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I am writing a side story called, The Afterglow of Jovian, which mainly takes place sometime during the final stages of the main story. Here's a brief gist of the main story to give some context,

  • The main story takes place in the future, 566 E.A.E.
  • By this time mankind has successfully colonized most of the planets and moons in the Solar System.
  • Due to the immense success of colonization and terraforming, from the end of the year 2099 A.D there was an exodus from Earth.
  • Thus 2100 A.D is officially marked as the epoch for the start of E.A.E (Exodus: After Earth) era.
  • Eventually, a global government called the Third Planet Alliance is formed as a form of a global government.
  • The main story follows Lisa Roberts who is part of an elite counter-insurgency unit called the Titans, who are tasked with neutralizing the terrorist faction known as Jovian Liberation Army.
  • The Jovian Liberation Army are a military resistance coalition formed between the moons Europa, Ganymede and Callisto of the Jovian system.

The main story, as mentioned above, mainly focuses on Lisa Roberts and the Titans neutralizing and eliminating the terrorist faction. In my side story, I am thinking about telling the story from the terrorist faction side. While in the process, I am also thinking of exploring more of the backstory and the reason for the uprising of the Jovian Liberation Army.

My only worry is: Is it a good idea for the protagonist to be a terrorist? Generally, people don't like the word "terrorist", due to the negative connotation associated with the word. And, it is generally also frowned upon in society. Because of this dilemma, I am also thinking to introduce a secondary main character who at one point, during the very early years of Jovian Liberation moment, was a former Titan member. But, he becomes disillusioned with the Third Planet Alliance government when he is ordered to gun down the severely undermanned and unharmed Jovian resistances soldiers. I am thinking this might help the readers to connect a bit at least.

  • 1
    Every antagonist is the protagonist of their own tale. So, yes. If you write it well enough, then it's perfectly okay. Just look at Star Wars. The Rebels are terrorists, essentially. And especially in the eyes of the Empire. They are portrayed as the under dogs. Everyone loves that. So make sure you frame it well, and no one is apt to even think of them as such. – Fayth85 May 2 '18 at 0:48
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    If the story of Robin Hood would be told from the perspective of Prince John, Robin Hood would also come across as a terrorist. – Philipp May 2 '18 at 10:47
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    just watch "A New Hope" – Andrey May 2 '18 at 18:53
  • Nelson Mandela would be the perfect example to learn from. – Craig Sefton May 2 '18 at 19:32
  • I just want to point out that global means worldwide, I assume you meant your government is solar system wide? In that case you should use another word I think. Disclaimer, I am not a native English speaker. – Robin May 3 '18 at 6:38
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One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. In other words, your main character probably doesn't see himself as a terrorist, so a first-person or close third-person story focusing on that character can present something more nuanced than "terrorist, ick". I've read stories where I know the main character is reprehensible in some way -- terrorist, serial killer, torturer -- but the story is still interesting. Not all fiction requires that the reader see himself in the main character.

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    You answered this too well. :) – NomadMaker May 2 '18 at 3:09
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    "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." Yes! If you're going to write a story where someone (anyone) considers the main character or the protagonist a "terrorist", that is something you absolutely have to keep in mind at all times. If you do, it can work out wonderfully, and allow you to present the complex nuances of something that might otherwise be portrayed as an extremely one-sided situation. – a CVn May 2 '18 at 5:59
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Can you? Yes. As @Cloudchaser points out, it is being done, increasingly more commonly.

Do I wish such stories did not exist? YES.

Terrorist attacks are very much a part of my life. There's a failed attempt every week where I live, on average once a month they do not fail. When I was a child, it was far worse. My mum wouldn't allow me and my brother to take the same bus, because she was terrified of losing both of us.

So what is it you're doing when you make your protagonist a terrorist? You're making the reader sympathise with him. Even if particular actions of your protagonist are despicable, they are suddenly understandable, forgivable. From there, it's one step to "sometimes acceptable". Well, NO! Terrorism is not forgivable. There is NOTHING understandable about blowing up a bus full of schoolchildren.

