villain. It is a story about a less attractive girl, fighting to get her identity in the society. In this process, she changes her identity with the identity of an attractive girl (her friend) and gets a boyfriend, a master chef. She talks to him over phone but unable to face him. Ultimately, when she is able to beat her BF in a master chef competition, she gains her identity and her BF.
The concept / theme has become difficult for me without Villain, she raises the bar for herself and crosses all the time. The genera, I have selected, is “Drama”. Hope it is right.
I will join your class, once, I finish this task.
Thanks. You are my inspiration all the time. Your comment will be valuable to me.
Thank you very much for sending all these articles.
You write in a way that “makes sense” to me.