Tag Archives: Clancy

Sympathetic Villains

15 Mar

It happens so rarely that you have to sit up and take notice. In my opinion, the best fiction has an antagonist that you can actually sympathize with. When you know why they’re doing their scheme, it makes the story really come alive.

So I finally decided to watch Jack Ryan Season 1 on Amazon Prime. I like the Tom Clancy books, I like his universe, and I’ve even read the books (literally) ghostwritten for him since his death. Then I watch the show and… yep, you’ve got all the old characters reimagined for the modern day and I’m loving it. Then they introduce Mousa bin Suleiman… holy crap!

Here you’ve got the perfect villain; it doesn’t start that way, though. He’s just a dad with four kids, struggling with his new job, and his wife doesn’t like the guys he’s bringing over to the house. He just happens to be the leader of a breakaway Muslim extremist cell. He’s intelligent, speaks multiple languages, charismatic… heck, he even beats the crap out of ISIS leaders who are perverting the cause. You’re rooting for him as much as you’re rooting against him. Plus the actor does an amazing job of showing the man who has so much need for revenge, at the same time, worried about what his actions are doing to his family. Frickin’ brilliant!

Mind you, that’s the Clancyverse–from the beginning in Hunt for Red October, Tom Clancy always made sure you knew what the villains were doing and why. They were not just paper targets for the heroes… they had a solid reason why they were doing bad things. In some ways, I always thought Clancy gave terrorists far too much credit. When he wrote clever scenarios for attacks, Tom thought like… well, an American. Al Qaeda knew what targets get the most attention. Bin Laden attacked the biggest building in New York (twice!), Clancy blew up a church in Texas (well, on paper, anyway). Personally, I think the church in Texas would be more effective, but I’m getting way off point.

Sympathetic villains are hard to come by, probably because it takes time to develop them. Take Hans Gruber from Die Hard; you follow him and his whole crew from the beginning of the film. He’s smart, effective, charismatic and he’s there to rob the place. You don’t know that at the beginning of the film, of course, but he’s systematic and clever and suave. Of course, when you’re trying to rob a major international corporation, you kinda have to be. I guess that’s why I also like Heat. De Niro is great as the leader of this heist, but they hire one doofus who likes to fire off his gun and suddenly everything unravels. (That movie was actually based on true events.)

It’s so much easier to create black and white villains, or robots wrestling, or faceless aliens coming to kill us all. But when you have to know why they’re coming to kill you… oooh, much scarier. What do you think makes a good sympathetic villain? What’s some better examples? Let me know in the comments below!

While you’re at it, you can check out some good villains in my books! 🙂 Or if the $1.99 threshold is too high for you, download some of my free stories. Mind you, I don’t have as much time to develop the enemies in those, but you can get the flavor for my writing. Enjoy.

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