Masterplots Theater: N is for Nemesis

N Masterplots Theater-4Welcome 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 climatic showdown between the protagonist and the antagonist.

Example to Study:

BookCover-Rot&RuinIt 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.

Future Research:

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:

A is for Adventure
B is for Buddy Love
C is for Chosen One
D is for Dystopia
E is for Escape
F is for Fool Triumphant
G is for Gothic
H is for Happily-Ever-After

I is for Institutionalized
J is for Journal
K is for Kinsmen
L is for Love Story
M is for Metamorphosis

We hope you enjoyed N is for Nemesis and we invite you back tomorrow for our next installment of Masterplots Theater, O is for Out of the Bottle.

And please share your favorite on-screen and in-book rivalries in the comments below.

Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

18 thoughts on “Masterplots Theater: N is for Nemesis”

  1. Thanks so much for the ROT & RUIN recommendation. I am in the process of collecting TBR books for my own writing research and antagonists are one of my weaknesses!!

    1. Oooo, then ROT & RUIN is perfect, because at the beginning of the book the protagonist sees the antagonist as a hero, so it’s a really interesting shift in perspective. 🙂

  2. Gone With the Wind comes to mind for me, as does Rob Roy, and Braveheart. In GWTW, there are several rivalries, in my opinion. I would consider them somewhat indirect rivalries, but rivalries, nonetheless. Rhett and Ashley, Scarlett and Melanie, and, obviously, the North and the South.

    While Rhett and Ashley nor Scarlett and Melanie actively attack one another (at least not in the movie), the issue is still there between them – Scarlett’s school girl infatuation for Ashley. Melanie doesn’t see it that way. For her, there is no rivalry.

    In Rob Roy and in Braveheart, there is a clearcut rivalry between the Irish and the English, as well as the nobleman and the common man.

    Thanks for another very informative post!

    1. Just like romance, rivalries are popular subplots. And often they go hand in hand. But alas, I can’t remember the plot of Braveheart well enough to remember if the rivalry is the main plot or a subplot — I was too busy averting my eyes from all the violence and gore.

      Thanks for the comment!

    1. I’m not sure. Perhaps the visual format of movies makes Nemesis masterplots more fun – the audience actually gets to see the protagonist and antagonist go head-to-head. But it is interesting to note this plot doesn’t show up much in novels. Maybe there’s a gap that needs to be filled. 😉

  3. Hamlet perhaps? One of my own unfinished stories, a middle grade novel, is about a young prince and his uncle who serves as regent for the kingdom. It was inspired by a story I’d heard decades ago about a boy who had an unexplained deformity and had to face his fears to overcome it.

    1. Interesting. Hamlet is generally considered a tragedy, though like many stories he has a nemesis. I think a Nemesis masterplot qualification depends on whether the story focuses on a personal rivalry. Thanks for the comment, Sharon!

  4. Great to learn about this masterplot and its main characteristics… Also, I couldn’t about linking this to Nemesis, the Greek Goddess of Revenge and also the spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to Hubris (arrogance before the gods).
    All my best wishes. Aquileana 😉

We love comments and questions.

%d bloggers like this: