Tag Archives: writing assassins

Followup: Mafia and Children: The Camorra

lirenel

Interesting, since I was just reading an article in the Economist about Naples’ mafia, the Camorra, using kids as hitmen: https://www.economist.com/news/europe/21723865-camorra-turns-teenagers-enforce-its-rule-organised-crime-naples-hit-men-are

Okay, this is worth quickly talking about, and yes it is interesting. The very short version is that, the Neapolitan Mafia (called the Camorra) has been pushed to the edge of extinction in recent years by police.

The senior leadership of the Camorra are in prison, and command has passed to their children, literally. This means that at present, segments of the Camorra are being run by teenagers. In turn, they employ other teens, and we get the headline up there.

There’s another wrinkle in that, In Italy, children under 14 cannot be held criminally liable for their actions. At the extreme end, that (apparently) means they cannot be charged with murder if they kill someone.

So, what we have is equal parts desperation by the Camorra, an unintended consequence of successful policing, and a lack of adult supervision (in the organization itself.)

Now, one thing that is happening here is a kind of Lost Boys effect, where you have kids leading younger kids. This has never been a factor in the American mafia, but it does appear with street gangs. I think Michi wanted to do a full post on that, so I’ll let this sit there. This is a good find, though, lirenel.

-Starke

Q&A: The Mafia and Children

On the topic of child killers, would a child who was raised by people in the Italian Mafia (and joined at 16) be more like a Child Soldier or a Gladiator as you described in your last post? This person is young but would be expected to kill. He wants to be in the Mafia. He isn’t forced. I’m having trouble because some of your post say children/teens will immediately be negatively affected later in life but what if the MC didn’t see it as wrong? What would be realistic here?

At the same time, witnessing violence IS traumatic and anyone involved might have psychological problems or know someone who does, especially if they aren’t shown how to take care of themselves. Believing what you do is right and having other criminals to look up to wouldn’t completely erase psychological trauma for everyone. So I’m not sure how much trauma (or what kind of attitude toward violence) would be realistic.

Most criminal organizations aren’t going to use kids for killing people. They’re too useful in other roles. (The exception here are street gangs, which use violence or killing as a right of initiation. There’s more here, but it’s mostly unrelated to the question at hand.)

From what I understand, historically the Mafia, at least in the US, used kids as couriers, lookouts, and in other support positions where a child would draw less attention than an adult rather than directly exposing them to the violence early on.

In particular, they’d pull kids in by offering the kid respect and a place in the family. To be fair, I’m calling them children, but realistically we’re talking about teenagers.

As they got older, they’d gradually transition into more important responsibility in their crew.

Now, I’m not clear on exactly how much of this was pragmatic (such as keeping them away from information that could truly damage family operations), or how much was a result of cultural norms that the Mafia was paying lip service to. I’m also pretty sure the line between lookout, and helping shake down a business was fairly slim at times.

Generally speaking, kids that get into organized crime (including gangs), aren’t really forced into the life. They often come from broken or otherwise dysfunctional families, where the organization takes the place of their parents and normal support structures. This results in members that are exceedingly loyal to their organization, because The Family is their family.

The mistake you seem to be making is thinking that a teenager would be tasked out as a hitman. To the best of my knowledge, that didn’t really happen. If you’re running a massive criminal enterprise, you don’t want to trust a high school dropout with something as potentially explosive as a contract killing. Most Mafia hitmen I’m aware of started working as killers in their late 20s at the earliest. A few did start out running errands for the mob as teenagers, and gradually moved up the ranks, but giving a contract to a teen is a huge liability that no credible Family would want.

The only thing a teenager in the mob would be expected to do is keep their mouth shut. Now, a teenager who spent a few years in prison because they took the fall for a member of the family would probably be well regarded once they got out, and might even be on the path to becoming a hitman later in life, but it wouldn’t be where their career started.

The irony is, that someone who joined the Mafia as a teen probably wouldn’t view violence as wrong. In theory the Mafia maintained a code of honor, though in practice the actual members were extremely violent individuals, and any sense of honor was, at best, a pretext they followed, lest they end up on the wrong side of it. Meaning you’re very likely looking at someone with an extremely cavalier attitude about violence and death, with little to no empathy for anyone outside The Family.

Any trauma would probably derive from violence directed at their friends or (biological) family. Watching their buddy being killed by another outfit would leave a mark. Violence against random civilians, not so much.

However, there was an entirely different “career path” for kids in the mob, or, more accurately, outside of the mob. Some mob bosses, would perform “outreach,” exercises to troubled youths. (The most famous case I’m aware of is “Whitey” Bulger, though his example doesn’t exactly fit the behavior I’m describing.) The boss would continue to provide support and cultivate a patron/client relationship with some of the children as they aged. The entire idea was to create family members with no criminal background, allowing them to infiltrate organizations that would normally be impervious to the Mafia. Particularly law enforcement and Family lawyers were particularly desirable, though political office was another potential goal. It’s also not entirely clear how well these efforts actually worked out. (In the case of Bulger, it started a friendship with John Connolly, who would eventually become a member of the FBI, and provided protection for Bulger from the Boston PD, and federal scrutiny.)

So, no, your Mafia hitman probably didn’t start pulling the trigger until they were in their late 20s at the earliest. Using kids as soldiers and assassins is for street gangs and despotic warlords, not for criminal enterprise.

-Starke

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Q&A: Assassin Career Counseling

Heyo! I read your post on assassins and they are really good. Like, goooood. I do have one question though: when being an assassin is the character’s “normal”, why would they ever stop? I find it highly unlikely one person could just change their mind, so what could be the circumstances for the character to quit?

There are some legitimate reasons someone might want out, or would want to pass on a job. For example, John Wick’s backstory of leaving because he met a woman isn’t that far fetched. An assassin wanting out because he’s made enough to retire is another valid option, though this is often delivered as the cliche, “one more job and then I’m out.” It’s also entirely possible an assassin may choose to pass on a contract simply because it’s too high profile or dangerous. This gets into a general truth: If the pay and perks aren’t good enough to justify the risks, you’re not going to want to stay with an employer. For an assassin, that may simply mean looking for contracts from other sources, but it could also cause someone to leave the workforce. It’s also possible your assassin is simply a government employee, in which case, mandatory retirement will come for them eventually. Even if they’re freelance, age does take its toll inevitably, and if you’re engaging in violence, that will severely increase that.

Now, none of this really answers your question, because you’re asking, “what could change their mind.” Some of these could inspire them to “be a better person,” but more often you’re looking at more pragmatic considerations. If you’re sitting on five million dollars, there’s not a lot of incentive to spend your nights in the rain looking through an 8x thermal scope at people half a mile away.

