The protagonist’s main rival invites her to discuss her current project.
Because the analysis this confrontation was so fruitful, I’ll cover that here. (A detailed treatment of power dynamics begins with an earlier post.)
I’ll begin by explaining the title. Why would you undermine the hero of your story? Because making the situation more difficult for your protagonist provides more drama and pushes the character toward growth and change. Writers have to be cruel to be kind (to readers and, often, the main characters).
The exploration of the power in the scene has three stages:
- A review of how power is important to the point of the scene.
- Listing the powers of the characters in the scene.
- Exploring how the elements of the scene might be manipulated to facilitate a power shift and add more drama.
Listing the powers of the characters in the scene. I went through all the forms of power for each character, but I’ll just present a few highlights of the analysis here.
- The antagonist has money and authority. She's part of the 0.1 percent.
- The protagonist has analytical skills. In fact, she can go deep and create equations and graphs related to situations.
- The antagonist has resources for advice (when she listens) and action.
- The protagonist is able to adjust plans and come up with new options in the moment.
Secret revealed. Hero(ine) loses power. Part of the heroine’s power comes from not revealing her love belongs the the “project.” Even her typical reference to him as My Project portrays distance and lack of vulnerability. So when the mask slips and she knows her adversary has discovered the truth, she’s sad and frightened (so much so, she fails to realize how her own power rises once she knows the villain is ruthless and cares nothing for the “project.”
Home field advantage. Antagonist gains power. I purposely moved the confrontation to the antagonist’s apartment. And not just any apartment, but a personal space that the heroine had never seen or imagined before. Everything in it is designed to make it easy for the antagonist and difficult for the “climber” heroine. You are up against powers you can never defeat. Quit while you’re ahead.
Knowledge. Hero(ine) loses power. The heroine naively tells an amusing anecdote about her “project.” At the beginning of the scene, it seems like fun between people who would never betray the poor guy. By the end it’s clear the she has put a weapon into a dangerous adversary’s hands—one that could be used against her and the man she loves.
In each instance, more power to the antagonist or weakening the hero(ine) leads readers to worry more about the hero(ine). And makes the goal more elusive. Of course, it’s possible to go in the opposite direction. In many love stories, disparities in power are increased and control is shifted favoring one, and then the other, lover. And a (legitimate and earned) twist the puts the hero(ine) into the power position at the end often works and can be explored by using this undermining strategy in reverse.