Tag Archives: assassins

Hey! I’m having a slight problem atm and I’d love your opinion on it. My story is set in an medieval-ish AU and I’ve got a character who acts like a knight (protecting the MC who is something equivalent to royalty) and she has to attend this party. I was thinking of her wearing a dress over her armor but after a bit of research I found that’s probably not possible. Is there something she could wear underneath that would still protect her a bit if she suddenly needed to go into battle? (1)

(2) or would it be something I should avoid? I originally planned the the scene on the fact she would be able to rip off her dress when an assassin comes to kill the MC. But I understand if it’s a) not possible or b) isn’t going to work well/be believable. Thanks!~
Honestly, if she’s actually acting as a bodyguard in a setting where it’s acceptable for noblewomen to take up arms then she has no reason to bother with a dress. She’s just going to go in her fancy dress uniform/armor. If she’s a noble who needs to maintain their own position, then she might go in a dress. Either way, if your MC is royalty she should have a palace full of guards and a full retinue in uniform to guard her at any event. The point of a knight is not to be incognito, you put them front and center so you can say: “I have this, don’t attack me”. In full regalia and armed to the teeth, knights are intimidating. If a knight is out of their armor and at a party, they’re probably not working as carrying weapons could be considered rude to their host. The point of trying to assassinate someone at a party is that the guests will be unarmed. It’s an act of trust. Your character carrying hidden weapons is a breach of that trust.
Dresses are expensive and valuable. That dress is handmade, the product of months of fittings, pricked fingers, and energy on top of the materials. This isn’t a garment you pick up off the racks at Macy’s. This is specially made and designed for this character. It’s unique. While a dressmaker may have made the dress, it’s also possible the character’s maid did. Don’t hurt the dress. I’m sure a decently proficient character can design one that your character can fight in if she really has to, complete with hidden pockets and split skirts. (Reference Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness Quartet and Protector of the Small, pay special attention to Kel’s maid Lalasa.) Ripping the dress off (if she even could, have you ever tried to tear clothing?) is an incredibly brattish thing to do and spitting on months of someone’s hard work.
Servants are people too.
If your knight isn’t a noble (and the setting is the kind of place where she can still hold rank without lineage), someone bought and paid for that dress for her. It may be the nicest non-combat oriented clothing she owns with the rest of her salary going to gear (the full variety of weaponry, armor, feeding and stabling the warhorse).
Now, let’s talk about this assassination attempt.
When it comes to assassination of important figures, you’ve got several options. We’ve talked a fair amount about assassins on this blog and why characters attempt them. However, nobles and royals are incredibly important and well-protected people. Assassinating them is actually very difficult and if one tries, they intend to succeed because they aren’t likely to get a second chance. However, the sort of Hollywood ninja-esque, break into a castle wearing a white hoodie with a giant knife strapped to their wrist with intent to take on 50 to 60 guards on the way to their target just isn’t it. Again, the point of an assassination is to succeed and, most importantly, not get caught.
The Medici Family: the assault, murder, and attempted murder of Lorenzo and Giuliano de’Medici is perhaps the most famous and infamous attempted assassination during the Renaissance. Ambushed in the Florence Cathedral by their political rivals the Pazzi, Giuliano de’Medici was murdered in front of a crowd of 10,000. Lorenzo barely escaped. The goal of the Pazzi was to attack in a place considered sacrosanct (a church) and cause a riot so their enemies could not escape. Pick a place where an attack is unexpected and an enemy cannot control all the variables.
This is why all assassinations of U.S. Presidents have happened outside the White House, in places where security could not control the area. The attempted assassination of President Bartlett in the finale of Season 1 of The West Wing is an excellent example of how difficult it is to take down someone so well protected but also how it can be done.
The Red Wedding: Yeah, yeah, spoiler alert. (Not like the above isn’t a spoiler…) The Red Wedding is actually an example of a tried and true, and bloody, assassination method which is: bring them to your turf or someone else’s under the guise of friendship and kill them all. This is the wipe them all out method, so there will be no one left to take revenge.
This is why the wrist clasp, the handshake, and even the hug are a common greeting, they’re a hidden weapon/armor check.
Subtlety, Stealth, Poison: Poison is such a common method of assassination that most royals will have an official taste tester as a simple precaution, even if they trust their nobles. However, there are places where a taste tester may not be present such as at a party where a poisoner might not be able to get their poison to it’s intended target unless they’re right next to them.
Which means, they need to be right next to them. Taking on the guise of a servant but more likely a party guest, the assassin attends the party and ingratiates themselves with their target. The assassin will choose a guise and personality that their target finds most aesthetically appealing and least threatening, it can be sexual but it can also be friendly. The assassin will approach and attack via whatever their personal blind spot is, this allows them to get close to their target, convinces their target to trust them, and then they strike.
This is why women, historically, have been the best and most successful assassins.
However, if you’re wanting a straight up fight where the character can test their mettle in combat, the Medici or the Red Wedding is the way to go. The classical antagonist assassin is all about testing loyalty, trust, and friendship in the personal sense as opposed to physical one. Assassins don’t do well in straight up fights, they can but it’s not where their strengths lie. They’ll fight with intention to escape or they’ll try to finish their mission and die in the process. Assassins are about deception, betrayal, and manipulation. These can be great things to throw at a noble knight because that’s usually their literary weak point, but if it’s not what you want, don’t go there.
However, an assassination attempt is a major thread which should be set up throughout the book. The Medici and the Red Wedding set ups are best as inciting incidents (the royals family is betrayed, murdered, MC is the only survivor pulled from the fray by a trusted guard) or as a climax (MC will finally be crowned queen, but the main villain hasn’t been defeated yet. On her way to the coronation ceremony, he launches a surprise assault in the middle of the crowded city square as a last ditch effort to cement his rule.)
The single assassin is best as an early to mid-point plot thread, where one character is convinced something is wrong while the other is blindsided by the hottie with a body. Or, they’re there the whole time as the scheming love interest. That works too.
I don’t know if that helps, but I hope so.

