The Narrative Connection Between Protagonist and Antagonist

September 21st, 2016 by

I normally don’t promote content involving the screenwriting ‘guru’ set for a variety of reasons, however here is a post via an outfit called StudioBinder, who approached me, which pretty much aligns with how I write and what I teach. The post, inspired by this video, lays out what it calls “Four Essential Principles for Creating the Ultimate Antagonist” and uses The Dark Knight for examples.

The subtext of these four principles is this: There is a narrative connection between the Protagonist and the Antagonist (I prefer the term Nemesis). It’s not a random choice, at least with good Nemesis figures. And this is where I go deeper into the subject.

To really delve into the richness of the Nemesis character, we should explore the psychological connection between that character and the Protagonist. Here is an excerpt from a post I wrote back in 2010, responding to a reader question about how to “build a powerful villain”:

First, answer this question: How does your villain function as a Nemesis character in relation to the Protagonist? Because if you take a psychological approach to stories, I would argue that most mainstream movies are, at their core, transformation journeys — where the Protagonist goes through a series of events which result in them changing from one emotion state (Disunity) as evidenced in Act One into eventually another and different emotion state (Unity) by the end of Act Three. And quite often, one of the keys in that process is their engagement with the Nemesis who in effect is the physicalization of the Protagonist’s shadow self, the repressed and suppressed aspects of their psyche that the Protagonist has – in their life up to FADE IN – been fearful of acknowledging, let alone interact with.

The classic cinematic example of this is in the movie Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back when Luke Skywalker ventures deep into the swamps of Degobah to encounter his Nemesis Darth Vader — only to sever Vader’s head off Vader’s body, his helmet explodes, revealing that the face within is Luke’s.

In other words, Luke has within him the dark side of the Force as well as light side – just as all humans have ‘good’ and ‘bad’ instincts. As Carl Jung would argue, we can not move toward any approximation of wholeness or unity unless we engage all of the aspects of our psyche and that includes those parts of who we are that we fear most, which he called the shadow.

So as a writer, you can dig into your Protagonist and ask these questions: What are you most afraid of? What are you hiding? What fears and anxieties are you repressing? Those psychological elements can instruct you in the way you craft your Nemesis. Build a character where those very bad / weak / frightful elements are a core part of their essence, and you’ve got the makings of a powerful villain, well-armed to stand in opposition to the Protagonist, not only in terms of what they can do in the Plotline, but also what they represent emotionally and psychologically in relation to the Protagonist in the Themeline.

Whether it’s Miss Gulch to Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Sheldrake to C.C. Baxter in The Apartment, the sleazy TV director Ron to Dorothy Michaels a k a Michael Dorsey in Tootsie, Buffalo Bill to Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, or the Joker to Batman in The Dark Knight, to craft a worthy Nemesis, we do well to explore the psychological connection between the characters. If the Nemesis is in some way a projection of the Protagonist’s shadow aspect of their psyche, you not only zero in on a specific connection, you also set into motion a great ongoing conflict wherein the Protagonist has to face that which they fear the most: Their own dark impulses.

Here are some more GITS links to posts on the subject of writing a good Nemesis / Antagonist character:

Is it okay for the Antagonist drive the Plot?

Does a story absolutely need an antagonist?

Is it possible to have a screenplay without a specific Antagonist character?

How to build a powerful Nemesis?

The psychopathology of heroism

Readers, what say ye? Your thoughts on crafting a worthy Nemesis. Love to hear from you in comments.

Examples of psychological connection between Protagonist-Nemesis

June 17th, 2016 by

Instead of just providing opposition, a Nemesis becomes even that much more compelling if they share some psychological connection with the Protagonist. One way of exploring this in the story-crafting process is to identify that which the Protagonist fears most, then determine if the Nemesis does in some way function as a projection of that fear. If so, you have what can be a profound psychological connection.

Some examples:

The Wizard of Oz: The Wicked Witch is quite literally a projection of Dorothy’s fear of Miss Gulch, even going so far when in Kansas, Toto’s fate threatened by the spinster, to proclaim, “Oh, you wicked old witch!” When Dorothy travels to Oz, there she is: Miss Gulch transformed into a witch.

The Apartment: Baxter fears a life of corporate anonymity, a worker bee amidst a sea of other mindless employees. What he aspires to is get promoted which would be a sign of success. The physicalization of this conscious goal is the head of the company Sheldrake. Baxter’s Want to be Sheldrake, but his Need is to get in touch with is inner mensch and reject the demeaning life of corporate values.

