An Arch-Nemesis for Detective Mo?
As I was showing my initial scribblings for Detective Mo 3 (subtitle tba) to my daughter, she suggested that the antagonist I’ve created should become a recurring arch nemesis for Mo.
I’m still pondering how well that could really work for Mo (as you read on this post, you’ll maybe see why I’m sceptical about it working in a children’s book) but it certainly got me thinking about what makes a good arch nemesis.
They’re bad guys, sure, but they’re a little bit more than that. There’s something about a familiar arch nemesis that ramps the stakes right up before they’ve even done anything.
First and foremost, the conflict between a protagonist and their arch nemesis is personal. If and when Detective Mo meets this particular villain again in future books, it won’t be enough for her to simply say, ‘Oh, I remember you 🤣!’
No, the mere prospect of the arch nemesis’ return to Mo’s life must send a cold shiver of dread through both her and the reader. She cannot simply see him as another bad guy. It’s got to be personal between them. Her desire to defeat her nemesis must be driven by personal fear, anger or vengefulness.
Second of all, the conflict needs to be unresolvable. Oh yes, she can and should thwart whatever evil plan he’s got today, but that personal conflict between them should never be resolved. When they meet again years later, it should be like salt on an open wound for her. If there is ever a permanent resolution to their conflict then they are no longer arch enemies.
For this reason, it also helps to have an arch nemesis who is your protagonist’s equal. Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty are good examples of this. In the Sherlock Holmes stories, Moriarty stands out as the only villain who is really Holmes intellectual equal. The power Holmes normally weilds to overcome his opponents is useless against Moriarty because they are evenly matched, forcing them to resort to physical conflict— and even this ended in a draw.
I do love that sort of conflict between characters. I think Detective Mo is probably a bit too light hearted for all that but you never know.