Strangers & nemeses

One type of conflicting relationship is the nemesis.

A nemesis is basically someone who is diametrically opposed to the protagonist, possibly even bent on their destruction.

Here's an example of a nemesis appearing in the opening pages of Across the Nightingale Floor:

The horse reared and whinnied at the smell of blood. Iida sat as still as if he were cast in iron. He was clad from head to foot in black armor, his helmet crowned with antlers. He wore a short black beard beneath his cruel mouth. His eyes were bright, like a man hunting deer.

Those bright eyes met mine. I knew at once two things about him: first, that he was afraid of nothing in heaven or on earth; second, that he loved to kill for the sake of killing. Now that he had seen me, there was no hope.

The narrator has never met Iida before, but he knows him by reputation. Iida has no idea who the narrator is, except that he is one of a group of people he is determined to destroy.

Even though they are strangers to each other, these characters are bound in a conflict of control:

Takeo wants to live; Iida wants to kill him and all others like him.

They can't both have what they want, so the conflict will carry on through multiple confrontations until one defeats the other.

In our zombies story, the zombies aren't really a nemesis as such; they're more like an environmental force, which we'll talk about later.

But we can invent a nemesis by adding a cannibalistic survivor to the mix:

Down below, in the food court, the zombies squirmed like maggots. Directly opposite, at the railing on the other side of the void, the blonde man stood watching in silence. He was eerily neat. He wore bright yellow glasses and a clean blue jacket, like he was going out for the weekend. He even looked like he'd had a shower and combed his hair. The only thing post-apocalyptic about him were the double katanas slung across his back.

Smoothly, he raised his gaze to stare at the kids, like he'd known they'd been there all along. Then he grinned sharply, drew the swords, and called, "Hey, kids! Don't you look tasty!"

You can see that nemeses reflect a kind of predatory relationship. 

Here's another example, in our taxidermy world:

Their pickup pulled up along the top of the road, and Kenny left the lights on and the engine running as he got out. With a clunk of doors, the others got out too: Jacob, Bill, and some older dude I hadn't seen before. I almost laughed because they'd recently started wearing the same  stupid muscle shirts with these fake oil stains that were supposed to make it look like they'd spent all day stripping an engine. But something about their vibe was too creepy to laugh at.

They stood in a row, grinning at us while the engine grumbled behind them like it was waiting for cargo. Kenny hooked his thumbs in his belt and rocked lazily on his heels. "Hey, girls," he jeered. "Enjoying the sunset? We thought we'd join you up here."

Next to me, Charlie flipped him the bird while she called her mom on the phone: "Hey, mom, Dylan and I are at the lookout and Kenny and his boys have shown up to act weird and annoying."

  • Think of a predatory or destructively competitive relationship that would fit in your world.
    • If nothing else, you can assume your protagonist wants life, limb, and liberty—and the nemesis wants to take some or all of that away.
    • But they could also be fighting over a precious resource, and each side will go to great lengths to get it.
    • The nemesis could be a stranger or someone known to the protagonist.
  • Describe an encounter with the nemesis—it could be the first meeting, or a familiar pattern.
    • You don't have to put the conflict in motion, just describe the nemesis and how the protagonist feels about them. 
  • You want the reader to read the description and imagine with some amount of fear, dread, or interest what is likely to happen next.
Describe a nemesis-like character, who is in competition with the protagonist or bent on their destruction.

Competitor/predator/nemesis is one type of relationship conflict.

Do we always have to go that far, or can we find conflict closer to home?