Questions 3: Mutual Enemies in a Series

Megatron and Optimus Prime being awkward

A few times in War of Nytefall, Clyde and his enemies have to unite against a common enemy.  It’s been pointed out as ridiculously common and thrown their war into disarray.  After all, how can you maintain a civil war when you have to keep working with the other side?  Part of this is because the war is really a grudge between Clyde and Xavier, so they are able to put their differences aside for their kingdoms when a third party steps in to cause trouble.  Nobody said these two were rational when it came to each other.

This continuing interruption has made me consider a lot of questions about enemies coming together for a shared goal.  You do see this a lot in series, especially superhero tales.  Seems like it’s inevitable too.  Yet, it isn’t very easy to pull off.  These characters are supposed to hate each other, but now they work together.  There has to be some friction, but not so much that they can’t operate.  On the other hand, you can’t have them be best friends or their rivalry won’t make any sense after the shared threat is over.  It could end the major plot before it’s time.  So, I’ve had to create these tentative alliances or have them inadvertently work together.  Thankfully, it’s worked out so far.  Don’t think I can pull it off again since I’m heading for the end.

Still, let’s see what people think about enemies working together.

  1. Do you like it when enemies work together against a common foe?
  2. How would you write such an alliance?
  3. What is one piece of advice you would give an author who wants to attempt this?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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17 Responses to Questions 3: Mutual Enemies in a Series

  1. 1. It depends why they’re enemies to how I feel about it. As a general rule though, as long as they don’t suddenly become trusting friends while working together, it can work, and is believable. There are several situations in which enemies might agree to temporarily work together against a greater threat.

    2. That’s not really easy to answer, since it depends on the genre, the reason behind them being enemies, the reason they decided to work together, and whether I wanted it to make things worse or better between them.

    3. Don’t have them suddenly acting like best friends. If they’re enemies they aren’t going to trust each other, and there’s going to be times they won’t see eye to eye during this team up. Sure, this working together can be a step towards mending the rift between them if it’s something minor that caused them to become enemies, but it has to be a gradual process if you’re taking that route, and even then they’re unlikely to become real friends, so make sure you show that.

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    • 1. Good point on the trust. There should still be some animosity and times when they let each other get hurt. I’ve seen a few shows where bitter enemies suddenly work in synch against a common foe. Doesn’t always make sense there. Only when it’s clear that they’ve fought so often that they know how to work off each other.

      2. I guess the question is really in regards to your own genres and tastes.

      3. Might depend on their history too. With Clyde and Xavier, the time they had to work together saw them getting along to some extent. They used to be friends, so there was still some lingering trust even though they hated each other. I think that’s a rather uncommon situation though.

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      • Victoria Zigler says:

        1. Exactly.
        2. In that case, it would likely be that it was a grudge or misunderstanding causing the issue, and being forced to work together – or finding some reason they considered it vital to do so – would likely go some way towards starting to mend the rift. After all, I write for children.
        3. Yes, definitely depends on their history too.

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      • Children books could make it more difficult. Though I could see it be easier since you have to simplify it a bit.

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  2. Common, or not, I like these tales. I would probably try to have the antagonist work the event to his advantage in the postponed conflict somehow. As far as advice, I’d suggest doing some homework to see what’s come before.

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  3. L. Marie says:

    I agree with Victoria’s response.
    1. I love this storyline, because you have so much conflict to work with.

    2. Probably like the first Avengers movie. You have to have some conflict among the team. But that conflict needs to take a backseat after a while.

    3. Decide which conflict is the primary one of the book and which is the secondary. This may seem obvious. But how many times have we read books or seen movies where two enemies come together and the majority of time is spent on their issues with each other? Since you have conflict within the team and without, the temptation will be to keep up skirmishes within the team while inadvertently shortchanging the primary conflict (the shared enemy). You need a good balance.

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    • 1. It is a lot of fun.

      2. True, but Avengers is definitely easier. They weren’t true enemies. Just strangers that didn’t get along at first, so it was simple for them to toss off their initial issues. Although, it did seem a little too neat in retrospect outside of Hulk hitting Thor.

      3. Good point. They don’t really deal with the threat that forces them to work together. I think authors who do that get hung up on having these characters do banter or get ‘safer’ interaction time. It’s played up for laughs a lot.

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  4. I Gotta pass on this one. I like the idea of enemies forming an alliance, but I get a little lost from there. I wouldn’t know how to write it.

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  5. >Do you like it when enemies work together against a common foe?
    No, it seems like a cheap out. “The enemy of my enemy” thing is a pat answer. If that was the ending of the story, it would feel pretty flimsy to me.

    >How would you write such an alliance?
    The enemies would have to be visibly reluctant and questioning each other at every turn. Still looking for advantage in their original dispute(s). If I was writing it, someone might dangle the possibility of a temporary alliance but it would fall apart pretty quickly.
    As a writer this would be the opportunity for drama when the deal collapsed. What shall our heroes do now??

    >What is one piece of advice you would give an author who wants to attempt this?
    Use it for the drama it can bring your story, but be realistic. The reasons these characters are enemies cannot just evaporate.

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    • 1. What if it was just a middle section of a series?

      2. But wouldn’t the deal collapsing mean the shares threat isn’t seen as much as a threat anymore? The older villain will clearly not see any danger it come off as too selfish and stupid to act in self-preservation.

      3. I don’t think I was suggesting that the reasons evaporate. They’re just put aside for a common goal. That actually happens a lot in reality.

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      • No, the deal collapsing makes it worse. They thought they had a work-around but now they don’t. It’s a failure that raises the stakes.

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      • My only problem with that is how it makes the betrayer come off like an idiot. The hate is so strong that they won’t even try to hold out until the greater threat is gone. It hurts their characterization especially if they’re supposed to be smart and cunning. I’ve seen so many stories hurl a betrayal in that makes no logical sense beyond ‘this person is angry or evil’.

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