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: