Jack Ryan – 6 Core Questions

This post analyzes the Amazon Prime television series Jack Ryan using the 5 Commandments of Storytelling and the Editor’s 6 Core Questions from the book The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne.


This post contains spoilers for the Jack Ryan television series, so make sure you watch it before reading on.

In Conclusion – The 6 Core Questions

So, we’ve reviewed the 5 Commandments for each Episode of Jack Ryan, and mentioned some of the Obligatory Scenes and Conventions along the way, but here is the complete 6 Core Questions based on Shawn Coyne’s book The Story Grid.

Once again, after reading a novel one time (or watching a series), an editor should be able to answer these 6 Core Questions without “having any serious head scratches”. These questions will help the editor determine where any problems are in the story.


Shawn Coyne describes deciding on a Genre as “the most important decision” an author needs to make. “This choice will tell the reader what they are in for if they pick up the book”.

The main differences between the Thriller and Action Genre are that a Thriller usually encompasses traits of Action, Horror, and Crime. Also, a Thriller has an Internal Genre as well as an External genre.

Given those differences, I think the Jack Ryan series can be categorized in the Action Genre. Though there is an aspect of crime in the attempted mass murder for which there are clues and red herrings for the protagonist to find and the Horror can be seen in the horrible terrorists biological/chemical attacks that Suleiman plans, the clues don’t lead inevitably to the capture/ death of the antagonist. In the end, Jack Ryan is making rash assumptions which inevitably lead him to the right place and time to confront the antagonist in order to have a final shootout.

The Internal Genre could be Worldview/ Disillusionment if the story was developed more. Jack Ryan begins the series believing he can make a difference doing his job as an analyst, but as he is drawn further into the operations of the CIA, he becomes disillusioned by the hierarchy and lack of morals that he witnesses (working with the human trafficker to find Suleiman’s wife, for instance). However, in the end, he gets a promotion and stays within the system. Additionally, Greer gets a promotion and invites Ryan to work with him again in Russia. Ultimately, this series ends up just being a slightly complicated action series.

  • External Genre: Action
  • External Sub-Genre: Revenge
  • External Value at stake: Life to Unconciousness to Death to Fate Worse than Death (Damnation)
  • Internal Genre: None
  • Time: Long
  • Reality: Realism
  • Style: Cinematic/ Drama
  • Structure: Archplot

Obligatory Scenes and Conventions

These are the scenes in the story that will ultimately make it work, the scenes that the reader expects because of the Genre.

The Obligatory Scenes for the Action Genre are:

  • An inciting attack by the Villain: There must be victims: this happens late in the series, at the end of the 4th episode when the church is gassed. This is a problem with the series as the Antagonist, Suleiman, is not really solidified as a criminal/ terrorist bent on mass murder until this point. For the first four episodes, there is an assumption that he is collecting money to conduct a large terrorist attack, but all of these are assumptions. The great action scenes in the beginning episodes keep the audience watching, but something that could have been improved on would be an attack attributed to Suleiman in the first episode, possibly even before the series begins. This would have identified Suleiman as the big terrorist mastermind he becomes.
  • Hero sidesteps responsibility to take action: Ryan’s ordinary world is hie office in DC as an analyst. When his boss has the Coast Guard pick him up at a party (cool, but unnecessary, and not too realistic, but cool none the less) and then tells him he is going overseas to help interview suspected captured terrorists that his lead enabled, Ryan says “I’m just an analyst”.
  • Forced to leave ordinary world, the hero lashes out: This scene might be evident when Ryan starts interviewing what is considered the non-important terrorist, because he is bored. In the end, this turns out to be Suleiman himself. This could have been stronger if Ryan insisted that he was out of place in the operational environment.
  • Discovering and understanding the antagonist’s MacGuffin (Villain’s object of desire): Suleiman wants revenge on the United States for bombing his home and killing his parents
  • Hero’s initial strategy against villain fails: Ryan convinces the French authorities to follow Suleiman’s brother in order to capture Suleiman or acquire more information on a large terrorist attack, but this backfires when Ryan is forced to kill Suleiman’s brother and the French detective assigned to Ryan is killed in the shoot out
  • Realizing they must change their approach to salvage some form of victory, hero reaches an All Is Lost moment: Ryan’s all is lost moment is when Suleiman’s brother dies and Suleiman realizes that Ryan is posing as his brother on the game chat. At that time, Ryan uses his gift at this moment, he is an analyst and he has information that has hasn’t been able to confirm that Suleiman’s wife has escaped, so he tricks Suleiman into revealing that his wife has escapes. Ryan’s change of plans is to finding and acquiring Suleiman’s wife to use her for intelligence.
  • The hero at the mercy of the villain: the central event of the Action Story, what the reader is waiting for. The hero’s gift is expressed in this scene: Ryan is an ex-marine, so he has experience in weapons and tactics, another gift. In the final episode, Ryan chases Suleiman into the subway and kills him in a final shootout. In my opinion, this is a weak Hero at the Mercy of the Villain scene and very trope, hero guns villain down in final gunfight while getting wounded. This could definitely have been improved. With all of Suleiman’s planning and intelligence so far, he should have had a better escape plan.
  • The hero’s sacrifice is rewarded: Ryan returns Suleiman’s son to his mother as promised and gets a promotion.