The Silence of the Lambs: Clarice’s father was murdered by faceless burglars when she was 11 years old. In this regard, she was victimized by them and those killers became a kind of boogeyman. Buffalo Bill is the physicalization of those killers, a boogeyman in his own right, and she needs to gain redemption for her father’s death by dispatching the serial murderer.

Up: Carl’s greatest fear is not fulfilling the promise he made time and again to Ellie to take her to Paradise Falls. In this way, Carl develops an obsession with that goal. Likewise Muntz, who started out as Carl’s childhood hero, is also obsessed in finding Kevin and proving that his discovery, widely mocked, is actually authentic. In confronting Muntz, Carl experiences the dark side of obsession which helps Carl free himself from his own compulsions, save Russell and Kevin, and discover a surrogate family in the process.

The Shawshank Redemption: Norton is Andy’s Nemesis and represents enslavement, Andy terminally assigned to oversee the warden’s extortion racket. The night Andy decides to escape, he finally has to overcome his own enslavement to the guilt he has felt for his wife’s death, even though he did not, in fact, kill her. In the case of Red, his Nemesis is quite literally a psychological condition: Institutionalization. Being in prison for three decades has infected his soul to the point where he cannot function as a free man. In the end he has a choice: Follow the path Brooks took when he committed suicide (“Get busy dyin'”) or fulfill a promise he made to “an old friend” (“Get busy livin'”). He opts for the latter and joins Andy in Mexico.

There are plenty of other movie examples. In fact, if you look at movies with Nemesis characters through this particular lens – their psychological connection to the Protagonist – you’ll more than likely see the dynamic in place.

Takeaway: Dig into your Protagonist’s psyche and ask, “What do you fear the most?” If you can identify that, you may very well have discover the basis of a strong psychological connection between them and the Nemesis figure.

Analysis: The Psychological Connection of Rey and Kylo Ren in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

May 19th, 2016 by

In my current Write a Worthy Nemesis class, we have been exploring Carl Jung’s theory of the shadow. Here is an extended excerpt from Lecture 2: Shadow vs. Light:

Let me present to you what may be a startling concept, one that suggests a Nemesis – who they are, how they are, what they are – is intimately connected to the Protagonist’s psyche state. Indeed one way of looking at the Nemesis is as a physicalization of the Protagonist’s shadow, a projection come to life.

Parsing that language, the psyche represents the totality of the human persona, conscious and unconscious states, thoughts and feelings. Projection occurs when an individual ascribes aspects of their psyche onto someone else. Finally the shadow is one key facet of the psyche, an idea promulgated by the noted analytical psychologist Carl Jung:

Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected. — “Psychology and Religion” (1938).

The shadow is all aspects of an individual’s psyche that exist outside the light of consciousness. While there can be positive energy associated with it, more often than not the shadow expresses itself as a negative dynamic, deriving from the least desirable facets of a person’s psyche:

It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism. The individual seldom knows anything of this; to him, as an individual, it is incredible that he should ever in any circumstances go beyond himself. But let these harmless creatures form a mass, and there emerges a raging monster; and each individual is only one tiny cell in the monster’s body, so that for better or worse he must accompany it on its bloody rampages and even assist it to the utmost. — “On the Psychology of the Unconscious” (1912).

Positively demonic dynamism… emerges a raging monster... bloody rampages. If we project these attributes into the realm of story, doesn’t it sound like a Nemesis at work? Furthermore the presence of a character’s shadow suggests a direction for the narrative:

The hero’s main feat is to overcome the monster of darkness: it is the long-hoped-for and expected triumph of consciousness over the unconscious. The coming of consciousness was probably the most tremendous experience of primeval times, for with it a world came into being whose existence no one had suspected before. “And God said, ‘Let there be light”‘ is the projection of that immemorial experience of the separation of consciousness from the unconscious. — “The Psychology of the Child Archetype” (1940).

In a story’s Internal World, the psychological and emotional realm, the Hero’s Journey is about engaging the shadow, bringing it into the light of consciousness, then subduing it or diffusing its negative power by acknowledging and understanding it.

In a story’s External World, the realm of action and events, this dynamic almost always plays itself out as a confrontation between Protagonist and Nemesis, the latter a physicalization of the Protagonist’s darkest, most repressed desires and feelings.