The cliche answer you’re probably responding to is the idea that an assassin runs across a target who violates some code of honor they keep for themselves. This requires a very specific degree of cognitive dissonance. “Yeah, killing people is fine, unless they can’t legally buy Cigarettes in Missouri; that’s evil, and I’ll turn on anyone who violates my code of honor.” That’s not ethics, that’s someone who’s dangerously unstable.

It’s not completely impossible for a character to have a moment where they sit down and ask themselves, “the fuck am I doing?” This can, and does, happen. But, foisting that moment onto your assassin because they just encountered someone they consider utterly innocent is probably going to come off as cliche.

That cliche is also, often, used to present an assassin as, redeemed. “See, he’s not evil because he doesn’t torture puppies!” Which is hilariously reductive. It was okay that they used to murder people for cash, but here’s their line, which is still way past any kind of moral event horizon, so they’re not evil? No. They just have standards, like any self-respecting monster.

Now, contrasts like this can set the tone and distinguish characters. If you have two assassins with conflicting codes of acceptable targets, that can help to get your audience to empathize with one of them. Just, remember, that doesn’t make them a good person.

I should probably add, this extends beyond just assassins. Anyone who hunts down sentient beings for a living can land under any of these points. Including: Bounty hunters, cops (dirty or otherwise), monster hunters, spies (government backed or freelance), some varieties of special forces, and many others. It would probably also apply to fanatical cultists and wandering adventurers, just in case you felt limited by the previous list.

Another cliche probably worth addressing, because it’s somewhat plausible, is where the assassin is betrayed by their employer. There are setups for this where it makes sense, but, in general, this is an incredibly stupid move on the part of the organization, as they’re making enemies with someone who has the skillset to seriously harm their operations. (Whatever those may be.)

It may also be possible to flip an assassin using blackmail. This is one of those complex, and highly situational options. For example, holding their spouse or child hostage, in order to force the assassin could get them working against their own interests. I shouldn’t need to say it, but this is an incredibly volatile scenario, because if the blackmailers lose control, then the assassin will be coming after them.

It’s probably obvious, but losing friends or family could also cause nearly anyone to reassess their career choices. Not, necessarily, something unique to assassins, but it’s certainly one possible outcome.

So, why would an assassin stop killing people for a living? Because they didn’t want to anymore. No one else can provoke that choice for them; it needs to be a decision they make, on their own.

-Starke

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Q&A: The Assassin’s Children

Would it be reasonable for an assassin to be able to raise a family? I’m currently writing an assassin in a world of superheroes who tends to specialize in taking down superhumans. Do you think he’d be able to balance a home life and his “night life” or is that nota possibility ?

I don’t see why not.

Okay, that’s not true, but I don’t see anything that makes this intrinsically impossible. Being an assassin doesn’t preclude the possibility of being a good parent. It’s just extremely unlikely.

Strip everything else down, and being a good parent means being there for your kids, and putting their well-being first. It’s not impossible for an assassin to do that, but that is one of those inflexible jobs, where sometimes, they really can’t be there, because of work. Not being there stacks the deck against being a good parent. It’s still possible, but the odds are vanishingly small.

There’s a lot of degrees here, and intent can outweigh the results sometimes. A parent who’s there but resentful, and passive aggressive isn’t better than one who would be there if they could, but really doesn’t have the option. For a good parent, even under the best of circumstances, there’s a balancing act between what you can do, and what you want to be able to do. Unfortunately, if you’ve got a high pressure job, that requires you keep a strict schedule, especially with lots of travel, that weighs heavily against your character’s kids.

There’s no, simple, yes or no, here. Plenty of parents in the real world fall short of the mark with less on their plate than your character, and some manage to excel in spite of far more trying circumstances. So, this comes down to a couple questions.

Do you think your character is a good parent? This can go either way, and this isn’t a simple pass/fail. If your character is a good parent, then there’s no shame in admitting that they’re not going to get the balance right every time.

Your character can tick the technical boxes of keeping their child breathing and still be walking human wreckage. They’re not a good parent, but again, intent can carry a lot of weight here. We are talking about a deeply personal relationship between (at least) two characters, and those rarely break down into simple black and white.

Remember, your character doesn’t evaluate how well they do as a parent, their children do. If he’s simply not there, because he’s hollowing out some arms dealer’s skull in La Paz, that’s not going to justify missing birthdays or other milestones. Also, it’s extremely unlikely your character would tell his kids that he was out there killing people. That’s the kind of information you really can’t trust to children, at least not when they’re young, so he didn’t miss a birthday because of that; as far as they know he was selling database software in Cochabamba.

Also worth noting, this applies to cops, soldiers, and spies. There’s some social structures to help with the former two, but, you’re still talking about parents who have a job that requires their primary attention. It may make for dramatic characters, but it creates shitty parents, and messy divorces.

Over time, it’s worth remembering that mistakes and poor choices do have consequences.

Do you know what a good parent looks like? This one is a much harder question than it looks like. A lot of people think they had a pretty clear understanding of what a good parent looks like. This isn’t always, 100% accurate. Also, when the answer is no, it’s not always consistent what will tip you off. Personally, it was this article on Cracked, six years ago.

So, do you know what a good parent looks like?

I have seen writers, who never stopped to ask that question, put forward some pretty messed up images of their parents. This isn’t intended as a critique of yours, but, at some point you do need to step back and really think about this going forward.

For example: having a parent who will immediately employ violence against unknown children their house is not normal. Yes, I’ve seen a writer hold that up as normal parental behavior. No, I don’t want to know what gave them that impression.

As with any high stress job, being an assassin is going to make being a parent harder. It makes it more difficult to be there physically, it makes being emotionally available more difficult, it means you’re always going to be under some threat, meaning you can’t ever really relax. Kids pick up on that. Not consciously, but in more of a, “that’s normal,” kind of way. Over time, this can lead to some serious psychological issues. It’s not completely inescapable, but no matter how hard your assassin tries, he’s never going to be able to give his kids a “normal” upbringing. That doesn’t mean he can’t be a good father, but he’ll have to work a lot harder to get there, and it may be impossible for him to do his job and take care of his kids.

Remember his kids are people, not pets. They cannot simply exist to indicate, “no, really, my character’s a good person.” That kind of behavior actually makes your assassin less redeemable. There are people, real people, who do use their kids as pets. They parade them around, and (figuratively) use them to say, “look how normal, and successful I am.” Those people are human garbage. Trust me, I know. Remember, the kids know. They may not realize how messed up the situation is until later in life, but they’re there. They know.

And, the other part is superheroes; that changes a lot of things.

