Writing the Likable Assassin
VICIOUS CIRCLE was my first published novel, first in 2015 from Torquere Press, and then re-released in January 2020, from Dreamspinner Publications.
I have always had a fascination with difficult-to-like main characters. All my protagonists struggle with themselves for a variety of reasons: their morally questionable jobs, their horrible childhoods, a need to be perfect, a desire to project invincibility at all times, a belief they are unlovable, trust issues, lost memories, severe injuries and other traumas. Then I have to find them the one person in the universe who can get past all that and love them, truly and deeply, for whomever they are. Oftentimes, the persona projected on the outside is very, very different from the real person on the inside.
Cor Sandros, from VICIOUS CIRCLE, was a particular challenge for several reasons. For one thing, she was my first protagonist to get a romance. I’d never written romance before, even as a subplot, though I’d read a number of them.
Second, Cor is an assassin. I had to find a way to make an assassin a viable romantic partner and someone with whom readers could identify or at least sympathize. Without too many spoilers, Cor has a very difficult childhood. She’s suffered through many traumatic experiences. She’s been betrayed by those she loved, so trust is extremely difficult for her. She has every reason to be evil, but she is most definitely not.
Cor is a heart-of-gold assassin. She belongs to a guild dedicated to eliminating the worst of mankind to better the lives of the rest of humanity. Every contract is carefully examined, investigated, and vetted before being accepted and signed. Despite all that, Cor still sometimes wrangles with guilt. It’s killing, even if she thinks it’s deserved, and who is she to decide? And what if the Assassins Guild makes a mistake in judgment?
To do what she does, Cor must maintain an emotionless façade, an impenetrable shell allowing herself few friends and fewer lovers. Toss in an addiction to painkillers after a crippling injury and you’ve got a very difficult protagonist indeed. How to make a character like this approachable?
To start, I realized I had to go with writing in first person point-of-view. Only by gaining insight into Cor’s inner thoughts, dreams, and desires, her perception of herself as flawed, her loneliness and longings, could I hope to help readers understand her perspective and identify with her on some emotional level. You have to really see and hear her to get her. Or you have to see her through the eyes of someone who loves her, who has broken through the shell to get to the passionate and caring person beneath.
Enter Kila, a pacifist. Because what sort of romantic interest character would be the absolute most difficult person to pair with an assassin? Someone who abhors violence and especially killing, that’s who. But through Kila’s eyes, the reader sees the inner Cor, the person Cor could have been if she hadn’t joined the guild, and Cor begins to see that person in herself as well.
I also had to create Cor’s entire backstory. Why is she the way she is? Why would she choose a violent profession? I had to show her as a survivor of those she would later hunt down and eliminate. I had to show why she believes that sometimes killing someone is the only way to be certain they stop. But I also had to balance that with an understanding that some people could be redeemed. And I had to give Cor the insight to know one from the other to the best of her ability and realize that she couldn’t always be right.
I had to make her fallible, had to make her know she’s fallible. She knows she will make fatal mistakes. And I had to make her live with that.
I’m sure there are readers who will never get past the violence of Cor’s career choice, but hopefully by understanding why she does what she does and what made her the person she’s become, most will make that connection to the character.
I hope you’ll like Cor as much as I do.
BLURB: Assassin meets innocent.
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