This means that to the degree the Nemesis reflects key attributes of the Protagonist’s shadow, a story will have a natural sense of unity and an organic synergy between these two critical characters: Shadow vs. Light.

With that as a frame, a question arose in my Nemesis class: In Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, is Kylo Ren related in some way to the Rey’s shadow as the protagonist?

For a deeper exploration of this question — SPOILER ALERT!!! — click on More and read my analysis of the relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren… then switch Protagonists and look at the story from Kylo Ren’s perspective and his connection to Rey.
(more…)

Write a Worthy Nemesis

May 9th, 2016 by

If the Protagonist is most often your story’s most important character, the Nemesis is not far behind. Indeed some of the greatest characters in film history have been Nemeses including Darth Vader (Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope), the Wicked Witch of the West (The Wizard of Oz), Nurse Ratched (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), and the shark (Jaws).

If conflict is the stuff of great drama, there is perhaps no conflict more compelling than that of a Protagonist versus a Nemesis. But what makes for a worthy Nemesis? How to develop them?

Hans Gruber, Die Hard

Following up on my recent Create a Compelling Protagonist course, I’m offering Write a Worthy Nemesis which begins Monday, May 16. It is a 1-week screenwriting course that takes a unique approach to developing this pivotal character in that the starting point is the Protagonist. Here are the 7 lecture titles:

Lecture 1: Nemesis v. Antagonist

Lecture 2: Shadow v. Light

Lecture 3: Fear v. Need

Lecture 4: Disunity v. Unity

Lecture 5: Overlord v. Underdog

Lecture 6: Intelligence v. Wisdom

Lecture 7: Empathy v. Sympathy

Notice the clever theme of v. for versus? There’s a reason for that, one you will discover when you take the class. In addition to the seven lectures that I am writing, there is 24/7 forum feedback, six insider tips, a teleconference, and an opportunity to workshop one of your story’s Nemesis characters.

Warden Norton, The Shawshank Redemption

The most recent Create a Compelling Protagonist session has been phenomenal. In fact, I have extended the class for at least another week because of all the incredible conversations we’ve had along with great workshopping of participants’ Protagonists. I fully expect the my Nemesis class will just as stimulating.

To download Lecture 1: Nemesis v. Antagonist and get some idea of what we’ll be studying and working with, click here.

So sign up today right here and join me for a week’s journey into the dark side of the human soul, the place where great Nemeses figures dwell, waiting for you to find them. Start date: Monday, May 16.

Reader Question: Is it possible to have a screenplay without a specific Antagonist character?

October 20th, 2015 by

Open Forum question from Eve Montana:

I’m having trouble locating my antagonist and character goal in my character-driven movie. In “Juno”, her goal is to find suitable parents for her unborn baby, but who is the antagonist?

And coincidentally a similar question via email from Jeff:

I have a question regarding the villain character in a screenplay. Many screenwriting books, articles, and blogs suggest that a screenplay needs to have a Villain. This villain needs to be a formidable opponent that stands directly in the way of our hero obtaining his goal. Well, some concepts I come up with don’t really have a “villain” per se. According to everything I read this could be wrong. But I feel like there are a lot of successful movies that don’t have classic villains — Who’s the villain in 40 Year Old Virgin? Knocked Up? Juno? A lot of movies don’t have this maniacal evil villain working against the hero. Sometimes the world/society/circumstance is the villain. Or our hero is his own villain. Or maybe I’m just missing it?

The short answer is no – your script does not need to have a specific Nemesis / Antagonist / Villain character. However all movies must have some sort of Protagonist opposition dynamic – or else you have no conflict. And if you have no conflict, you likely have no drama.

Some background. My working theory re screenplays is that if Plot equals Structure, then Character equals Function. Every character in a screenplay should have a function tied to the narrative. In most movies, there are five primary functions filled by these archetypes: Protagonist, Nemesis, Attractor, Mentor, and Trickster.

One way of looking at the Nemesis function is per Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow:

It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses- and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism. The individual seldom knows anything of this; to him, as an individual, it is incredible that he should ever in any circumstances go beyond himself. But let these harmless creatures form a mass, and there emerges a raging monster; and each individual is only one tiny cell in the monster’s body, so that for better or worse he must accompany it on its bloody rampages and even assist it to the utmost. Having a dark suspicion of these grim possibilities, man turns a blind eye to the shadow-side of human nature. Blindly he strives against the salutary dogma of original sin, which is yet so prodigiously true. Yes, he even hesitates to admit the conflict of which he is so painfully aware.