The entire idea of hunting down some world class assassin and kicking down the door of his apartment, before handing him over to the local police is mostly a dream in the real world. In a world where you have superheroes, the risk of identifying and tracking him down becomes a much more serious risk.

Once someone knows who he is, his kids are in permanent danger. If your character is out there hunting down superheroes or supervillains, it’s very likely that someone will seek bloody retribution for his kills, or use the kids as leverage. That’s another horrific option.

At this point, you’re going to want to answer some world building questions, and decide what you want to look at afterwards.

Who your character works for is very important. An assassin for hire, that works with the League of Evil as a contractor is going to have a very different life from someone who works for a Federal Agency hunting down rogue superheroes. Either one can be as stable or unhinged as your story calls for (though, the latter would need to hide their derangement).

So far as it goes, there are plenty of examples of superheroes and villains with their children. Hell, two of the three Batgirls are the daughters of super villains. Cassandra Cain is the daughter of a professional assassin who seriously abused her, and is a mute killing machine, while Stephanie Brown is the daughter of a D-Grade super villain, who’s spurred to heroism in spite of (or to spite) her father’s legacy (and idiocy).

There’s a lot of room for the children of villains growing up to be their own people either in spite of, or in the model of their parents.

This may sound harsh, but if you don’t plan for your character’s children to grow up into their own characters, I’d strongly recommend using them. If you don’t have a plan, you’re running a serious risk of using them as pets, which, as I said, is something you do not want to do. (Even if your character does exactly that.) These need to be characters in their own right.

When it comes to injecting some serious weight into the modern superhero genre, my first stop would be Powers. It’s about cops, not assassins, but it does a fantastic job of taking superheroes out of context, and putting it against the mundane texture of a criminal investigation.

If you’re willing to spend 100 hours working through the narrative, The Witcher 3, does an excellent job of putting you in the shoes of a man searching for his adopted daughter. On the whole, I usually recommend Sapkowski’s novels over the games, but this is the rare case where I can say a game is doing exactly what you’re asking for (even if it is a fantasy setting), but I’m not really going into full detail here.

Another slightly odd suggestion is Millennium. Set in the late 90s, this series was a rare example of Magical Realism as a genre. The main character is a retired member of the FBI’s Behavior Science Unit, trying to protect his family from the apocalypse. As with The Witcher 3, this is probably more apropos than it sounds initially.

If you want to look at a shitty parent having their child leveraged against them, the first season of 24 is pretty good. If you’re left wondering, Jack Bauer is not a good parent. The first season has some rough patches, but it does kinda illustrate the problem with this setup.

I’d still recommend taking a look at Collateral. Tom Cruise’s Vincent isn’t hunting down superheroes, but it’s not hard to see where his methodology could have real application. Also, if you have seen it before, listen to the what he says about his father. It’s not much of a stretch to say this may be the future your character’s kids would find themselves in. Especially if he tried to bring them into “the family business,” or even if he just tried to teach them how to protect themselves.

-Starke

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Q&A: The Stress Limit

Low-priority question that I’m just asking out off curiosity: what is this psychological “break” that you keep mentioning?

It’s a psychotic break. Everyone has a mental limit to the stress their mind can handle before it becomes too much, and they have a psychological break. This isn’t the fictional “sexy” psychotic break where they turn into some kind of animal. This is just the mind temporarily losing contact with reality. It’s a period of high emotional stress where the mind reaches a limit to what they can handle. In a combat role, the individual can no longer handle what you’re asking them to do. They can still go on with their lives, go home, get treatment, and, possibly, recover. However, they can’t fulfill their combat role anymore. This isn’t the kind of injury you tough your way through, either. The damage is, for the most part, permanent.

From a martial perspective, the psychological break is when a combatant is stressed beyond the limits of what their mind can handle. Whether that is in training or on the battlefield itself. The kinds of abusive training scenarios that many writers envision serves only to hasten this break by layering so much trauma on the trainee so quickly that they’ve no time to adjust to the new stress levels. This is usually because the writer in question has limited experience with any sort of training, much less martial training.

The problem with having a character kill a friend or even just a training partner during training is it’s traumatic. This won’t actually make it easier to kill people you care about less in the long run, especially since killing people you don’t care about is, usually, less traumatic. Your trainee could kill their buddy and be fine, but they could also end up grieving, depressed, guilt stricken, and suffering from PTSD. They might be pushed to the point where they’re no longer suitable for high stress situations. You’re gambling a lot of effort on their mental stability, especially when there are plenty of other methods available to test whether their personality is compatible with the role they will be assigned. (Like the training itself.)

You see, killing someone at the end of your training is not a test so much as its an initiation ritual. If your character succeeds they will be welcomed into a new brotherhood, a graduating class among which all of whom share their experience and their sin. This post-trauma love bombing serves as a means of lowering their stress, and adjusting reality so what they did becomes normative. The kill feels like an accomplishment, paling in comparison to the goal they’ve spent their whole lives working towards. They’re not unique, and they’ve a whole collection of new brothers and sisters who can help them work through it. That’s ultimately what binds them to whatever group or organization they work for, and not the kill itself.

If your character is part of an organization like this, you can guarantee they’ve been mentally worked over and prepared for this point during the course of their training. Morals are fluid, ever shifting, and entirely adjustable. After all, the point of training is to teach your student how to handle more stress and avoid an overload.

Your mental limit isn’t a hard one. In fact, your mental and physical limits can be moved. They’re not static. This is one of the purposes of training, so you build yourself up over time by learning to handle more and more stress. The goal is to prepare the student for the crazy training they’ll see five years down the line by teaching them how to break through the mental barriers they’ve set for themselves on their physical limits.

The mental limit and the mental barriers are in two separate categories. The mental limit is the point their mind can’t go past and that’s much further out than the mental barriers. Mental Barriers can be broken because those are based in what the student believes they can do versus what they actually can. An example of this is that most students in high school, for all their moaning, can actually run a mile. Their bodies can handle that, but they don’t think their bodies can or they don’t want to. Unless they’re part of a sports team or run a mile regularly, most of them will end up walking the minute they’re outside their teacher’s sight.

The good trainers understand the difference between the mental limit and physical limit versus the “I can’t” mental barriers. Over time, you teach a student to push past the barriers they’ve internalized. Those are what they believe is possible for them to do, you move their mental limits and physical limits forward.  This allows you to push them to perform more challenging actions and pursue tougher training. The student learns to discern the difference between discomfort and actual pain, and then they are the ones who are figuring out when enough actually is enough. The elite fighters we talk about are the people who are constantly pushing those barriers forward on their own, they are finding their boundaries and working to break past them. That is the major difference between them and the more average trainees around them.

