Monday, June 22, 2015

Look out behind you's an ASSAS--
* thump*

You have died of DAGGER IN THE BACK!
We're gonna talk about those deadly denizens of the darkness, the Silent Blades, the Night Watchers, the Black Guild members--the not-quite-Goth not-quite-sociopathic, always up for a midnight romp dudes.


(the Fantasy kind)

Given that I'm usually terminally disorganized, so I shall be good and give you a nice little outline of what I'm talking about.

[Apparently, I'm long-winded as hell! Each of these will be a separate post. Whee!]

1) Assassins? Why do you want to talk about them?
2) Assassins! How to write them! How not to write them! How to write whatever the hell you want! Yay writing!
3) Assassins. Examples from actual legit published things.

Shall we jump right in? *swirls cloak,  vanishes into shadows*

(PS: pictures here are amazing art from people I don't know. If there's no source linked, it's because I couldn't find it. Tell me if you know!)


It's an Assassin Convention! (source)
Killers striking silently from the darkness, untouchable and deadly, murderers no one dares to apprehend. Rail against their morality all your want, but if you see one in the night--you hide. They don't care what you think. They don't care about currying favor or being likeable. They just care about the job and the coin.

Here's the thing. I'm obsessed with assassin stories. To quote someone on Goodreads: It's my kryptonite. You put the word "assassin" in your book title or summary, and I'm reading reviews like two minutes later. I love them. And I'm not alone. Let's examine why.

Firstly: There's the pure awesomeness factor.

Realistic clothing! Whoo! (source)
There's always one person in the Party who everyone fears and respects, though they don't do much and don't say much. They're a presence that doesn't need words, in fact they don't give a f--k what you think about them. And if you piss them off--it's you who'll be eating dirt. Because they're so, so much better than you. The Assassin fulfills this role. As readers, getting to live inside the head of someone who has achieved this level--come on, it's a thrill. Those fight scenes aren't too shabby either. The dichotomy of "I don't even care." silence, transformed in a second to "You're gonna die, MF!" (man, I'm sweary today) action, swift and deadly--hell yes that's thrilling.

Attack from above!
Assassins get in our heads because all too often, they fulfill an aspirational character role for us. How often are assassins the biggest and buffest characters on scene? They're more often the slim, wiry type--athletic, sure, but not the weightlifters. There aren't too many awesome fantasy fighting roles for those of us that weren't born taller and stronger than the rest--do we identify more with characters that share our innate strengths and weaknesses? Probably.

Dual-wielding! Not easy. (source)
Furthermore, there's an emphasis on training, not personal innate skill. We get the sense that assassins didn't get their awesome abilities from birth--they trained, and what's more, they trained hard. We're talking lifelong commitment to getting better. Single minded focus on upping their game. We know, while watching a fight scene play out, that every smooth move and viper-fast attack is the result of effort. We respect that. (certainly more than one-lesson Blademaster Rand al'T--*gets dragged offstage*)

Secondly: The psychological factor.

Ah, angst. (source)
Here are people that commit the unspeakable--murder--for mere coin, and they train their lives, their beings, to this one deadly purpose. It's fascinating, in both a wishful and repulsive way. "Man, I wish I was as awe-inspiring and deadly as Assassin MC", we think. "How could Assassin MC do that? And walk away, with blood streaming on the floor, a fellow human life extinguished? Where is their human empathy?" we wonder. Most of us (I hope) find acts such as wanton murder unthinkable. To see it from the other side, even through fiction, fascinates us.

Favorite assassin weapon. After knives.
I dunno about you, but I pretty much assume people are good unless shit happens and I'm proved otherwise (*sets people muttering "Pollyanna" on fire*). By extension, I usually assume that to get to that stage where you can kill another human without a crippling emotional backlash, you would have had to go through some change. Some trial which shut that natural human empathy down, or hardened you to suffering to such an extreme where you can cause it and walk away.

I see dead people. (source)
I'm well aware that some people are born without that empathy, and while reading about assassins like that is interesting in its own way, reading about the ones who changed to fit this lifestyle is even more fascinating. When pushed to the extreme of their endurance, mental or physical, some people crack. Some people bend. And some people go hard. This is what interests me the most, frankly. What happens when someone is pushed and pushed until something has to give--what gives? What makes way for survival? And what makes someone choose a path of murder for profit, as their means of survival, and keeps doing it even when the extreme circumstance has passed?

(Now is a GREAT time to mention I'm interested in all of this only and solely through fiction.)

About 1 contract's work of coin. Yes, I made that up.
Unquestioning, unrepentantly immoral characters have always interested me in literature--I love seeing the world from a completely different perspective. Plus as a sedentary intellectual type, reading about a character who is almost 100% physical and probably can't even read, yet f--king wins at survival? It's exciting. Escapism at its best.

Okay, that's cool and all, but why are we flailing about this again?

While I see assassins pop up in fantasy fairly often, I don't often see them done well. Which is a tremendous shame. No, I'm not going to link TV Tropes here. But you know what I mean.

(There's another epic rant on how infrequently I see--specifically--female assassins done well, but I'm saving up all that bottled-up snark for a proper post of fiery combustion. Do you know how hard it was to find non-sexualized female assassin art? HARD.)

Put your characters to the test: (The Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test)
Yeah, assassins can be dark windows into the depths of human nature. But how often are they, instead, just freaking Mary Sues? Gary Stus? Characters you want to brain because they're just sooo good, sooo beautiful and handsome, sooo invincible?

The entire reason I find assassins so fascinating is because they're flawed. But they found a way to get over it, to make a deal with it, or sacrifice something in order to survive despite that flaw. Be it physical, mental, emotional, or just bad circumstances.

Pretty airheads that haven't worked for their universally respected position aren't the same at all, dammit!

Next up in this series, which was supposed to just be a single blog post--WRITING ASSASSINS. How to, how not to, and how to write exactly what you want!

Tune in for more essential advice f--*is impaled by throwing knives*

With my last gasping breath ... my legacy to you ... my MEMES! *dies suddenly*

I want to play this game.
So bad.

1 comment:

  1. Assassins are awesome. After reading your post, I'm thinking I need to add an assassin in my WIP. Just because they're awesome. :) And thanks for reminding me of the Mary Sue Litmus test! I'm going to need that soon!