A writing group I’m in came up with a plan. We were all going to write an assassin’s tale in our respective worlds as part of an omnibus.
I write military sci fi set in the near future. How hard could this be? Ok, so it was hard. My title was total clickbait. Anyone who thinks writing fiction is an easy way to spend time on your computer is taking good pharmaceuticals that I don’t have a prescription for.
So there’s this list guy on the NYT bestseller list. He saves lives with his lists. (This one: The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right)
I’m not that guy. So here’s a list for writers who write about people killing people for hire.
- Find Your Killer
- Decide On The Victim
- Explain The Why
- Decide The Method of Termination
- Decide The Consequences For The Hit
That’s it. Easy, right? Ok, so I did some research too. I returned to the great classics of assassin literature — the John Rain novels by Barry Eisner. Those are just fantastic and will help fill your creative well. (Start with this one: A Clean Kill in Tokyo (Previously Published as Rain Fall) (A John Rain Novel))
Also, I wanted to make fewer decisions. So I didn’t create a new character from whole cloth. I took a character from my world that we don’t know much about and gave him a backstory. In this case, a shadowy backstory.
There is an ethical dilemma inherent in murder for hire plots. Now your protagonist is a bad person because they accept money for murder, or else they do it for thrills. So how do you make your killer likeable? Well, like Dexter, the easy premise is that your victim is also a bad person. (Dexter Morgan is a forensics expert who hunts serial killers.)
So I made my “victim” a bad guy.
Next, I had to decide the why. Here, a killer for hire can be doing social justice, like Dexter, who is ridding the world of social predators. Or it can be vigilante oriented because the hit is personal to the assassin.
I picked personal connection because it would improve the backstory for this character.
Those decisions did come easily so the part that was hardest for me was the method of termination.
How did the killer do it? Was it with the candlestick in the library? You can see my problem. It is nearly endless the methods and means to off someone.
So I made another decision. Use a method related to the protag’s day job. That limited the methods, for example, my protag is not likely to use poison or drugs to do the deed.
However, even though he is a military character, he is not going to use a submachine gun either.
This limited the methods but still took days of noodling and discarding to narrow down the method of the kill. Your method may vary.
The consequences were easier. Either they get away with it, or they don’t. Either way, the decision becomes whether they are changed by the kill. Do they do it again? or decide they will never do it again?
Ready to go out and write your own assassination story now?