The crazy training most people imagine is a point we work towards, not where we begin. This isn’t these teachers “going soft” on their students, it’s acknowledging that everyone has limits and we’re going to work them toward that point rather than throw them at it.

If you asked a guy who just signed up to go through Special Forces training of seven days of constant work without  sleep, the vast majority are going to crack. They’re not mentally or physically prepared for it. They could be, though. If you gave them the time and training they needed to get themselves ready.

Like every other type of physical training, martial combat is a staircase. You are climbing toward specific goal points, these points allow you to take on more stress than you did before. This includes tougher training, more dangerous techniques, tougher conditioning, more reps added, more responsibility, and even teaching younger students as a means to improve your skills.

In this way, the stress your mind and body can bear is strengthened. You come out of it a stronger person.

This is especially important to understand when working with children. Children are still developing, their brains are making patterns, and this means they’ve a chance to go much further in what physical stress they can take when they reach adulthood. Properly conditioned with not just faster reflexes but reflexes honed specifically for martial combat. They’ll also be in peak physical condition.

However, the manner in which you could hurry an eighteen to twenty-one year old who signed up for the military through extensive and rigorous training and quickly escalating over a matter of weeks can’t be done with a child of nine. Their minds aren’t developed enough yet to handle that kind of stress, much less the murder party stress some writers imagine.

This is when emotional or psychological trauma comes in. When we reach a point where the mental limit breaks, the trauma endured puts them into a state where they can’t function, at least not in the way you want them to. Everyone has a mental limit for what they can endure and when you push them past it, especially with extreme situations, they break down.

Trauma is the main issue with most fictionally imagined abusive training scenarios. You can’t traumatize people into being better soldiers. Trauma specifically is putting intense pressure on that mental limit, this training is not attempting to forcibly push it forward but actually break it within a short span. The way abusers want to break their victims, so it’ll be easier to make them behave how they want. The problem with this mindset, especially when turning out combatants, is that you need your soldiers to be able to make decisions in the field. Extraordinary skill is all well and good, but that’s all it is. What makes a combatant truly great is their mind, their willpower, and understanding they can push themselves farther than they might ever be made to.

With children and violence, they don’t understand what they’re doing in the moment. The ability isn’t there to process what’s happening. Grief in children is different than with adults, and the true weight often hits as a delayed reaction at some point later in life. So, when you put adults through traumatic events the emotional and psychological bill for it will eventually come due.   With kids, they’re still developing as people. They don’t know what normal is.

You can ask kids to kill people. The problem is they will, eventually, realize what they’ve done and they’re not absolved within their own heads just because they didn’t know what they were doing at the time. That’s a bill coming due, and ultimately will affect the long term health of your fighting force. Worse, you have no idea when or how it will manifest. The goal is to get your trainees through their training without giving them a nervous breakdown.

This is actually even more important with warriors who need to operate anywhere on their own for prolonged periods of time, like special forces, spies, and assassins. They need to be stable enough to do their jobs and what their jobs ask of them, make decisions, plan operations, and act as their own agents where there’s no possibility for backup.

You can have a guy who just does what he’s told as a regular soldier. That’s a good grunt, he’s not going anywhere up the ranks but he’ll serve his purpose and may take on more responsibility if he manages to survive. His job isn’t to do any thinking, but to follow the orders he’s given. The issue is you need your warriors who work in isolation to be able to think. They have to plan, problem solve, and create their own initiative. They don’t sit around waiting for orders. Even when they’re given an assignment, told to go somewhere, and kill someone, they’ve got to do the ground work themselves. This means establishing their cover, do their scouting, build on the information they’ve been given, and perform all other work associated.

You actually have to train them to think. If you never contemplated the idea that your assassin or covert operative as a highly driven and intelligent individual, you probably should consider it. If they’re used to working solo they could break from whatever organization they’re in, provided they’re willing to accept the associated risks. They’d be looking over their shoulder for the rest of their life, but they have all the skills they need to create a false identity and just go teach at a primary school somewhere or work as an office bureaucrat. Lots of spies end up working for corporations as security services. Your hitman easily could land a cushy office job somewhere with a major company cleaning up small problems on their dole. If they want to lay low, they could land a job as a small time bounty hunter hunting down bail jumpers.

Always remember, whenever you’re writing training sequences, these characters have options. Also remember: their teachers know they’re imparting a useful skill set.

For certain personality types, assassination is going to be one of the most stressful kinds of work. Not just as combat work, but getting close to people, earning their trust, and ultimately breaking that trust wears on the mind over time. This is a stressful job with a lot of responsibility where you’re constantly simulating connections that you don’t feel. There’s no reason to jumpstart that stress during their training outside a set of limited and controlled circumstances. It won’t help them do their job. Worse, it could sabotage their development in the end.

When working with training for field operatives or real world combat, trainees are always prepared on the assumption they may die. This is already a fact of life for soldiers throughout history, and the idea they may watch their friends die is going to be a given. This is going to be a major source of trauma. Survival is just as much luck as it is skill. Abusive training methods won’t change that.

The mental limit is when the mind endures so much psychological trauma they have a nervous breakdown. You can’t psychologically scar someone past that damage. People don’t tough their way through it, they can work through it with the aid of therapy but not on the battlefield. On the logistical side, someone who has been mentally compromised to that degree is unlikely to be making sound decisions. That, or the trainee breaks for freedom at first opportunity. This is also a bad thing. They’re taking whatever knowledge your organization gifted them with into the wild.

Again, abusive training is ultimately a form of self-sabotage. This is why smart people don’t do it. The people who are good at combat are ultimately the people who want to be there. Loyal combatants are better combatants. If they’re part of an organization, assassins aren’t just making themselves money. They’re making their organization money.

Always ask: why is my character fighting? Why are they here? What are they getting out of this? Why are they doing this?

If they answer is “they were forced to”, you may want to think on it further. Human beings aren’t automatons who blindly do what they’re told, and anyone who’s been in business for awhile will know incentivized training is more effective than forced. Students work harder when they want to be there.

Why grab kids from nice suburban homes when you can grab runaways and orphans from the gutter instead? They’ve already got the mental outlook you want, no one will miss them, and they’ll be happy to have three square meals a day. Worst case you’ll have to dry out the drug addicts. This was actually the plot of the original La Femme Nikita and the film(s), by the way. The government pulled runaways and drug addicts off the street,  cleaned them up, and taught them to be assassins. No one was going to miss them, and if they died? Well, they link back to no one.

-Michi

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Q&A: Shooting Strung Up Humans Is An Ineffective Training Method

Until what age would a responsible adult wait to give a kid real bullets to shoot? The kid is training to be an elite assassin/met/hitman and begins target practice at age 5 with nonlethal laser guns that mark where on the target they hit and are gradually introduced to recoil to prepare them for real guns. Not long after switching to real bullets, they switch to living targets (the organization training them buys people who have been sentenced to death and uses them as targets).