The shadow is everything in us that is unconscious and undeveloped, those aspects of our psyche which we repress and deny. Most often these represent our ‘dark’ impulses, however as long as it exists only in our unconscious, we experience it indirectly — through dreams, underlying and unknown intentions behind our actions and thoughts, and so on.

Jung asserted this:

The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict.

Therefore in any movie story where the Protagonist is involved in some sort of significant transformation-journey, the Nemesis can be seen as the physicalization of the shadow, an expression of the Protagonist’s need to become conscious of, connect with, and oftentimes combat their dark, hidden impulses and aspects.

In other words, psychologically speaking, if you ask this question of the story you are writing — “Why does this story have to happen to this Protagonist right now?” a Jungian response might be, “Because the Protagonist must now deal with their Shadow.”

The classic cinematic example of this is in the movie Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back when Luke Skywalker ventures deep into the swamps of Degobah to encounter his Nemesis Darth Vader — only to sever Vader’s head off Vader’s body, his helmet explodes, revealing that the face within is Luke’s. In other words, Luke has within him the dark side of the Force as well as light side – just as all humans have ‘good’ and ‘bad’ instincts. As Jung would argue, we can not move toward any approximation of wholeness or unity unless we engage all of the aspects of our psyche and that includes those parts of who we are that we fear and repress.

Now notice I used the term physicalization, not “personification.” That is because in a screenplay, an oppositional dynamic to the Protagonist does not need to be provided by a sentient being. An example of a movie that doesn’t have a personal Nemesis character is Cast Away (2000), where the Protagonist Chuck Nolan (Tom Hanks) is stranded for four years alone on a remote island. In this story, geography and weather generate the primary conflict in the life of the Protagonist by creating his isolation and standing in the way of his escape — it is those elements that provide the oppositional dynamic.

Per the question re Juno: Who’s the Nemesis in that story? Here’s my character archetype breakdown of that movie:

Protagonist – Juno
Attractor – Paulie
Mentor – Juno’s father / Juno’s step-mother / The baby
Trickster – Mark Loring (dark) / Vanessa Loring (light)

And the Nemesis? Let’s look at the two big questions that typically help to define the Protagonist character:

What does Juno want? To make sure her baby finds a good home.
What does Juno need? To be a teenager.

In my view of the movie, all that snarky slanguage that Juno uses and her cooler-than-cool attitude she adopts is a response to her shadow, arising from this key factor — she was rejected by her mother:

She [her mother] lives on a Havasu reservation in Arizona and three replacement kids. Oh, and she inexplicably mails me a cactus every Valentine’s Day. And I’m like, “Thanks a heap, Coyote Ugly. This cactus gram stings worse than your abandonment.” [P. 16]

Juno has never recovered from that hurt. This one side of dialogue is the only overt sign of that pain, but if you look at Juno from a macro perspective, throughout the first two acts of the movie, it’s clear – at least to me – that she has tried her best to jump past and out of her youth into adulthood. Over and over, she attempts to distinguish herself from her peers — through her attire, habits, language and, her likes / dislikes (e.g., weird horror movies, early 80s punk bands). In my view, she has ‘grown up’ quickly to put as much distance as she can from the experience of her mother’s rejection, and therefore as a means to avoid dealing with that pain. And so I think what she needs is to give up her pseudo-adult ‘mask,’ and be what by rights she ought to be: a teenage girl.

I believe this is borne out in the Denouement: We see her riding a bike (not driving a car), pulling out a guitar to sing a silly little duet with Paulie (innocence), then chastely kisses Paulie on the cheek. In contrast to the opening scene where we see her dropping her panties and initiating sex with Paulie, the whole tone of the ending scene is spring, innocence, and youth — she’s a happy teenager.

So I would see the Nemesis in Juno being the mask of her adult-self, eventually ripped away when Mark Loring – an adult who ends up acting like a child – betrays her, and the very real and very raw experience of childbirth.

Similarly in 40 Year Old Virgin, the nemesis isn’t a person, it’s a state of being: Andy’s virginity. And in Knocked Up, the nemesis is Ben’s immaturity: It provides opposition in that Ben has to overcome his infantile instincts to prove to be a worthy father and Alison has to get over her fear of Ben’s immaturity to learn to trust and love him.

