How to Write an Assassin

I’ve always thought that, when reading a book or watching a movie, the most interesting characters are the ones who aren’t necessarily supposed to be good, but aren’t bad either. Entirely a gray area. An example of a character like this would be an assassin – someone who never really wanted to be good (because, let’s face it, good is boring), but is smart enough to know not to be evil either.

The evil ones always end up dead, and the “gray-area-characters” know that. How could you not love them?

I think there’s one key thing that you need to have to create a character like this: you have to have an idea. Granted, you have to have an ‘idea’ for any character you want to write, but it’s much harder to create a three dimensional character, such as an assassin, without having a detailed picture beforehand.

Remember that an assassin doesn’t only have to be dark and brooding and stealthy and good with everything – although that is usually what’s expected of them. You can picture an assassin wearing the customary black clothing, hood, hiding daggers in everything from shoes to sleeves to hair. Or you could create a much more, in my oh-so-biased opinion, skilled assassin.

For example, the fifteen-year-old girl who always wears high-heels and frilly, bright-colored dresses. Those who kill in broad daylight, in the middle of the most crowded street in whatever fictional world your story takes place (because the most fantastical assassins are always created in the most fantastical worlds). Those are the most terrifying characters. The ones you wouldn’t expect, would never notice, and can never catch.

Of course, that’s not all that needs to be known in the creation of an assassin. For one thing, you should need to have a mind at least similar to that of a psychopath. You have to be knowledgeable enough about certain things that, if you (like me) could stop being lazy for once, get up and actually do something, you’d be a master criminal. If you don’t know how to pick locks or get out of handcuffs, I will be so, so disappointed in you. And so I’ll tell you, as said by thief Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows (because books are cool), “The right pressure applied at the right moment, in the right place. It’s a delicate thing.”

Of course Kaz Brekker would think that, but he’s not wrong. Thievery, as well as murder, are forms of art, I like to say, just not the forms people may immediately think of.

I’ve written a lot about how to create the character, but there’s another very important aspect to writing an assassin as well. How do you write the story? That’s the difficult part, isn’t it?

It depends. If they’re the main character, then yes. Because that means you’re writing a kind of story written surprisingly rarely. One not with a “chosen one” or that golden hero who succeeds at everything he or she tries to do, but one with a character who doesn’t want anything like that.

The story would have been changed to that of someone with only one goal: surviving. No matter what that may mean. The possibilities are endless.

But the assassin isn’t usually the main character at all, are they? People tend to take the easy way out, unfortunately. But side-character assassins can be just as interesting, it just might take a little more dedication.

I’ve mentioned the term “three dimensional characters” before, but most people tend not to know what I mean. Three dimensional characters are characters with layers. Not the lifeless, uninteresting characters one can find regularly, but rather, a character you couldn’t describe as good or evil, nice or mean. That’s the kind of detailed and thought-through character you would have to create if you want people to be interested in your assassin. After all, what book is good without a shameless killer involved one way or another?

By now, I’ve explained somewhat clearly how to write an interesting assassin-type character, even after knowing that there are very few people reading this who would want to write a story with a killer as the focus, if they even wanted to write a story at all. But I think it’s important to know what you’re missing out on. It’s fun and besides, readers are attracted to three dimensional characters like this.

Because that’s the thing, isn’t it? People don’t care for the good characters, only the interesting ones. And who said the criminal couldn’t be the hero? I don’t think that a hero should be defined specifically as the righteous one, only the one who wins. No matter what the goal of the story is, anyone can be a hero so long as they reach it by the end.