Stringing people up for target practice and putting bullets in them is a pointless exercise, especially with children. It won’t make them better at killing people, or less likely to hesitate. All you get is a shattered psyche and a nervous breakdown not long after they reach adulthood. That, or they’ll be a sociopath and lack the necessary emotions to be good at the social engineering. Unlike the fantasy sociopath, the real life sociopath has a great deal of trouble functioning when among neurotypical people. If a child soldier was your end goal then this method will work great, and they’ll be broken by the time they’re twenty. That’s a lot of effort to put into someone just to break them before they make their first kill as a working assassin.

This is probably the best advice on assassins you’re ever going to get, so it’s best to internalize it:

Assassination is one percent shooting, ninty-nine percent preparation: anticipating moves, devising approaches, recruiting sources, finding the perfect opportunity so the bullet’s almost an after-thought. Usually that’s when a target’s on the move, when there are too many variables to control them all… There are ways to lessen the risk: an armed escort, taking an unpredictable route to your destination, having back-up in a trail car. But ultimately, as long as the assassin knows where you’re going, they have the upper hand. – Burn Notice, “False Flag”

When it comes to writing children and their training, the trick is understanding they’re children. Unless you want to have an “elite” assassin who is a “one and done”, their teacher must be very careful with the pace.

The point of an assassin is not to be good at fighting. They are good, but that’s an extra component. Assassins are covert-ops, and they function like spies. The difference is in their end goal, but they aren’t like a regular soldier or even special forces. If you’re going to structure their training then it isn’t about killing off their emotions or making it easier for them not to hesitate. You’ll get that recruiting young adults from rough backgrounds and broken homes. What you need with an assassin is preparation and, like with Batman, that prep work is what elevates them to elite.

Assassins use people the same way spies do, they assume false identities, they make contacts, create assets, observe the situation, scout locations, all in order to find the best way to their target. They don’t just sit in a watch tower waiting. They’ve got to learn about the person they’re going to kill. This includes their schedule, and where to find them. They need to plan their method of attack. They might walk into the target’s house when they’re not there or even when they’re sleeping, hack their computer, stand over their kids in the middle of the night, look through family photos, steal their datebook, stalk them on social media via some internet cafe, and go through their trash.

Whatever helps them figure out how to make the kill, and pass the blame off on some other poor schmuck in the target’s life.

They need to be able to use their emotions, learn how to turn them on, learn to shut them off, and distance themselves from what they’re doing. They are actors. They need empathy, they need compassion, they need to understand their emotions so they can manipulate others. This can’t be forcibly taught by asking them to shoot people strung up for target practice. That teaches all the wrong lessons.

A basic rule of covert ops, is let someone else do your dirty work. Let someone else find the guy you want to kill. It’s a great technique… as long as you’re not the someone else. – Burn Notice, “False Flag”

If you’re going to train kids to be assassins, then combat training comprises about 25% or less of what they need to be learning. The ancient order of Assassins, from where we get the term, were for the most part what we’ll call “one and done”. The expectation was they’d die in the attempt to kill their target or afterward, which is exactly what happens with most assassins. They may make their kill, but they’re going to die on the way out. This is why the preparation component is so important. Beyond just making the kill, the assassin must have an exit strategy.

When working with individuals who begin as children and whom you plan to keep using, you need to ensure they’ll be functional adults at the end of their training. This is why starting with adults is generally preferable. They’re fully developed, they have the ability to make choices, it takes less time to train them, and you can push them a lot harder. With kids, one must go slowly. We’re talking a time investment of nearly two decades per assassin.

Focusing on your would be assassins killing people in order to kill off their feelings is nice and sexy, but that’s not great for long term health or sanity. If you’re going to spend lots of time developing assassins, you want them to keep working for at least a decade rather than burning out or having a mental breakdown to compromise your organization.

Most kids in this situation don’t get to do any murdering until the final test. This is the first of two, usually. One test happens in a controlled environment and then when they succeed, they get sent out in the world with their first contract.

Depending on the motives and methods of the Organization, that first kill will be them killing a comrade they trained with (the way of true sadists is with their roommate) or running down some person provided for them by their trainers. Or, both.

The first contract happens under the supervision of another more experienced assassin (or two), who will take over if the new assassin proves unable to finish the job. If they succeed at that, they may then serve as an apprentice to this other assassin for the duration of their apprenticeship and learn about functioning in the real world from them. This is the culmination of their training though, and they’ll be somewhere around sixteen to eighteen by the time these events occur.

Children need to be given the opportunity to grow up before they’re put on the fast track to killing. Children are still developing as people, both their minds and their bodies. You can’t force them to do anything. You encourage them with rewards. You push their bodies and their minds, develop their self esteem, provide breaks in their physical training with the education they’ll need to be able to pass themselves off as an actual human being. This education is going to comprise most of their training and act as a way to give their young still developing bodies necessary relief time. For extra motivation and fun, you provide them with games like you would any other child.

These games are going to be structured training, putting them in a controlled environment where they learn and practice their new skills while having fun. One example is Viking children throwing spears back and forth as a childhood game, which graduated to them catching Roman javelins as adults and throwing them back. There are plenty of games we have today from tag to capture the flag that will work when training children and adults.

Fifteen to twenty years of training is a long time, the purpose of a prolonged training period is not to break your trainees by moving too fast. Instead, you want to push them so they are slowly breaking past their internalized physical and mental limits. When you’ve got a character pushing themselves past what they believe is possible, tapping into their desperation, anger, fear, to force themselves beyond their physical exhaustion then you’re at the more advanced methods of martial training. This is the extreme end purpose behind conditioning like running, sit ups, push ups, etc. This is not just to build up your body, but also your mind. Conditioning teaches us how to work through our exhaustion, when we’re tired and want to quit, and find the fortitude within ourselves to keep putting one foot in front of the other. How to find that last spurt of energy, even when we believe there’s nothing left.

You can’t start a child in extreme training, especially since this extreme training isn’t a learning component. This is a pushing component. You can build them toward it, but you need to train them up first. Training them in the physical techniques and all the boring stuff which goes with it. You also need to include the necessary spy school stuff such as infiltration, surveillance, pickpocketing, breaking and entering, chemistry, general education skills like reading, writing, arithmetic, languages, politics, etc, all while slowly pushing them harder bit by bit beyond where they’re comfortable.