The Conventions for an Action Genre Novel are:

  • Hero, Victim, Villain: these three roles must be clearly defined throughout the story. The protagonist must be a hero:
    • Hero – Jack Ryan
    • Villain – Suleiman
    • Victim – helpless civilians, Suleiman’s family
  • The hero’s object of desire is to stop the villain and save the victim
  • The power divide between the hero and the villain is very large: The villain is far more powerful than the hero – Even though Jack Ryan has the all of the force of the US government and the CIA behind him, Suleiman has a formidable force of dedicated jihadists and a secret plan.
  • Speech in praise of the villain: This is also done poorly. Ryan identifies that Suleiman has the funds and the will to conduct a large terrorist operation, but nothing that specifically sets him apart from other terrorists in my opinion. I think this could have been set up better, as I mentioned above, by attributing other attacks to him before the time of the first episode, thus setting Suleiman up to be the next Osama Bin Ladin level terrorist.

Point of View

Most of the scenes include Jack Ryan and are told from his POV, but there are scenes with Suleiman, his wife, and Kathy as well.

Most of the Jack Ryan book are told from an Omniscient POV.

Objects of Desire

The Object of Desire for Ryan is to survive and stop the terrorists in order to save innocent lives. There are scenes that show Ryan might suffer from PTSD and guilt over the death of men from his unit, and therefore some need for Ryan to make amends for that, which he does in the end when he saves Suleiman’s son and returns him to his mother. If this internal need was developed more, or if the worldview disillusionment part of the series was developed similarly to Silence of the Lambs, where Ryan became disillusioned by the CIA tactics and hierarchy, this would have made the series more meaningful to the viewers.

Controlling Idea/ Theme

Shawn Coyne describes the controlling idea as “the takeaway message the writer wants the reader/ viewer to discover from reading or watching his story”.

The controlling idea for this series is:

Life is preserved when Ryan outwits and kills Suleiman, saving the president and innocent victims.

The Beginning Hook, the Middle Build, and the Ending Payoff

Shawn Coyne explains the math of most novels as broken into 3 parts or acts, the Beginning Hook, the Middle Build, and the Ending Payoff. Generally, the Beginning Hook consists of about 25% of the novel, the Middle Build 50%, and the Ending Payoff about 25%.

Each one of these acts should have 5 commandments:

  • an inciting incident
  • a progressive complication
  • a crisis
  • a climax
  • a resolution

These 15 scenes (5 commandments for each act) make up the spine of the novel and turn on the global value of the novel, in this case life to death to fate worse than death.

The sixth question involves identifying these 15 scenes in the novel (or series) and creating a short description of each act. We’ll track these through the weeks and at the end, when we revisit the 6 Core Questions, we will summarize these 15 scenes.

The Beginning Hook 5 Core Scenes:

Inciting Incident: Lebanon is bombed by American planes when Suleiman is young and his parents are killed (Value: death as Suleiman’s parents are killed).

Turning Point: Suleiman and his brother are stopped and searched by French Police and Suleiman’s brother has a pistol on his person (Value: possible life in prison)

Crisis: Suleiman must decide to fight the police and assume responsibility for the pistol so his brother doesn’t go to jail, or not (Value: his brother spends life in prison or Suleiman does).

Climax: Suleiman goes to prison fro his brother (Value: spends part of life in prison).

