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Masterplots Theater: N is for Nemesis
Welcome back to Masterplots Theater where we examine archetypal plots in books and film. Today we’re going to study a plot often referred to as “Rivalry”, but I need an “N” post for the purpose of the #AtoZChallenge, so I’m going to call this masterplot “Nemesis.” After all, there is no rivalry if the hero doesn’t have a nemesis!
Nemesis Plot Notes:
The defining element of this masterplot is the conflict between the hero and the nemesis. They are adversaries who know about each other. In other plots the protagonist may not know much about the antagonist, or even know the true identity of the enemy until the end of the story, but in the Nemesis masterplot the hero is well aware of who he is up against, and he usually has a personal connection to his archrival.
Often the conflict is a competition, either because the hero and his nemesis have the same goal (for example, to be the top male model, like in ZOOLANDER), or are after the same thing (like treasure with Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Barbossa in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN), or are literally in a competition (like the boxing championship in ROCKY). And sometimes the conflict manifests because of a moral issue, such as Professor X and Magneto’s differing ideals over the mutants’ place in the world (X-MEN).
The hero and the nemesis should be equally matched. For example, Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis Professor Moriarty is just as smart as the brilliant detective. However, the adversaries’ strengths don’t need to be the same, as long as one rival has compensating strengths to match the other (like Professor X and Magneto of X-MEN).
Finally, Nemesis masterplots always lead to a huge climaticshowdown between the protagonist and the antagonist.
Example to Study:
It was easy to come up with a slew of film examples for the Nemesis masterplot (see next section below), but I had a harder time with novels. I finally decided to study ROT & RUIN by Jonathan Mayberry:
· ADVERSARIES: The nemesis in this book is Charlie Pink-Eye, a bounty hunter who tracks and kills zombies. At first the main character, Benny, looks up to Charlie and wishes his brother Tom (also a bounty hunter) was more like him, but that changes when Benny learns what kind of person Charlie really is.
· COMPETITION: Charlie and Tom are both bounty hunters who compete for business and control of trading routes in the zombie infested Rot & Ruin. They have been adversaries for a long time. Benny is new to the bounty hunter business and Charlie becomes his nemesis too.
· MORAL ISSUE: Charlie and Tom approach the job of zombie bounty hunter very differently. So different, in fact, that Tom doesn’t even like to be called a bounty hunter, and prefers the term “Closure Specialist.”
· PERSONAL CONNECTION: Charlie is responsible for doing something horrific to the woman Tom loves.
· EQUALLY MATCHED: Charlie and Tom are both very good at their jobs and extremely skilled fighters, though they use different weapons and tactics.
· SHOWDOWN: Charlie is running a terrible place called Gameland that Tom and Benny set out to shut down, and obviously that involves a huge battle at the end of the story.
Films: THE OUTSIDERS (The Greasers vs The Socs), SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (Sherlock vs Professor Moriarty), X-MEN (Professor X vs Magneto), BRING IT ON (Torrance vs Isis), THOR (Thor vs Loki), BRIDESMAIDS (Annie vs Helen), WEST SIDE STORY (Sharks vs Jets), MEAN GIRLS (Cady vs Regina), ZOOLANDER (Hansel vs Derek), BLACK SWAN (Nina vs Lily), DODGEBALL (Peter LaFleur vs White Goodman).
Thank you for joining us today. For more episodes of Masterplots Theater, check out the list below:
Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW
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