So again, a screenplay does not need a real, live, human Nemesis, but it does require some sort of Protagonist opposition dynamic, whether it’s physical — like being stranded on an island — psychological — like immaturity — or a state of being — like virginity.

That said, a word of caution: Most movies have strong Nemesis characters, ones that are human and do act overtly in opposition to a Protagonist. To this point, Jeff emailed me later to say this:

BTW — I posed this question to a friend who just wrote a book on screenwriting.

His response — There are those movies, I don’t suggest you write them.

Probably two reasons for that response: (1) Movies without actual human Nemesis characters are harder to write because the central conflict is almost by definition more difficult to locate and steer without a specific Nemesis; (2) Studios feel a lot more comfortable with movies where there is a strong central Nemesis.

For more of my thoughts on the Nemesis character:

How to build a powerful Nemesis?

Does a story absolutely need an antagonist?

The psychopathology of heroism

How about you? Do you think a screenplay needs a Nemesis or can it function without one?

[Originally posted March 23, 2010]

Reader Question: Should antagonists think they are the protagonists of their own stories?

May 18th, 2015 by

Reader question from @farrtom via my recent #scriptchat appearance :

Should the antagonist think he’s the protagonist of his own story, or does that make him too relatable?

I provided a brief snippet of a response in the #scriptchat conversation, but there is an important point here worth delving into more thoroughly.

@farrtom: Yes, by all means, the Nemesis / Antagonist should think s/he’s the Protagonist of their story. You know why? Because they are the Protagonist of their own story! Indeed, every character is their own Protagonist. They see, feel, and experience the story universe through their specific senses, their own perspective, and as a result develop their own world view.

So at the very least, you would be wise to spend time when developing your Nemesis character(s) to spend time with him/her/them seeing the story universe through their eyes. Sit with them. Talk with them. Experience how they relate to the other characters, what each represents to the Nemesis. The same questions you ask a Protagonist, e.g., What do you want, What do you need, What are you most afraid of, etc, ask of your Nemesis.

What is the value of these exercises? If you immerse yourself in the life of your Nemesis, you are much more likely to craft a multidimensional character, one a script reader may find compelling. And a more complex Nemesis who we can relate to and understand, even if we don’t sympathize with them, becomes a more interesting, engaging one, a more effective character in the context of the narrative, and an appealing figure for actors to want to play.

As to the second part of your question — does that make him too relatable — I suppose there is a risk a writer may so demystify a Nemesis, the character loses some of their power over our imagination. It’s one thing to be dealing with a mysterious Bad Guy/Gal, it’s another if the character has qualities which remind us of our pipsqueak brother. Then again, maybe not.

“I miss my wives.”

Immortan Joe – Mad Max: Fury Road

If your Bad Guy/Gal is worthy of being a Nemesis, they won’t be much like your pipsqueak brother at all. The more likely challenge in your work is to make the Nemesis more relatable. Why? Because when a script reader can find something within the Nemesis they can relate to, that shrinks the emotional and psychological distance between the reader and the Nemesis. That character is no longer an IT, rather s/he becomes a YOU.

I call this humanizing your Nemesis. It reminds me of that line from a writer I saw somewhere: “Even bad guys have mothers.”

So yes to doing character work with your Nemesis in which you look at the story universe through their eyes as a Protagonist.

And yes to digging into the Nemesis character’s inner life to find dynamics with which script readers and eventually moviegoers can relate.

That path will lead you beyond one-dimensional Bad Guys/Gals… into a world of complex, compelling Antagonist figures.

The primary function of a Nemesis: Opposition!

May 15th, 2015 by

In my current one-week online Craft class – Write a Worthy Nemesis – this is where we began our ongoing forum discussion:

At their core, the main function of a Nemesis is Opposition. If the Protagonist represents forward energy, moving toward a goal, the Nemesis (or Nemeses) oppose that forward energy, push back, threatening to squash the Protagonist’s chances of attaining his/her goal.

There are so many excellent narrative elements which arise from this construction:

— Conflict: P v. N, conflicting goals, conflicting energy, conflicting personalities.

— Raising Stakes: The P may have a long journey in front of him/her to reach the Goal, but with an active Nemesis character(s) working directly in opposition to the P, that increases the odds against the P, which in turns raises the stakes of the story.