In my story, there are three orphans who mostly grew up on the streets. They were taken in when they were young teens and forced to learn how to fight like assassins for about four years, but then they escaped. They were well-nourished in their early years (ages 1-6) and during the years they were being trained (ages 12-16). What I want to know is how will being malnourished now (they’re all 18-19 yrs old) influence their fighting ability? Mental state? Era is ~1800’s…

Well, stop me if this list starts to sound familiar, but: lethargy, reduced healing, difficulty concentrating, difficulty fighting off infections, irritability, difficulty staying warm.

If they were malnourished between 6 and 12, then there’s going to be some seriously stunted growth, but we’re also talking about an era when that wasn’t incredibly uncommon. And, before you ask, no, I don’t know exactly how stunted.

Some cognitive impairment, basically, you can’t make a brain without feeding it something. We’re talking reduced intelligence, increased risk for some learning disorders, social difficulties, difficulty with problem solving and memory problems.

Finally, it would have resulted in an impaired immune system. Which means they’d be more vulnerable to infection and illness. And of course, if they’re malnourished later, they’ll have more difficulty fighting off the infections their immune system can’t protect them from in the first place.

Also, you can’t fix this stuff by feeding them later. Once someone starts missing developmental milestones due to lack of food, they will never “catch up.”

Honestly, none of this really strikes me as assassin material.

Taking kids off the street and forcing them to be assassins doesn’t really play for me. We’re talking about an era when your character would probably have no difficulty taking them off the street by offering them food. Training in anything would be a perk, to them. Ethics and morality, be damned.


So, in my novel, an Interpol agent is tracking a murderer who has killed in many different countries. Should they notify everyone or should they act secretly? And what is stealthier, a silenced pistol, a knife or a silenced sniper rifle?

Okay, so a lot of media screws this one up. Interpol is a just an advisory agency. Today it’s a part of the UN, though the organization actually dates back to the 1920s (as the International Criminal Police Commission).

They have no actual law enforcement powers of their own, and they have no direct involvement in criminal investigations. Interpol agents pass information to governments and function as administrative liaisons between national law enforcement agencies.

Today, Interpol is mostly just the curator of multinational databases, including things like: fugitive warrants, arrests, fingerprints, and general crime statistics. Interpol Agents are more likely to be tasked with assisting local police in actually having access to, and being able to use those databases, than being asked to consult on specific crimes.

If you’re doing sociological analysis of criminal trends, they’re actually a fantastic source, but, they don’t actually do anything.

