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Does Your Hero Need an Intimate Opponent?

In some stories, facing the external antagonist or an obstacle (we covered this subject here) isn’t going to work for the hero. If that is the case, your protagonist may need an intimate opponent. An intimate opponent is someone close to the main character, someone, the protagonist may even consider a friend or an ally, but who in reality sabotages the hero’s journey and prevents them from or significantly delays getting to their goals.  

Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash

The intimate opponent will do everything and anything to make sure that the main character isn’t going to reach their goals at all or for as long as possible. However, the intimate opponent will always do their damaging actions secretly, hoping that the protagonist will never discover their unethical game.

I’m sure we all know people like that from our own lives, people who on the surface are supportive and “kind”, but secretly they champion their own personal agenda, which often is at odds with our plans and hopes. If you look attentively around yourself amongst your family and friends, you may be able to pinpoint intimate opponents, people who stop others from progress and growth.

If an intimate opponent is what your story needs, think about the following questions: 

  • What would they add to your story? 
  • Would they make your character more vibrant, more realistic, more determined?
  • Would they push the protagonist towards taking action?
  • Would they help to move the story forward (think about the domino effect)?

Think about this before you make any final decisions or complicate your plot too much.

Your hero needs an opponent, obstacles and/or antagonist to go on a journey, to grow and to get or not what they want/set off to get/reach. However choosing the right foe, would depend on the story, how it flows, and what kind of conflict would offer the main character the biggest growth and push in the right direction.  

Examples of films with prominent intimate opponents: 

  1. “Arrival” – the army personnel that takes part in the conversations/learning sessions between Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and the aliens. Influenced by the media, they attempt to destroy the aliens. 
  2. Interstellar” – Professor Brand (Michael Caine) doesn’t have a solution to move Earth’s population out of Earth and has been hiding the truth from Murphy, who has spent all her life trying to solve an unsolvable problem. 
  3. The Hurt Locker” – Staff Sergeant William James’s (Jeremy Renner) carelessness puts everyone in his team in danger.

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