QUALITIES OF A GREAT NEMESIS #4: Relentless
Time for the seventh in my series of articles on how to captivate your audiences and readers with the use of conflict, and the fourth in the corresponding series examining the Nemesis character.
Building and accelerating the conflict your hero must face greatly increases the emotional impact of your story. So when you have a nemesis character trying to stop your hero from achieving his or her goal, you don’t want that nemesis to just make a single appearance in the story and then disappear. He must be relentless in his desire, and we must see him confronting or closing in on your hero.
In the 2016 multiple Oscar® nominee Hell or High Water, Jeff Bridges plays Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton, determined to track down the film’s hero Toby Howard (Chris Pine) and his brother Tanner. Toby and Tanner have been robbing banks throughout West Texas, and Marcus is determined to stop them.
Taylor Sheridan’s brilliant screenplay repeatedly cuts away from the brothers to show how smart and experienced Marcus is as he figures out that it’s the Howard brothers who are responsible for the robberies, and predicts where they will strike next.
Each time we see Marcus, we anticipate the final showdown that awaits our hero, and that he is up against a smart, tough and relentless nemesis. Nothing is going to stop him until he has a final showdown with the hero he wants to stop.
As with the nemesis Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, (see Article #3 in this series), Marcus and his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) are also principled. But instead of their own personal code, they are Rangers committed to upholding the law. And representing the law makes this nemesis even more powerful.
An argument can be made that Marcus is actually an equal hero to Toby. Marcus is introduced separately, during the Setup, and has a clear, visible goal that will take him to the climax of the story.
We also empathize with Marcus at least as much as we do Toby. Marcus is likable, highly skilled and in jeopardy of not catching or stopping the Howard brothers. We also sympathize with him as he contemplates his impending retirement. And Marcus and Alberto are funny:
But even if we regard him as one of the two heroes of Hell or High Water, he still serves as the nemesis for the other one. And Toby then serves as Marcus’ Nemesis, since his goal is to stop Marcus from achieving what he wants.
It’s pretty rare to have two equal heroes who are in opposition in this way, because there’s a danger of dividing the readers’ and audiences’ loyalties. (It’s far more common to have two heroes who are aligned, as in a lot of buddy movies like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and romantic comedies like Pretty Woman.) But in Heat, the cop and the thief (played by Al Pacino and Robert De Niro) each function as the other’s nemesis.
In creating a nemesis in your own story, be certain this character appears or is mentioned two or more times, and that their threat to your hero’s goal grows increasingly stronger.
NEXT: NEMESIS #5 – Authoritative
Previous CONFLICT articles in this series:
CONFLICT #1: Tiger
CONFLICT #2: Combat vs. Conflict
CONFLICT #3: Follow the Pain
CONFLICT #4: The Nemesis
QUALITIES OF A GREAT NEMESIS #1: Powerful
QUALITIES OF A GREAT NEMESIS #2: Threatening
QUALITIES OF A GREAT NEMESIS #3: Principled
Michael, Thank you so much for sharing these storytelling nuggets with us. I didn’t even realize the hero in my novel had a nemesis, but your articles have made me realize that he certainly does. My story is now so much richer for implementing everything you’ve taught us in this “Nemesis” series! – leslie
These articles on qualities of a great nemesis are fantastic! Is number 5 (Authoritative) posted yet? There isn’t a link, and I couldn’t find it through a search. Thank you.
Another great article – thank you!
So I’m wondering… Do all good stories have to have a nemesis in the form of a human or some other being, or can the nemesis sometimes be the seemingly impossible odds or situation the main characters are facing?
Thanks in advance
Stories do NOT have to have a nemesis. The only essential character is the hero. But you want to be certain there’s plenty of outer conflict, so you’ll need something or someone to stand in the way. In a love story a lot of the obstacles come from the romance character as the hero struggles to win his or her love. And some stories (APOLLO 13 for example) contain enough conflict from the forces of nature they’re up against.
But a nemesis – if you include on in your story – MUST be a character. Applying the term to any other kind of obstacle will only confuse the issue and muddy your story. The same advice holds true for the reflection and romance characters.
Hope that helps. Thanks for asking.
Great advice! Now I know how I can strengthen my spec script with a quick third entrance in the background end of a scene by the nemesis.
Cool. Thanks, Kathy – let us know how your script is progressing.
Thank you for your guidance and all the learning I have received from reading and listening to you. I am one story teller that is eternally greatful.
I’m also grateful, Ben, to get your kind response.
I do my best to craft my business talks (Lunch Briefs. Key Notes, Team Dynamic Events) with your points about what makes a “story” memorable, impactful, and a tool to teach.
Your examples are clear; and I often get to watch a great movie…again usually…but with a different eye for gut level realness in life’s lessons good and bad alike.
Jo Ann –
Thanks. Please let us know how stories are helping your business talks – and the responses you’re getting from your audiences and followers. Keep at it!
Good after my mentor.
It’s good always reading from you and it’s a learning experience for me to approach my way with your style of storytelling.
Thanks for saying so. I’m happy you’re finding these helpful, and even happier to hear you’re a storyteller!