They’re not spies, they don’t hunt down criminals across national borders, showing up at crime scenes unannounced. They push paper around. That isn’t to say their services aren’t useful, but they’re not some kind of transnational FBI agent.

Further, Interpol does adhere to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which pretty quickly takes out your “covert assassin” concept at the knees.

If your character is a spy, an Interpol Agent would actually be a pretty terrible cover, unless the intent is just to bug a police detective’s office, get out, and disappear. It’s not a cover they can take into the field, doesn’t provide much freedom of action, and Interpol won’t authenticate it.

On the question of stealthy weapons, one of those things doesn’t depend on an explosion to function. Which will make it much quieter. But ultimately this is a “right tool for the right job” kind of situation.

Remember, in Europe, tight gun control is the norm. If your character is caught by local law enforcement with a suppressed weapon, that’s probably going to be serious jail time. I’m not sure what the fallout from an Interpol Agent going off and operating as a vigilante would be, but the scandal would almost certainly massive.

If your character is going the spy route, The Bourne Identity might be worth reading. Even if you’ve seen the film, dig up a copy. It’s not a fantastic book, but there’s a lot of basic tradecraft in there.

If you’re willing to dig through RPG systems, AEG’s Spycraft core books can work as a basic primer for writing espionage themed fiction, including what you’re describing. The core books are somewhat agnostic on the martini/stale beer spectrum, but, they do specifically provide information for stories of both varieties.


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.


Hi! I apologize in advance if this isn’t the right place to ask this kind of question, but I read through a couple of your tags and you seemed to be answering quite a bit of stuff about the psychology connected to fighting, so… I’m trying to write a fanfic for a story where I feel the author really didn’t do his research on the fighting/training. There’s one thing in particular that’s been bugging me; (continued in 2)

(2) He has one of those Super Elite Secret Ninja organizations, and it’s claimed that they are raised together in pairs ‘like brothers’ and then suddenly forced to fight to the death when they’re – I’d guess around 14. This is supposedly to ‘kill their emotions’; it’s claimed that after that they don’t have emotions and are obedient to their leader. I… have a feeling that it wouldn’t work that way, but I don’t know much, so I wanted to check it against somebody more knowledgable.

You’re right, it doesn’t work that way.

The mistake the original author made is one that is very common. I’m going to use a historical example, the Spartans are generally used when writing these kinds of stories because their training methods for preparing children are more brutal than, say, the Vikings. (Brutality doesn’t necessarily make for a better warrior.) Often cited is this one:

The Spartans would take their boys and place them in special camps, they would purposefully limit the amount of food given to the trainees. In order to survive, the children were forced to steal. If the children were caught, they were beaten within an inch of their life.

Many authors look at this concept and assume that the brutality was the lesson. The idea is basically: “looking at this shocked my emotions into shutting down, that must be the goal of the training exercise” and they don’t take it further. But, brutality is only a tool. The goal of the Spartan training method was to teach the idea of consequences. The children were expected to steal food and they weren’t doing anything wrong, what they were being punished for was being caught stealing. Those that succeeded at successfully stealing food without being caught were not punished, they were rewarded. The extra food allowed them to become stronger, better, and more capable of keeping up with their training. The ones who failed at stealing food or sneakily fighting the others for it died.

When you encounter these sorts of methods, you have to look past the brutality to the inherent concept of what the lesson is there to teach. It’s best not to discard these lessons as lesser or bad simply because they are unpalatable. If you understand what the lessons are there to teach, then you will understand the kind of person the training is creating.

The concept of “two enter and one leaves” is actually a common practice among highly elite/specialized military units. The Army Rangers engage in this practice (though their fights aren’t to the death) and so do many others. The goal of this though isn’t to “kill the emotions”, it’s to generate an intense feeling of loyalty to the leadership by the participants proving their dedication. Loyalty does not equal obedience, you need emotions for loyalty.

Pause, stop looking at the killing and think about what the roommate really represents to the character in question. They are their closest companion, their confidant, their battle buddy. They may have been the character’s source of support, the one who helped carry them through their training. When the characters dreamed of joining the organization, it was always with the idea that their friend would be by their side. The roommate is more important than family, more important than friendship. This is a bond that connects to the deepest part of the protagonists soul.

This is who he is being asked to kill.

