The Villain is the Hero’s Nemesis
The obstacles that the hero confronts In Act Two can’t arise willy-nilly from everywhere and nowhere. They must originate from a single source—the villain.
One of the great antagonists/nemeses in movie history is Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) in William Friedkin’s 1971 classic, The French Connection.
Throughout Act Two, this urbane Frenchman and big-time drug smuggler torments the movie’s hero, NYPD detective Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) relentlessly and exquisitely, always keeping one jump ahead and always making Popeye look like a chump.
Like the zombies in The Dead Don’t Die or the Tripods in War of the Worlds, the villain is the source of all the hero’s troubles.
Even when the hero is dueling internal demons of his or her own (like Popeye’s rage and burning passion to make this bust), or struggling with hostile allies (the Feds attached to his case) or other “friendly fire” antagonists (his boss at the precinct [played, by the way, by the real “Popeye Doyle,” Detective Eddie Egan], the actions of the villain are what trigger and reinforce these supplementary nemeses.
In a way, this idea is a corollary to, or restatement of, Steven Cannell’s famous axiom:
Act Two belongs to the Villain
In Act One, we in the audience may be introduced to the villain (think of Charnier in France preparing his heroin-smuggling operation or the Tripods being activated in their subterranean lairs by the super storm from space). We may experience anticipatory chills at the Evil One’s apparition. But it’s not till Act Two that the hero truly becomes engaged with the Bad Guy.
That’s when you and I as writers have to pour oil on the fire.
I know, when I’m stuck in my Second Act, I remind myself, “Go back to the villain. Make him or her smarter, make him/her more formidable, more ruthless, more dangerous.”