I should draw your attention to the distinction between terrorism and guerilla. While sometimes the distinctions are blurred, guerilla is strictly against soldiers. Terror is against civilians. And political assassination isn't terrorism either. Terrorism is against your average Joe, and average Joe's baby daughter - the targets that would instil most terror.

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    I can absolutely understand your point of view, but lots and lots of things happen in fiction that we'd rather see not happen in real life. In cases like those, fiction can serve as a way to explore and, in some cases, come to terms with frightening aspects of our lives. If the fiction that takes place in our real world was even halfway representative of what actually goes on in the world, it'd be a downright miracle if people regularly got to work alive! People clearly regularly do get to work alive and well; it stands to reason that things don't become right because they happen in fiction. – a CVn May 2 '18 at 9:17
  • @MichaelKjörling Would you say the same about a serial rapist protagonist, or a mass murderer? Protagonist is the guy we're supposed to identify with, whose norms we're supposed to share. What are you exploring by sharing the norms of a terrorist or a serial rapist? Do you work through the very real danger by identifying with the perpetrator? Oh, and FYI, people regularly don't get to work alive and well. If they always do where you live, check your privilege. – Galastel May 2 '18 at 13:24
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    I suggest that those who are speaking against Galastel's ans wertry living next door and travelling around the local scene for a few months and then see if they feel the same way. Let's not put down the strong feelings of someone who grew up shadowed by terror every single day. While the idea of a protagonist is normally supposed to arouse sympathy, I think the distinction being made between a Guerilla and a Terrorist is a valid one and should be taken as a serious and workable suggestion. I certainly don't sympathize with those who consider innocent civilian targets viable. – nijineko May 2 '18 at 17:12
  • @MichaelKjörling I'm sorry if I was a bit harsh. Your clearly regularly stung. – Galastel May 2 '18 at 22:10
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    You equate "to understand" and "to forgive". I want to stress that those are very different concepts, which in no way go together. You can understand without forgiving, and you can forgive without understanding. Indeed, I can imagine a story about a protagonist starting with the best intentions, but then sliding into evil territory, to be very valuable in allowing people to recognize if they are in danger of moving the same way, before it is too late. The point being exactly that initially you sympathize with the protagonist, but in the end you are appalled. – celtschk May 4 '18 at 9:14
5

One of my favorite books is Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, about a brave group of freedom fighters on the moon. If you read it closely enough, however, you realize that the protagonists are all terrorists from the point of view of the people on Earth. They aren't looking for peace, they're looking for victory, and they're willing to use any tactics necessary to secure it. (Interestingly enough, it also functions in some ways as a space-aged retelling of the American Revolution. So there's a lot of truth to @MonicaCellio's observation that "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.")

There's also a wonderful short story in graphic novel form by Israeli cartoonist Rutu Modan, about a young woman who narrowly escapes a store bombing, and ends up caring for a victim of the bombing in the final minutes of his life. It's only later that she realizes the "victim" was actually the bomber himself. It's a wonderful reversal, because you're forced to reevaluate the sympathies and affections you've built up for the victim, your sense of his injured fragile humanity, in light of his true identity.

So there is definitely room to do this story and do it well. But I think you need some caution. I'm assuming you don't want to lionize or excuse away the horrors and moral crimes of terrorism. In that respect, I think your described strategy is a good and a powerful one --to have the protagonist's eyes gradually opened to the unjustifiable ugliness of what his side is willing to do to win.

4

There are quite a few examples of media where the protagonists are terrorists. Whether the characters will be acceptable to your readers will depend on what you do with them. There are several options, among them:

  • Your protagonists use bad methods (terrorism) for a good goal (freedom). In the course of the story they realize that their methods are wrong and fail at their goal.

  • Your protagonists are the morally superior suppressed slaves of an evil majority and have tried peaceful ways for centuries to no avail, and now they have to resort to violence before being finally wiped out entirely.

  • You write relief escapism that allows your readers to indulge all their bad sides (think games like GTA).

  • Your protagonists are the good guys, but you give equal screen time to the terrorist antagonists and portray them as essentially good people that have taken a wrong turn (see point one above).


Here are some lists of movies where the heroes are terrorists, if you want to look at examples:

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