publication date: Nov 9, 2022
author/source: Fraser Green

So, here you are. You’ve chosen your protagonist and assembled your cast of characters. You’ve set your protagonist off on her journey. What comes next?

Let’s imagine I’m about to tell you a story. 

It’s the story of me walking four blocks down the street to get a bag of milk at the corner store and then walk home. Does that sound like a gripping tale? Hardly.

But, what if my small children had nothing to eat and were desperate for that milk? What if I had to make that walk as a tornado was ripping through my town? And, what there was a demented neighbour with a gun who was determined that I not complete my trip?

Now that my journey has some opposition or resistance, we’ve got the potential for drama and tension in our tale.

This is why your story needs a nemesis. Your nemesis is the force that acts in opposition to the protagonist’s journey. As your protagonist seeks to make his way along his path, an opposing force raises doubt: will the protagonist complete his journey?  This opposing force can also present danger and generate feelings of fear or anger in our audience.

In short, once you introduce the nemesis to your story, you’ve created emotional tension that your audience can literally feel. This is a critical step in building that bridge that your audience can cross to become completely immersed in the narrative.

Just about every great story has a nemesis that poses a real threat to the protagonist on her journey. Think about the Big Bad Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood. The Wicked Witch of the West and Dorothy. The Joker and Batman. From ancient Greek tales like The Iliad and the Odyssey to more modern stories like the Star Wars franchise, storytellers have relied heavily on the bad guy to get the audience emotionally engaged with the protagonist’s journey.

In charitable fundraising, our stories always have a nemesis as well. Now, sometimes our nemesis is a villain like a physically abusive intimate partner – and other times the nemesis isn’t a character, as in cancer. Your story’s nemesis can actually be something internal to the protagonist – like fear or lack of confidence. Whether the nemesis is a villain or not, you need to be very intentional in choosing a nemesis that will create dramatic tension in your audience.

So here you are. You’ve chosen your protagonist and your cast of characters. You’ve sent your protagonist on her journey – but she’s opposed by a threatening nemesis. At this point, you’ve really got a sound structure on which your perfect story can be built.

Fraser Green is a Principal at Good Works, one of Canada’s leading fundraising consulting agencies. At Good Works, Fraser’s focus is on legacy gift marketing strategy, donor research and, well, storytelling! Fraser is the co-author of “Iceberg Philanthropy” and “You Can’t Take It With You – The Art and Science of Legacy Fundraising” and the author of “3D Philanthropy.”  fraser@goodworksco.ca


Photo by Melanie Deziel on Unsplash

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