The character killing his roommate is him proving how much he wants to join the brotherhood. The goal of the lesson is to show that there is no emotional connection more important than the ideals of the brotherhood. Killing his roommate ensures that he will consistently place his loyalty to this organization above any bonds of friendship or love with any single individual he meets later in his life. Essentially, the goal is to create an incorruptible fanatic who will remain utterly devoted to the ideal of the organization long after the organization itself is ashes and rubble.

The goal of the organization is not to kill off his emotions or even his ability to connect with other people. It’s an act of embracing the ideals of the organization over any individual person. He is devoted to a higher cause, whether that cause is a person or a greater system of belief.

A good personality to look at for this kind of behavior would be Kir Kanos from Crimson Empire, who remains a devoted servant of the Emperor and hunting for vengeance long after the Guard has been destroyed and the Emperor dies. Even when he does develop a relationship with a member of the Rebellion, it can’t override his devotion to revenge. He’s notable for remaining loyal to the ideals of the Empire, not the individuals and throughout the comic’s run hunts down those Imperial betrayers who are seeking to use the Empire for their own gain. The training sequences are worth looking at.

However, this will really only work with mature young adults in their late teens (18-19) at the earliest. The reason for this is this level of psychological manipulation requires an emotionally mature mind capable of comprehending what is being asked to do. To build the best, most devoted warriors, you need your warriors to make the decision that this is what they want. It’s not about having the best warrior, if they’ve survived this far into training then they are among the best. It’s about who wants it most, who is willing to fight the hardest, you want the one who wants to be in. These sorts or death matches are really about characters embracing their commitment to the cause. The individuals, friends, family, the people you trust do not matter, the ideal is all that matters. In particular, killing a roommate is teaching the lesson: “One day, you may be asked to kill your brother to protect the ideal, to rid us of corruption. Can you? Prove it.”

It’s easy to assume that this is about creating an emotionless killing machine, but it’s not. It’s about creating a fanatic. If this is starting to sound an awful lot like fundamentalist religious cults, then congrats! This is very similar to the psychology cults use to ensnare members.

A child, even in their early teens, can’t fully make those decisions. 14 is too young to have them killing their friends. Introducing death into the equation there is an excellent way to create shock troopers/child soldiers/suicide bombers, because the authority doesn’t care about ensuring their emotional stability. The kids are prepped with the idea of their own immortality, but they are being sent in to die. They aren’t expected to live long and they don’t need to understand.

Your Elite Ninja School is looking for a long term investment. I’d suggest looking into Military Academies/Boot Camps/The Boy Scouts if you’re going to rewrite (or just write for yourself) the childhoods for these characters. These characters are going to be raised with the idea that they are valued, important, and special. Their training will be hard, but they are part of the elite. The select few. They will trust in their authority figures and, later, they will kill for them.

A person who understands what they are being asked to do and chooses to participate is far more valuable than one who has to be tricked into it. They are also much harder to corrupt and the personal sacrifices they make strengthen their commitment.

If you change it, then change it so that killing the roommate happens as part of the graduation exam, make it the final challenge. You can also start introducing death as part of training accidents earlier at around 16/17 by making training more dangerous (adding in training with real weapons for example). One of my favorites from Crimson Empire was Vader coming in during the middle point of their training and killing the best in the class as a lesson to the others. It’s important to keep in mind that every trainee is expendable, even the most talented. Killing the best reminds the students that there are always more dangerous opponents and will spur them to work harder. After all, if that guy died then anyone could.

I hope that helps.


A fight is one of the quickest ways to tell if someone isn’t who they say they are. If you say you’re Russian, but fight like an American, you can consider your cover blown. Which means you’d better know Sambo, the mixed martial art of Russia. Of course, then you also have to win the fight. A great cover I.D. Doesn’t help much if you’re dead.

Michael Westen, Burn Notice 204 “Comrades”

Writing Examples: Sizing Up Opponents (Assassins)

Description is important. It’s important for all the reasons we usually think of when we’re writing, from making our settings come alive to fleshing out other characters. However, observations made by a character are also important to telling the audience about that character. It’s an insight into how they think and what they notice in the world around them. However – while this works as a basis for most characters – when working with a trained combatant, or even a fighter, we need to take it a step further. What a trained combatant sees and relays to the reader can be an important tip off, not just to who they are, but what they’ve been trained to do and what kind of combatant they are. It’s also a good indication that they are actively participating and this can lend a sense of danger to an environment. If you’re good at it, it may help the reader come to view the world in a way that they hadn’t considered before.

