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I'm writing a short story. In it, someone hires a professional assassin to kill a young woman. While the killer is investigating his target he unknowingly starts having feelings for her but he only realizes it after he pulls the trigger.

What I want to do is describe the descent of the main character, from being distant to having a breakdown step by step - but I don't want it to feel too sudden. What I'm afraid of doing wrong is that the moment I start showing details inside the killers head, it feels like he goes from cold killer to lovestruck bird instantly, which is not what I want.

How can I portray a shift like this? Is there a name for this technique? Are there any examples of this done correctly?

Below is my story for reference.

I'm sorry we didn't meet under other circumstances.

The trigger that ended your life was pulled the moment I signed the contract. I don't know why someone would want you dead but it didn't matter.

It doesn't matter.

What matters is that the job is done. I took it and completed it. This is usually the part where I leave the stage and destroy any equipment. Yet here I am. Over your body, looking at you, waiting for you to speak to me. Almost like you are about to get up with your messy hair and puffy eyes so can go brush your teeth with your orange toothbrush.

I'll never use a telescope again. The telescope brings you closer than it has to. I see all the details of your face without the awkwardness. Almost close enough to have your hair tickle my face. If I focus well enough I can almost read your lips murmuring songs while you wait at the bus stop.

A scope is much more appropriate for such use. The crosshairs make sure a target remains just that: A target. Unfortunately I just realised you became something more. A person. Peaceful, on a pillow drowned in rose petals. Almost smiling, like in a pleasant dream.

I knew I shouldn't get close. I still don't know why I had to be inside your room to do this. Maybe it was curiosity, maybe intrigue. Maybe I wanted to know about whether your room smells of choc-chip cookies shampoo. Not quite, but close enough. At least that's from how much I managed to smell before my nostrils got choked.

Maybe it's not too late. I know you will soon wake up, and while scared you won't scream. Please don't scream and give me a chance to meet me. We'll escape from this together and will be far away before anyone figures it out. We'll live together, away from this hellhole. You will wake up. You will wake up.

You will wake up.

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  • Hi, and welcome to Writers. Requests for critique are off-topic for us. Please take our tour and see our help center writers.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic to see what kinds of questions we answer. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Oct 2 '16 at 22:22
  • Thank you, should I delete this then? – Loupax Oct 3 '16 at 4:08
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    @Loupax: Or you could edit, asking for focused critique. While general "please criticize" is off-topic here, you may request specific, focused critique of e.g. "does this convey [message] clearly?" "Does the [literary device] I used achieve [specific goal] as intended?". – SF. Oct 3 '16 at 8:51
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    After deleting and undeleting this question a number of times, I think I finally got it. I have a very specific question that can be used by other people of the community as well, hope it can work as stackexchange material now :) – Loupax Oct 5 '16 at 17:31
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    @Loupax You may want to try and understand the mind of a real contract killer. There is a documentary film about a Mexican contract killer who has killed hundreds for Mexican drug cartels. The documentary is en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Sicario,_Room_164 It is currently online for another five days in French and German here: arte.tv/guide/de/042581-000-A/der-auftragskiller-zimmer-164 You can see it in Spanish with Dutch subtitles on YouTube: youtube.com/watch?v=FrHV-hnjDMg I couldn't find an English version, but maybe you can. – user5645 Oct 5 '16 at 18:37
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Falling in love has the quality that you are often not fully conscious of it while it is happening. The moment where you articulate to yourself that you are in love with someone can often come as a surprise to you. (It is a common enough trope in movies and books that the best friend has to explain to the protagonist that what they are feeling is love.)

This all fits in well enough with your plan. But it becomes much more difficult when you write in the first person stream of consciousness style because first person narrative consists of the protagonist articulating their thoughts to the reader. How do you show the reader the signs of an emotions the hero has not yet articulated when you are recording the articulated thoughts of the hero?

Changing to a style in which the first person narrator reports their actions rather than their thoughts, or to a third person narrator, would give you more room to establish the telltale signs of falling in love.

But I think there is a second problem that you need to address. Contract killers are generally sociopaths (in literature and in life) and sociopaths don't fall in love. If you establish your character as a sociopath, then the revelation that they have fallen in love undermines that characterization. That transition will feel sudden because you have essentially thrown out the old character and replaced it with a new.

The standard literary approach to the killer-turned-lover story, therefore, is to establish through the story why someone who is not a sociopath has become a killer. (Generally this involves brainwashing by some secret organization who exploits some childhood trauma to dehumanize their assassin in training.) The story then becomes a redemption story in which this conditioning is overcome, enabling the killer to fall in love like a normal human being.

In other words, in order to portray a convincing transformation from killer to lover, you first need to establish how they went from lover to killer. Maybe you can do that in a stream of consciousness narration, but if not, I would suggest trying a different narrative technique to see if it works better for you.

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  • I agree with a lot of your points here. I was thinking of not putting the "this killer is not as cold blooded as he should be" because I believed it would be implied; It is clear that he is not a sociopath. But because I think this isn't completely clear, but also don't want to make the story much bigger, I'm thinking of changing his occupation. A soldier at a time of war perhaps – Loupax Oct 10 '16 at 21:00

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