Creating Better Antagonists

I was going to entitle this post “How to Create a Better Terrorist,” but I figured Homeland Security would latch onto that and I’d be visited by strange men in black. Hence the vague title. I am using the information from Sean Mactire’s book Malicious Intent: A Writer’s Guide to How Murderers, Robbers, Rapists, and Other Criminal Think to create more believable antagonists, and chapter 13 is all about terrorists. Let’s dig in and see what he says.

Mactire starts off with “terrorists are often misrepresented by gross stereotypes and major misconceptions. Not all terrorists are ignorant, unintelligent, foaming-at-the-mouth Arabs. Of all the different types of criminals, terrorists are the most cunning.” Automatically, we can toss out the Disorganized criminal attributes we discussed much earlier in this series. The terrorist antagonist will be Organized, with all that entails (look back at my April 2012 posts if you need a reminder).

There’s a brief history of terrorism in the book, then Mactire jumps into What Is A Terrorist. He summarizes that is a “political theater” involving premeditation, a script, actors, a stage, and an audience. Most terrorists want mass publicity to get their political message out to the world. After offering several examples of terrorists from history (some of them quite surprising), Mactire offers this full definition of terrorism: “all acts of politically or religiously motivated violence intended to change, through fear and intimidation, public and/or government policy and which are justified to the perpetrators and are heinous crimes to the targets and victims.”

This definition covers everything from Muslim extremists crashing airplanes into the World Trade Centers to pro-life zealots shooting doctors and bombing clinics.  Mactire says, “All terrorists consider themselves soldiers,” and that really cemented the idea for me. The terrorist antagonist is on a military-style mission to advance his cause, and like all mission-oriented criminals, he’s a sociopath who doesn’t see his targets as innocent people who have the right to live. He sees them as enemies who deserve to die. He cannot empathize with his victim’s family members, nor does he see non-violent methods as viable options. And because of his high intelligence, he’s dangerous to everyone around him, not just his intended victims.

I’ll continue this discuss in my next post. Any comments on this topic?


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