Resolution: Suleiman is put in jail and is radicalized (Value: Suleiman’s mentality is changed to cause harm to Americans in retribution).

Value change: -/–

American planes kill innocents and this leads to the radicalization of their children

Beginning Hook: When Suleiman’s parents are killed by American Bombs in his youth, he and his brother are raised and educated in France but are treated like second class citizens so that when they are harassed by French police, Suleiman takes the blame for a pistol that his brother bought and goes to prison where he is radicalized.

Middle Build 5 Core Scenes

Inciting Incident: CIA Analyst Jack Ryan discovers that a radical Moslem named Suleiman is massing a large amount of funds, leading him to believe that a large terrorist attack will soon follow (Value: death due to a potential terrorist attack).

Turning Point: After failing to capture Suleiman’s brother and acquire information on a future terrorist attack, Ryan discovers that Suleiman’s wife and children are on the run (Failing to stop Suleiman will cause innocents to die).

Crisis: Does Ryan capture Suleiman’s wife and use her for information or not (Value: life and death – if Ryan doesn’t use the wife’s information, more people could die, if he does then Suleiman’s son could die).

Climax: Ryan captures Suleiman’s wife and discovers Suleiman’s location (Value: life, knowing Suleiman’s location can result in stopping him from taking more lives).

Resolution: Ryan promises that her son will be safe and the CIA initiates an attack on Suleiman’s compound only to discover Suleiman is gone but the hostages are unharmed (Value: life, hostages saved).

Value change: -/+

Suleiman is identified as a big terrorist planning a large attack, but the US seems to have interrupted his terrorist plans and rescued hostages.

Middle Build: After CIA Analyst Jack Ryan discovers that Suleiman may be planning a large terrorist attack on U.S. soil, his efforts to gather more information are thwarted until he finds Suleiman’s wife and is able to help the CIA mount an attack on Suleiman’s compound, possibly stopping the attack and rescuing hostages.

Ending Payoff 5 Core Scenes

Inciting Incident: The hostages are infected with Ebola and the president was exposed (Value: death, from Ebola virus).

Turning Point: Suleiman ‘s man sets off a large explosion at a pizza restaurant (Value: death in the pizza restaurant).

Crisis: Does Ryan and Greer go to the explosion site or to the hospital where the president is being kept in anticipation of a larger attack? (Life, save the President and victims in the hospital).

Climax: Ryan and Greer go to the hospital (Value: choose to save people at the hospital).

Resolution: Ryan stops the attack, saves the president, kills Suleiman, and rescues his son (Value: Life and Death, Ryan kills Suleiman and saves innocents).

Value change: -/+

The act starts with the president possibly having ebola and ends with Ryan saving everyone and killing Suleiman.

Ending Payoff: After a false alarm when the president is exposed to ebola, Ryan doesn’t fall for the decoy explosion at the pizza restaurant and leads authorities to the hospital to secure the president where he manages to kill Suleiman in a shootout.

In Summary – Does the Story Work?

Overall, I enjoyed the Jack Ryan series. There was plenty of action for any lover of the genre, however it could have been a lot more satisfying if the writers had built up the back story of Suleiman and built up Ryan’s character a little more to emphasize his internal needs. While the action was good, the establishment of Suleiman as a mastermind terrorist came rather late in the series and could have made the suspense larger by making him a more powerful antagonist.

I think most of this could have been done in the first episode if the writers had given Suleiman an already established background of conducting terrorist activities or a nefarious background of leading AQ or Taliban attacks against troops in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Ultimately, I think the show was entertaining, though not too surprising, but it had the potential to be a lot better.


What did you think of my analysis of Jack Ryan? Do you agree? Disagree? Leave me a comment below. Also, let me know if you have any other series you would like me to analyze.

Next week, I will begin analyzing the Amazon Prime television series Hanna.

More Story Analysis

If you want to see more applications of the Story Grid methodology, below are links to my analysis of various novels and television shows in blog posts and podcasts:

Story Grid Showrunners Podcast – Parul, Melanie, and I analyze hit TV series using the Story Grid methodology.

My blog posts analyzing other Television series – my person take using the Story grid 5 Commandments to look at my favorite TV series – Jack Ryan, Batgirl, For All Mankind, Hanna, and more.

Novel analysis – I analyze some of my favorite books using the Story Grid 5 Commandments and 6 core questions – First Blood, Old Man’s War, Waylander, and more to come!

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