— Final Struggle: If the P has a Conscious Goal… and the N opposes the P in reaching that goal… almost invariably this sets into motion the culminating events of the story’s last sequence, a Plotline Point I call Final Struggle. Everything comes down to P facing his/her biggest challenge yet to overcome the N’s negative power / energy / dynamic, all with the Goal in sight.

There’s also this: A great Nemesis can be a role a name actor will want to play, an important real world consideration in trying to get a movie green lit.

So who is the Nemesis? Ask yourself these questions:

— Who or what is providing the most active opposition to the P?

— Who or what is involved in the Final Struggle with the P?

— Who or what exhibits negative energy / dynamic?

As we will discuss, there can be one Nemesis or plenty of them. They can be part of one ‘team’ or the mask of the Nemesis can be passed along from one character to another like a baton in a relay race. A Nemesis doesn’t have to be a human or sentient character, it can be a physical object like the ocean in Cast Away. It can be a psychological condition like cancer or a self-destructive mental dynamic.

But the key is who/what provides the main opposition to the Protagonist. That’s almost assuredly a Nemesis figure.

We have covered a lot of territory so far this week including why I prefer the term Nemesis to Antagonist, the Nemesis as a possible projection of the Protagonist’s shadow dynamic, how zeroing in on a Protagonist’s fears can help inform inform our understanding of a Nemesis, plus a set of insider tips to crafting a Nemesis including making sure they have a plausible world view and the importance of humanizing this key character.

Why so much focus on the Nemesis figure? The reality is that in most movies, the Nemesis is second only to the Protagonist in terms of their importance – to plot, themes, tone, everything.

If your story is lacking drama or edge, take a look at your Protagonist’s path. Are there characters providing opposition? If not, why not? If so, are you maximizing that opposition?

You would do well to spend as much time digging into and developing your Nemesis character(s) as you do the Protagonist. See if you can surface some emotional / psychological connection between Protagonist and Nemesis, then exploit that for dramatic purposes.

If you have a question or concern about the Nemesis / Antagonist character, I’m happy to take up the subject in comments.

Protagonist v. Nemesis: Key to Conflict

April 24th, 2015 by

Your choice of a Protagonist is easily one of the most critical decisions you make because of the character’s dominant influence on a story:

  • The Protagonist usually goes on some sort of physical and/or emotional journey.
  • That journey creates the spine of the plot.
  • That journey shapes the contours of the character’s psychological arc.
  • The Protagonist’s goal almost always dictates the story’s end point.
  • All the other major characters are linked to the Protagonist and his/her journey.
  • Of all the story’s characters, the Protagonist generally undergoes the most significant personal metamorphosis.

Plus there’s this: The Protagonist almost always serves as the primary conduit into the story for a script reader or moviegoer. Symbolically the Protagonist functions as you, often imbued with ‘everyman’ qualities to maximize the character’s reach to the widest possible audience.

But Protagonists do not exist by themselves. Indeed, if conflict is the stuff of great drama, there is perhaps no conflict more compelling than that of a Protagonist versus a Nemesis.

A Protagonist almost always has a conscious goal, what we may call Want, and an unconscious goal, what we may call Need, but there is no conflict, no drama, indeed no story unless someone or something actively strives to block the Protagonist from achieving their goals.

Enter the Nemesis. This character not only functions as a Protagonist’s foe, the Nemesis is capable of generating within the script reader tension, anxiety, disgust, even fear. While we may try to avoid these feelings in our daily lives, we are lured to them in our stories, a safe place in which to experience the ‘darker’ side of existence. Plus the simple fact is most of us find this type of stuff damned entertaining.

Therefore it stands to reason if you can zero in on the core essence of both your Protagonist and Nemesis characters, grasping what binds them together both in terms of plot as well as their psychological connection, you will have discovered the centerpiece of your story at almost every level.

To that end, I have created two companion courses at Screenwriting Master Class: Create a Compelling Protagonist (begins April 27) and Write a Worthy Nemesis (begins May 11). If you are just beginning the process of wrangling a story or you’re stuck in your writing, this is a great opportunity not only to workshop your story by immersing yourself in these pivotal characters, but also learn a process you can use for character development in all of your future writing projects.

For example, I’m sure we’ve all heard these buzzwords about how to craft a Protagonist character: Give them a flaw… Make them sympathetic. Nothing wrong with that in theory, but in practice how that often gets translated is an Outside-In approach to writing, whereby the writer, standing ‘outside’ the story, forces some sort of sympathetic element or flaw ‘into’ a character. In Create a Compelling Protagonist, you learn an Inside-Out approach where the you go into the Protagonist, immersing yourself in that character’s psyche and personal history so a whole spectrum of Disunity elements emerge.