You can teach a kid how to make poisons, for example, without actually hurting their mental development. There was a ninjutsu master who talked about how when he was a child, his father would take him around to houses in the neighborhood while the owners weren’t home and he’d have to break in. (Also go through their things, memorize the original positions, and then put the objects back exactly as found.) Supervised at all times, of course, but this is also something you can do with a child that won’t cripple their emotional development.

Even when they do reach the point when they’re ready to make a kill, a responsible/clever organization or handler is going to be there to support them through it which further binds the trainee to their trainers. These children are valuable, and they know it.

Guns will comprise a (comparatively) small part of their training. They don’t take that long to learn how to use. We’re talking a couple months here at most, and after that its just drilling.

You can give kids real bullets at almost any age, so long as they’re not shooting another human being. You want them on the gun range and under supervision with an adult who knows what they’re doing. There are plenty of parents who train their kids kids to shoot, either for hunting or for other reasons. The trick is understanding the supervision component. This is going to be the same in any martial system where children are given live weapons to handle. Supervised at all times is what a responsible adult does, and drilling weapon safety as the first lesson before they ever learn to point and shoot.

Again, killing is potentially damaging to the human psyche at any age, even when we know that the person who is being killed is objectively “bad”, an enemy, or we feel they deserved it. Some people genuinely are fine with it, others aren’t. The difference is in the individual, however these people are all adults. An adult can rationalize killing, they can understand it, and they can make peace with it. A child can’t.

The biggest mistake in fiction is treating children as little adults. Children lack an understanding of permanent consequences, and they cannot rationalize in death in the same way an adult can. They lack the tools to process these complex emotions because their brains are still developing. You can’t treat them like adults because they’re not, and if you do you’ll break them. A broken child or broken adult is too unstable to be a good assassin, much less an elite one.

Even then, killing a “bad person” who “deserves it” is the wrong motivation for an assassin. Assassins kill for money, they kill for country, or they kill because they’re told to. You can get the rogue assassin who has turned on their organization and is seeking redemption as a vigilante, killing the people they think are bad. Still, that’s not how most assassins function and certainly not the ones who survive for extended periods. The organization might hold to some higher principles, but at the end of the day their killing has nothing to do with a moral good. Righteousness from a world of black and white will break someone who must function in shades of gray.

An assassin needs to be able to make the choice of who will die. They must decide how they will die, and if anyone outside of the contract they’ve been given must die. They have to do a lot of groundwork before they ever fire a bullet. They may need to do unsavory things like arrange a kidnapping, or murder the spouse or children of some target’s family. They may be hired to target children. Their job is to identify and create the situation where they can make their kill.

Learning to accept that part of who they are can be difficult if the writer is looking for a way to morally justify their behavior or excuse it. Assassins are, at the end of the day, like every other hired gun.

They’re a hired gun.

Assassin is a nice way to phrase it, but they’re just mercenaries skilled at targeted killing and social engineering. That’s what these kids are in training to be: killers for hire.

-Michi

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I have a character who’s a pacifist yet trained from birth as an assasin. The guilt built up so he stops fighting altogether. But a situation crops up where he has to fight to defend. But he doesn’t want to kill anyone. How to deal? Can he untrain?

He can be a true pacifist and choose not to fight.

Let me be very clear, fighting is a choice. No matter what those reasons are, even when they’re good ones, it is still a choice. There is no such thing as “have to”. It’s “choose to”.

One of my favorite quotes from Babylon 5 episode Point of No Return,

“There is always choice. We say there is no choice only to comfort ourselves
with the decision we have already made. If you understand that, there’s
hope. If not…” – Lady Morella

When you say, “my character is a pacifist but he has decided to fight” then what you’re essentially saying is that, “My character is a pacifist, he believes in peace and non-violent solutions, but only when it’s easy to be one”.

Being a pacifist isn’t easy, it is actually very difficult because it requires using your words, to attempt to deescalate situations, and not fight even when it looks like you’ll probably die. It’s hard to believe in the best of other people, especially when those people want to kill you.

There’s a difference between a character who says, “I won’t fight under any circumstances because I believe violence only begets more violence.” And the character who says, “I don’t fight anymore, but I will if you press me.”

One of these is a pacifist and it’s the former.

See, the thing about pacifism is that it’s a belief system. One that says all violence is unjustifiable, this includes war and, in some cases, even self-defense. You don’t fight because fighting only creates more violence. Disputes must be settled by peaceful means with non-violent solutions. It means refusing to fight, even when you’re being forced to. In some cases dying to defend that ideal.

I’d think long and hard about whether or not you want this character to be a pacifist because writing one is exceedingly difficult. Look at the situation you just posited, a situation crops up where this ex-assassin has to fight in order to defend. You’re attempting to justify him taking a violent action in defense of someone else, like that makes it okay. However, because pacifism is a belief system or an ethical/moral stance, this is him breaking with his belief system and compromising his ideals.

Pacifism isn’t about not killing. It’s about no violence.

None.

Nada.

Zero.

Zilch.

Whether someone dies or not, the violent action itself is the root cause of more violence. Cliche as it is on the surface, your assassin has been in the perfect position to see the effects of violence up close and personal. Violent individuals isn’t something we are, but it predicates on the idea that it’s what we become. Someone who has been bullied is more likely to be bully in turn. A victim of abuse, whether emotional or physical, will often become an abuser and are more likely to than someone who never experienced that violence. The longer and more persistent the experience, the more likely it becomes. This expands to large scale conflicts too. Where a country or civilization that is victimized by violence will turn around and revenge themselves in yet another war.

We can dance back and forth like angels on a pinhead about what violence really means and you’ll find martial arts like Aikido that do split the hair about when is it okay to fight. The entire point behind codes of honor like Chivalry, Bushido, and others is about deciding when violence is socially acceptable and when it is not, about who should be hurt, and who is fair game. It’s a code of behavior that defines how one should interact with the world.

This is why Kenshin from Rurouni Kenshin is not a pacifist, he’s someone who refuses to kill. He’s trying to be, but he will fight to defend himself and fight to defend his friends. He believes that situations should be solved primarily without violence, but will still fight if pressed or to uphold the law. What he’s refusing to be, technically, is a vigilante. He’s refusing to take the law into his own hands or determine who has the right to live and who should die. He’s not a pacifist.

When faced with a situation where they need to defend someone else, the pacifist may interject themselves and use their own body as a shield. They may allow themselves to be beaten up, even though they could fight back. It is the Jesus “turn the other cheek” line.

Pacifism is a concept mocked by the culture at large because not fighting is vastly more difficult than fighting. Because to someone who sees violence as the way of strength, the one who follows the path of peace just looks weak to them.

