Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Tips to Create a Worthy Opponent in Fiction & Nonfiction

by PeggySue Wells @PeggySueWells

Story happens when a character faces a seemingly invincible opponent standing between the character and his/her great need. Opponents can be human or nonhuman, a person, place, or thing, or combination of these. 

Side note: Writing nonfiction? Use these essentials to share the event in story form. 

An opponent is deemed worthy when the opponent appears insurmountable. A worthy opponent 
  • requires the character we care about—our hero—to reach beyond proven abilities
  • pushes our hero beyond imagined potential
  • brings out the worst in our hero
  • unleashes the best in our hero
  • is a catalyst for the hero’s transformative character arc 
Having multiple opponents places your character into a page-turning suspense. 

1. Yearly, two winning football teams vie for the Super Bowl championship. Two proven quarterbacks strive to outmaneuver and out strategize one another. Only one team will earn the trophy. Only one team will wear the striking Super Bowl ring, one of the three most recognized rings in the world including the West Point ring, and the MIT Brass Rat. 

Add into the drama a debilitating vision-stealing migraine for Bronco leading rusher, Terrell Davis during the key play in Super Bowl XXXII. Set the game outdoors in 39 degree weather for the coldest game on record, Super Bowl VI. Each Super Bowl is a story as worthy opponents include competition, injury, and weather to bring out the worst and best in one another.

2. World War II is a last clear case of good versus evil which makes the time and event an inviting setting for story. For the winsome countries and people being overtaken by the German machine, their big needs included
  • Life
  • Liberty
  • Security
  • Love
Hitler’s goals stood diametrically opposed to the goals of most of the people on the globe. Hitler’s power, disregard for others, and hunger for control made him a worthy opponent.

1. While not the first fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes is arguably the best known. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave the brilliant Holmes a worthy opponent in the criminal mastermind of Professor Moriarty. 

2. When the Superman character debuted, his superpowers made him invincible. Readers lost interest in a character certain to master every challenge. 

The writers reignited interest in the Superman story when they gave the superhero a powerful opponent in the form of kryptonite. Suddenly, Superman’s success was no longer guaranteed. Combine a criminal mastermind wielding deadly kryptonite and Superman had a worthy opponent. 

Worthy opponents for characters can be
  • Self
  • God
  • The character’s destiny
  • Another character
  • Environment
  • The unknown
  • Machine
  • Culture or society
  • Situation or circumstance 
The best worthy opponent is several of these combined. For instance, in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, hero Frodo, battles all these worthy opponents during his story, often several simultaneously. 

How can you up the ante and give your character several worthy opponents? 

Can you add a time pressure such as a ticking bomb?

What are your top five stories? List the opponents that stand between the hero and their great need. What story had the most obstacles? Which story is the most suspenseful? What worthy opponents can you add into your work in progress?

Tropical island votary and history buff, PeggySue Wells parasails, skydives, snorkels, scuba dives, and has taken (but not passed) pilot training. Writing from the 100-Acre wood in Indiana, Wells is the bestselling author of twenty-eight books including The Slave Across the Street, Slavery in the Land of the Free, Bonding With Your Child Through Boundaries, Homeless for the Holidays, and Chasing Sunrise. Optimistic dream-driver, PeggySue is named for the Buddy Holly song with the great drumbeat. At school author visits, she teaches students the secrets to writing, and speaks at events and conferences. Connect with her at www.PeggySueWells.com, on Facebook at PeggySue Wells, and Twitter @PeggySueWells.


  1. Wow, that's a classroom in a post. Thanks for the valuable information.

    1. Very glad the information is helpful. Let me know how your use it in your projects.

  2. Great post, Peggy Sue. Super take aways!

    1. Practical helps and tangible tips are my favorite to give and receive :). Writers help one another be our best.