In Write a Worthy Nemesis, you will learn a process to surface three important qualities in your story’s key oppositional figures:

  • Powerful Opposition: More than just obstructing the Protagonist’s path toward their goal, a Nemesis should create an active, crafty and formidable resistance.
  • Significant Opposition: The resistance a Nemesis provides should not be a general one, but rather something tied to the Protagonist’s specific psyche and journey.
  • Entertaining Opposition: The efforts and actions of a Nemesis should not only be powerful and significant, they should also be interesting and compelling.

By the way, the Nemesis can be a psychological dynamic within the Protagonist. It can be a physical object such as the ocean in Cast Away or the boulder in 127 Hours.

Which is to say there is a lot of territory to cover with regard to these two critical characters and in this pair classes, we cover a lion’s share of that terrain.

Each class offers seven lectures (written by me), 24/7 forum feedback, insider tips, 90-minute teleconferences, and the opportunity to workshop your story’s Protagonist (or Protagonists) and Nemesis (or Nemeses). In my view, these courses are a great value.

So consider joining me for either or both of these exciting 1-week online classes. For more information on Create a Compelling Protagonist, which begins Monday, go here. For Write a Worthy Nemesis, which begins Monday, May 11, go here.

Write a Worthy Nemesis

May 6th, 2014 by

If the Protagonist is most often your story’s most important character, the Nemesis is not far behind. Indeed some of the greatest characters in film history have been Nemeses including Darth Vader (Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope), the Wicked Witch of the West (The Wizard of Oz), Nurse Ratched (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), and the shark (Jaws).

If conflict is the stuff of great drama, there is perhaps no conflict more compelling than that of a Protagonist versus a Nemesis. But what makes for a worthy Nemesis? How to develop them?

Following up on my recent Create a Compelling Protagonist course, I’m offering Create a Worthy Nemesis. It is a 1-week screenwriting course that takes a unique approach to developing this pivotal character in that the starting point is the Protagonist. Here are the 7 lecture titles:

Monday, May 12 — Lecture 1: Nemesis v. Antagonist

Tuesday, May 13 — Lecture 2: Shadow v. Light

Wednesday, May 14 — Lecture 3: Fear v. Need

Thursday, May 15 — Lecture 4: Disunity v. Unity

Friday, May 16 — Lecture 5: Overlord v. Underdog

Saturday, May 17 — Lecture 6: Intelligence v. Wisdom

Sunday, May 18 — Lecture 7: Empathy v. Sympathy

Notice the clever theme of v. for versus? There’s a reason for that, one you will discover when you take the class. In addition to the seven lectures that I am writing, there is 24/7 forum feedback, six insider tips, a teleconference, and an opportunity to workshop one of your story’s Nemesis characters.

The most recent Create a Compelling Protagonist session has been phenomenal. In fact, I have extended the class for at least another week because of all the incredible conversations we’ve had along with great workshopping of participants’ Protagonists. I fully expect the my Nemesis class will just as stimulating.

So sign up today right here and join me for a week’s journey into the dark side of the human soul, the place where great Nemeses figures dwell, waiting for you to find them.

Daily Dialogue theme next week: Nemesis

April 26th, 2014 by

Our Daily Dialogue theme next week: Nemesis, suggested by Alejandro.

Think of your favorite Bad Guys and Bad Gals, pick one of their favorite lines or sides of dialogue, and let’s have at it this week, folks!

The usual drill:

* Copy/paste dialogue from IMDB Quotes or some other transcript source.

* Copy/paste the URL of an accompanying video from YouTube or some other video source.

I’d also ask you to think about why the dialogue is notable. Is there anything about the dialogue which provides some takeaway re screenwriting?

Here is our lineup for upcoming Daily Dialogue themes:

May 6-May 12: Lying

May 13-May 19: Advice [Aarthi Ramanathan]

May 20-May 26: Robbery

May 27-June 2: Time Travel Talk [Bob_Reo_Inc]

June 3-June 9: Bad News

June 10-June 16: Flirting [SabinaGiado]

June 17-June 23: Happy Birthday

Hit Reply and see you in comments for your suggestions: Nemesis.