The protagonist of my new story is a young cyberterrorist, who mainly attacks corrupt governments and uses his hacking skills to harm corrupt leaders and high nobles in his country.

How do I write about (and what should I avoid when writing about) a terrorist who's supposed to be likable?

  • You mean, a jihadist like Luke Skywalker? decider.com/2015/12/11/…
    – rolfedh
    Feb 14, 2016 at 0:43
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    Wouldn't call that a terrorist. More like militant activist. Unless he pointlessly kills innocent people. But harming sounds more like material damage. So to make them likeable, maybe avoid the word terrorist.
    – Nobody
    Jun 24, 2016 at 0:30
  • Oh and look the "Albae" / "Älfar" series by Markus Heitz. The Albae are likely much, much worse than your hacker, but one can still sympathize with them (they do paintings with the blood of their enemies {or just any creatures with blood of the right color}, build castles out of their bones, or just kill everyone in a village and arrange the corpses into something they call art).
    – Nobody
    Jun 24, 2016 at 0:38

4 Answers 4


If you haven't watched the movie Sneakers, I recommend it for research.

And think of this quote (supposedly from a Gerald Seymour book): "One person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter."

There are always two sides to a story.

A protagonist is likeable if a complete person:

  • give him hopes (besides the bigger goal he is working for as a cyber terrorist)
  • let him love and be loved
  • let him be loveable (cares for his elderly grandma, rescues street kittens... just not too stereotypical)
  • give him a history (but prevent stereotypical background, like a sad childhood... )
  • make him funny or let him make people laugh because he always nails it with his quick wit
  • give him friends and enemies
  • give him flaws and weaknesses... and strengths too

Sometimes it will be the small things that make a person likeable. The snarky comment when somebody is verbally attacked at the supermarket, babysitting the neighbor's son while hacking into the enemy's base so she can have a hour of uninterrupted sleep...

And there are character attitudes we always see as positive, like loyalty; kindness to children, animals, and persons in need; respect for the elderly; being funny without making bad jokes about vulnerable people; being reliable...

Take good and bad pieces, with a few more good pieces and try to mold a round and full person that is more than just the cyberterrorist with a talent.

  • +1! Run, Bakri Says by Ferrett Steinmetz is one of my favourite short stories, and a wonderful example of how to humanise a character like this. You can get the full story for free in podcast form if you're interested.
    – Cakebox
    Jun 19, 2016 at 21:28
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    So basically just make him human, is your answer in short.
    – Nobody
    Jun 24, 2016 at 0:46

You are describing a dark hero and the best way to make a dark hero palatable to the a non-sympathetic reader is to draw a line in the sand, across which your character will not cross.

He's successfully bypassed the firewalls of the air defense missile battery and targeted the throne room of a corrupt monarchy. Black Ice defenses are tracking him down and he only has a few moments before they locate his computer center. It's now or never, fire or flee, and chances are that he will never get this close again. He glances down at the throne room security feed which he tapped into a few hours earlier.

Nuns, petitioning the king for aid! "No! ...anything but Nuns"

Dashing to the wall, he yanks the main power feed. Every computer in the room falls to black, invisible in the resulting darkness, both here and in the cyber world beyond. With a prayer that the monarch's black ice defenders haven't marked his location, he resigns himself to letting the monarch live a little longer.


My main point would be to use humour.

Perhaps make him look forward to his next hacking session, and get him all excited for it. Maybe you could have a classic saying for before he hacks something, to create humour.

You need to be careful that you don't cross over the line, and just create a sadistic maniac. If you don't include themes aside from just the terrorist activities, your character could appear a bit one-sided, and only really cares about money he gets from hacking.

In conclusion, I'd make a likeable terrorist by giving them different themes to their character, making sure they are not entirely one-sided, and also using humour. Oh by the way, maybe the reader would like him more if he wasn't entirely bad.

I hope this helped.


What is a cyberterrorist?

The definition of a terrorist is someone who wounds and kills people who are not acceptable military targets according to the laws of war, in order to cause fear and panic among his enemies and possibly change their policies. All terrorists, by occupation, are evil criminals, just as all vikings, by occupation, were evil criminals.

A computer hacker will not be a terrorist unless he causes hospitals to lose electricity, planes to fall from the sky, and other disasters that kill people. A computer hacker who doesn't disrupt things in a manner likely to cause death is not a terrorist. Just as it is a crime to be a terrorist, it is a crime to cheapen the impact of the word terrorist by using the word terrorist to describe someone who is not a terrorist.

And it seems to be a literary crime to depict a likeable terrorist. I hate the very idea of a likeable terrorist.

  • 2
    With respect, I'm not sure about this definition of 'terrorist'. Wouldn't it exclude those who attack buildings and infrastructure? Before the IRA bombed a public place they would warn the police to evacuate civilians. A better definition might be 'violence by non-state actors for political ends', but that has its controversies too.
    – Cakebox
    Jun 19, 2016 at 21:49
  • 'Literary crime' is a dangerous idea, too! Your passion is admirable but I think writers should be permitted to show more than one perspective. Charles de Gaulle, Nelson Mandela, and those who freed America from us British were all once 'terrorists' too.
    – Cakebox
    Jun 19, 2016 at 21:50
  • I don't feel this answers the question. It's something of a frame-challenge, although even so I disagree with the challenge. OP is asking specifically how to make a destructive, harmful character also be likable, which is certainly a common enough writing issue!
    – Standback
    Jun 23, 2016 at 7:21
  • @Cakebox What you describe is not a terrorist act. If they were terrorists, then because of other things they did. (but I agree on "literary crime" being a bad idea. That goes against the very idea of free speech. But of course you can write immoral things and that's probably what he meant)
    – Nobody
    Jun 24, 2016 at 0:43

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