Here is the fifth in my series of articles on how to captivate your audiences and readers with the use of conflict, and the second in the corresponding series examining the Nemesis character.

Your story’s nemesis will be the character that, more than any other, stands between your hero and his or her visible goal. This far more powerful character will provide much of the conflict your hero must overcome in order to succeed.

In other words, the nemesis’ goal should be in opposition to whatever your hero wants. But to make your nemesis even more emotionally compelling, he (or she) should become a personal threat to your hero.

In the Best Picture Oscar® winner The Shape of Water, the hero Elisa’s (Sally Hawkins) visible goals are to rescue, and to win the love of, the gill man referred to as the Asset (Doug Jones). Her greatest obstacle, besides the diminishing health of her fish-man out of water, comes from Strickland (Michael Shannon), the mean and sadistic person in charge of the Asset, who likes to torture the Asset and wants him destroyed. So Strickland is clearly Elisa’s nemesis.

Unaware of her feelings and plans for the Asset, initially Strickland has no particular interest in Elisa. He’s just a bad guy whose goals are in opposition to hers.

So screenwriters Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor wisely increase our involvement in the story by making Strickland a direct threat to Elisa.

First Strickland grabs Elisa and claims to be turned on by her deafness. Then he grows suspicious of her when the Asset disappears. Finally, when he learns that she and her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) were responsible for kidnapping the Asset, Strickland goes after them, and the exciting climax becomes a showdown between Elisa and Strickland – hero and nemesis.

When you create a story where your nemesis has an initial goal that creates conflict for your hero, make sure your nemesis is alerted to the hero’s opposing desire, leading to a one-on-one battle.

This principle doesn’t just apply to action films and thrillers involving violent conflicts with evil villains.

Let’s say you’re preparing a marketing presentation and you want to include an autobiographical story about something you accomplished (or something you failed to accomplish) and the lesson you learned. By making yourself the empathetic underdog while painting a vivid portrait of your rival or competitor, you’ll ensure that your story – and your speech or sales copy – will captivate and persuade your potential clients much more successfully.

Whatever the venue for your story, and whether your nemesis is a challenger (Ricky Conlan in Creed), an opposing attorney (Ed Concannon in The Verdict), or a romantic rival (Kimmy in My Best Friend’s Wedding), when you include scenes involving that character’s direct, personal conflict with your hero, you’ll always achieve greater emotional impact.

– Michael



Previous CONFLICT articles in this series:

CONFLICT #1: Tiger
CONFLICT #2: Combat vs. Conflict
CONFLICT #3: Follow the Pain
CONFLICT #4: The Nemesis