You should also be careful with pacifism. While the assassin/soldier/blood soaked veteran redemption arc is a powerful one, it’s also one of those great cliches seen everywhere in literature. True redemption arcs don’t work when you woobify a character and attempt to depreciate what they’ve done by saying it wasn’t their fault. It deprives them of their agency, their ability to see their path was wrong and choose to change even though it goes against everything they were taught to believe.

Changing your path only has meaning when you were a believer, when you chose to do what you were doing in the first place.

And a child who has been raised as an assassin, left their compound, and worked as one out in the world for any period of time? They’re a believer.

If they weren’t, then the people who raised and trained them would never let them go.

The Assassin

An assassin is not like a soldier, where they thrust you out into a hectic environment with twenty other guys and say: “go! Kill!”, where it’s hectic and terrifying with guns going off every which way. Where you’re so scared that you’re working on the instincts they trained into you so that you’re not even thinking when you see an enemy moving in the bushes, point your gun, pull the trigger, and end up shooting a small child.

It’s best to think of an assassin as a stalker because, in a lot of ways, they are. The assassin knows their target, does their prep, follows the guy or girl or child to get a beat on their personal habits and where they go to find the exact precise moment where there’s a weakness or hole in their security. Sometimes, there’s a specific way in which the target needs to die or a specific place where their death can make the most impact. The assassin has ample time to think about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and what it’s going to affect.

You’re writing a character who has potentially, quite literally, stood in someone’s kitchen in the middle of the night while their target, their husband/wife, and their children are all upstairs slumbering away. All the while he’s going through their possessions and their trash in order to get a better sense for who this person is with no intention to kill them that night. He’s just there for prep and to get a working layout of their house.

This is someone who has been trained to work alone, be self-sufficient, and who has the skill set to simply ghost off into the long good night. They’d be running for the rest of their life, but they were also never on the grid to begin with.

They can go if they want and it’ll be difficult as hell to track them down.

The assassin can’t work in the world if they don’t understand it, much like the spy, their job is heavily reliant on being able to both blend in and manipulate people into giving them information. It’s more complicated than just show up, point, and click. They need come in with a plan and with a way to extricate themselves from the situation.

We’re talking about someone who is very organized and highly disciplined. The successful ones are anyway.

This isn’t a job that can be done because you “have to” or someone “made me do it” or “it’s all I know”. Those are ultimately just convenient excuses that serve to shift the blame away from the character. There was a level for this character where they did enjoy it, where they believed in it or in the people they worked for,

What makes an Atoner work and the subsequent redemption arc that follows is them owning their guilt. They don’t pass it off onto anyone else. They stand by their beliefs. They have conviction, and they acknowledge that they weren’t a good person. They’re still not.

They’re trying to be.

That’s where the tension is.

It’s what makes an Atoner compelling as a character. The belief that we can ultimately become better is what makes redemption arcs compelling. We can be forgiven. We can become worthy of forgiveness.

The Assassin can lie all they like, about themselves, about who they were, about what they did, they can try to mitigate their own responsibility, and run away from it, but ultimately for a redemption arc to work then they have to stand.

Talking it out is more dangerous and more difficult for someone who has been trained for violence to be their first response. It’s where they want to go first. It’s their primary means of problem solving when they or anyone they are about is really in danger. They’ve got to choke it down. Go against everything they’ve been raised to believe, raised to do, trained to react.

For an actual pacifist, violence represents a complete and utter failure to resolve the situation. For him, fighting is a failure.

It’s him returning to what he knows and there is no nice way to do that. No convenient way, other for him to fight against what he’s been trained to be.

He’s trapped between two starkly opposing opposites, possibly without the communication skills or emotional understanding to really get across what he wants.

The Child

One of the main problem with the whole “raised to be an assassin and kill” trope in literature is that many writers often use it as an easy out for their characters. “They don’t know any better”. “They were taught to be this”. “It’s not their fault”. This ultimately robs a character of their agency and when you rob them of that, then the entire plotline ends up a cliche. More than that, their choice to change has no meaning because a character without agency has no choice. They turn to pacifism because it’s “the right thing to do” and utilizes the writer’s morals/way of seeing the world as the default. All they had to do was be exposed to it and they flipped.

Except, a child who has been raised to be an assassin is one that has been prepared by their society for the world that they’ll encounter outside their compound. What they were taught to believe inside their compound is their definition of normal, their values, their ethics, and their morals.

The world outside isn’t some strange or alien environment that they don’t know how to deal with. They aren’t emotionally stunted. They can interact with other “normal” people because they have to and they’ve been trained to.

Someone who gets taken by their parents to a stranger’s house in the middle of the day while their at work, taught how to break in, go through their things, search their particulars, and leave without a trace isn’t someone who has the same morals and ethics as someone who grew up in a “normal” nuclear family in the suburbs with two cars, a white picket fence, and a dog.

He may actually look at that idea and want that, because the greater surrounding society when he chooses to embrace it says you should want that. He might embrace that in the same way he embraces pacifism because he doesn’t know how to not live in extremes or choose what he wants for himself.

If this character really is turning to pacifism, then that will actually be a constant struggle that may last most of his life. He’ll be fighting his own instincts, and everything he’s been trained to do. Pretending to be a pacifist will be easy, lying to others and even himself because that comes naturally. He’s been trained for that. He’s been pretending for most of his life.

Actually being one will be difficult.

Again, it’s a stark contrast. Not only is it against everything he’s been trained to believe but it’s the polar opposite. Pacifism is weakness, not strength. It is a hard switch to the other end of the spectrum.

Try not to remember that there’s no such thing as “have to”. It’s always “choose to”. Even when your life is in danger, it’s a deciding action. It’s a choice.

What makes redemption stories powerful is that they’re also about choice. Choosing to change is difficult, realizing we were wrong is difficult, stepping back and looking at the situation in a new way is difficult.

-Michi

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How realistic are assassins? Can they be professionals? Is it actually possible to kill a high priority target and get away or do most assassins get caught? Many famous assassins were ones who were caught though; Brutus, Booth, Oswald, Princip.

Every name you listed there was a political fanatic. I don’t mean this to be dismissive, because, that is one kind of assassin, but they’re not professionals.

Those are people who have a political message and were willing to die to get attention. (Oswald’s a little of an edge case there. But, the basic idea stands.) These are people who wanted to send a message. That’s completely different from someone who is paid to kill a target and disappear.

Someone screaming “Sic Simper Tyrannis!” before taking someone’s head off, is a very different breed of killer from the kind that sits in an office building and takes a single shot before vanishing.

We’ve talked about assassins at length before. There’s a classification of types, a further discussion that dips into avoiding detection and discusses the difficulty inherent in actually researching real assassins, and a suggested media list that should also serve as a primer to other things we’ve written on the subject.