All these things are important to selling a professional operative, but they are necessary when working with an assassin.  Well, they are if you want the assassin taken seriously. Below, we’ll talk about how to do that.

If you have a character who is supposed to be an excellent assassin then they should probably be thinking about killing people. You know the line: “be professional, be polite, and have a plan to kill everyone you meet”? Well, your assassin should literally be in the middle of planning or beginning to plot to kill everyone they meet, even if they aren’t intending to murder them. The more adept your assassin is then the more obvious disconnect between the way they behave towards others and what they are thinking about doing to them should be to the reader.

Assassins plot to kill people in the same way that spies constantly tell lies. It’s as easy as breathing and they do it to stay in practice. A well executed assassination is all about the prep work: getting to know the target’s habits, observing them in their native or non-native environment, finding the weaknesses in their protection, determining what they love, and where they are going to be most vulnerable. This can actually be very helpful to writing an assassin because the assassin must be constantly on the move, constantly out in tense situations, and working hard manipulating key assets to get what they need to do their job.

They do not want people to know who they are. The more people who know and the more they broadcast their nature then the more likely it is that someone will track them down or recognize them when they are on a job. Assassins work covertly, if your assassin is famous then it’s likely that people on the street, the criminal element, and other assassins will prioritize eliminating them. When an assassin reveals their nature or has their nature revealed then they lose their advantage.

Personality Traits:

Good assassins are patient, skilled at social manipulation (including seduction), are excellent actors, have great social and situational awareness, and they are very observant. They are also meticulous and methodical.

What an assassin is looking for:

Use and abuse is an assassin’s mantra. They are looking for assets who can provide information on their target, they may manipulate these assets for information about their target or even convince them to follow or find their target for them. So, when an assassin is assessing a person or an environment they are looking for traits and quirks that will provide them with an advantage or be potentially dangerous to them. That assessment may come from what the character is wearing, their looks, how they stand, and thousands of other things


In this setup, I’m going to borrow a situation from Sarah J. Mass’ Throne of Glass with a twist: eight assassins are called to the King’s palace to compete in a competition for the cushiest and most boring job of all time. The winner will become the King’s Assassin, a warrior of such renown that all they can do is distract the King’s political enemies while the real work gets done and provide the Ladies of the Court with more reasons to swoon. In this example, our brave heroine Kayla will be sizing up her first target, the effervescent playboy that, for the sake of this exercise, we’ll call Number Five (also Pretty Boy).

It was easy to see why Number Five had been picked. He was very pretty and stood with a courtier’s grace. He had an aquiline nose, a tall forehead that disappeared into his chestnut hairline, wide set hazel eyes that languidly surveyed the room, and, of course, pouty lips. It was the sort of visage any girl or boy in court might swoon for and the kind that could be considered aesthetically pleasing to those who did not find him attractive. In his face, he had cultivated the appearance of likeability. Under his clothes, it was probably another story.  His finery stretched the length of his body, soft calf-skin boots, tight cream pants, and a decorated over shirt with wide sleeves that ran the length of his arm. When he moved, she caught the vague impression of wrist sheathes just behind the tapered cuffs embroidered in gold thread.

There were no knives in those sheathes –like her poison ring, Pretty Boy could not have gotten knives, enchanted or otherwise, past the King’s Guard or the Magical Alarm – he simply wore them to make an impression. Perhaps his intent was to lend the appropriate air of danger? Yes, Kayla thought as she lifted a glass off a passing tray, this was a man who would seduce the servants first and that could be a problem for her. She lifted the glass to her lips, fluttering her eyelashes coquettishly at no one in particular. Tilting the amber liquid toward her mouth, she held her breath and pretended to sip. Her lips did not touch the rim. If she had to guess from the way his eyes followed the bustles of passing females, he would choose the women first. It could make him useful. If he proved to be a cad, then he would drive potential sources among the servants to her. Shared hatred was a wonderful access point when looking to make new friends. If he’s not…

Then, she had found her first target. Kayla lifted the thin stem of her glass to Pretty Boy and the corners of his tightened in return.

Game on.

You can do a lot of things with your assassins and, as always, this is just an example.