To be honest, I’m not sure what else to say on the subject, that we haven’t covered already. Though, we probably should do a piece on the psychology of terrorists and fanatics, but that’ll have to wait for another day.

-Starke

So, today, I had the idea of a professional hitman who would routinely replace the barrel of his gun after a job in an attempt to keep the bullet’s rifling from being matched to his weapon. Would this be viable?

Yes, well, sort of. The ballistics on the bullets would change, but the markings on the spent shell casings wouldn’t. These are things like extractor, firing pin, and ejector all leave unique markings on the shell. This isn’t quite as accurate as bullet striations, but replacing the barrel won’t affect them. To get rid of those you’d basically need to rebuild the gun from scratch each time.

Swapping out weapons would create a situation where, “well, people are getting shot.” Swapping out barrels creates a situation where, “well, there’s this guy who really likes P99s/USPs/whatevers out there shooting people.”

As an investigator, digging through looking for someone who’s chewing through guns like crazy, you’re more likely to find someone who’s just going through the barrels constantly.

With shotguns (loaded with shot shells), there’s no real forensics from the shot, but the shell casing is the forensics. In those cases, swapping out the barrel would be pointless. (There’s a longer discussion on the subject here.)

With high end precision rifles, you can swap out the barrel, but the weapon’s accuracy will suffer for it. If the marketing claims are to be believed, anyway. Which means if you’re character’s a sniper, that’s out.

That wouldn’t matter with a cheap, off the shelf hunting rifle, though, again, replacing it wouldn’t really be that much more expensive.

With automatic weapons, and semi-auto pistols, policing his brass is going to be basically impossible, so the spent shells would expose that it was still the same weapon, even if the barrel was swapped.

Revolvers step around the spent shells issue nicely, since they only eject shells when you empty the cylinder, but you can’t replace their barrels, at least not in most cases. So that’s out.

Also, with some heavier automatic weapons, including LMGs, they actually ship with replacement barrels, because you will overheat them during normal combat use. So this isn’t that strange a concept, really.

Once the ruse is exposed, tying the rounds back to the same shooter in court wouldn’t be that difficult. He’d actually be making the prosecution’s case easier, because forensics with shell casings aren’t as precise, but then he wouldn’t be able to challenge that, “no, the ballistics on the rounds themselves don’t match.”

It’s just safer for your hitman to dispose of used weapons and get a clean one for each job. He might carry a personal backup, that he only uses and replaces in an emergency. But otherwise keeping a weapon around would be a liability. It’s one more thing that ties him back to a corpse, if something goes wrong.

-Starke

I’m trying to make a group of assassins for a story, but I’m somewhat lost in the process. I wanted to know: what would make a well round team for a three-man group of hired killers? Such as, should one person be better at something then the other, does gender change interaction, etc.

This is going to be a little speculative. As I mentioned in the post about types of assassins, this stuff is very hard to get solid information on, so I’m guessing here.

The credible information I’ve read on assassins doesn’t really talk about teams. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t any out there, but at the end of the day it doesn’t take three people to pull a trigger. Now, a support team makes sense to me. You need people who interact with the client, a source of equipment, prep work (which would include research on the target, schedules, means of gaining access, and other intelligence that could be useful). None of this is stuff that would, automatically be something your assassin would involve themselves in. And, when the hammer falls, their ability to disappear is critically important.

Thing is, a lot of these people would, ultimately, be disposable. Think about it: You’ve been hired to kill someone, you need to know where they go in their daily life. You could do it yourself, and after the guy’s dead, you run the risk of someone remembering you were there… or, you could hire four or five people, each one tails your target on specific days and reports to you. Then, after the target’s dead, the chances that anyone will realize, “wait, there were a bunch of different people following the victim” is almost nil.

There are more specialized skill sets that you can’t just pick off the street. If you need a keycard to a construction site, you can’t just grab someone off the street. If you need a fake ID with an actual history and a dead drop inside a guarded fundraiser, you’re probably not going to be able to use the same guy who got you that keycard. You would need specialists, but not the same person.

Also, long term interaction with someone in criminal enterprise (any long term interaction) is a risk. One of the big things with these top tier assassins is avoiding risks. If you’re working with someone for twelve years, there’s a permanent risk that one day they’ll turn on you, for whatever reason. But, if it’s some random surveillance tech you hired for a job, the risk they pose is much lower.

The professional hits we know about tend to be from snipers. This makes sense, long range precision shooting is a relatively safe way to eliminate someone, and in an urban environment, you have all the time you’d need to clean up your area before you wander off. Also, it’s a really blatant way of killing someone, there’s no question, it’s not just a murder, this was an assassination.

This leaves a question, do these guys also engage in frame executions, staging suicides, or arranging accidents. Killing someone as part of a string of unrelated murders is an old literary trick, but it is a valid tactic if you don’t mind collateral damage. Then, while the police are trying to tie the victims together, the assassin can just wander off.

Street level executions are incredibly hard to pin down, fact is, with most homicide investigations, if there’s no connection between the killer and the victim, and the killer doesn’t leave any blatant evidence, it is almost impossible for police to identify a suspect. This is actually what distinguishes a lot of unsuccessful hitmen from the professional assassins. The amateurs tend to take jobs close to home, making it fairly likely they have some connection to the victim, while the professionals are outsiders that arrive, kill, and leave.

Arranging accidents, is another classic literary trick, the murder that looks like a fatal fluke of circumstances. I’ve never seen anything concrete on these actually happening, but as the article I liked a couple days ago pointed out, it’s almost impossible to prove it doesn’t happen. Even something as simple and blatant as a hit and run. It doesn’t have the, “this was an assassination” plastered all over it in 30.06 shell casings, so, odds are, it will never be tied back to the assassin.

It’s probable that assassins have people they work with, representatives and contacts, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call that a team. But, again, this is speculation on my part, and I really could be wrong here.

If your assassin is part of a government sanctioned operations team, then most of that goes out the window. They would be working with a tightly knit team of operatives, but they’d also have a larger resource base to call on. Their legends would be professionally crafted by whatever agency the worked for, not a convenient forger that could get the job done. Their access to critical intelligence and locations would be handled by actual intelligence officers. Even if they’re alone in the field, they’d still be in contact with their chain of command.

Does gender matter? We don’t know of a lot of female assassins, which suggests that the ones who are out there are incredibly good at their jobs. Also, would you really want to get mouthy at someone that kills people for a living, regardless of their gender? This does end up as a general question about who your characters are, and not a training or background question.

As before, I recommend looking at Michael Mann’s crime films, particularly Heat and Collateral. Then, watch them again with the director’s cometary turned on. Mann has done his homework, and you will learn more about professional criminals than you probably wanted to.

-Starke