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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - A Hitman Hitwoman

This week features a science fiction/action character created by Angela. Her character is Alaura*, an orphan who witnessed her mother's violent murder when she was 4 or 5. At age 8, the orphanage caretaker began to engage her in molestation. He liked it rough and would get very angry if Alaura cried or showed signs of pain. Alaura endured for several years before she hid a knife in the sheets and murdered him. The other orphans helped cover up the crime and Alaura moved on to become a hitman for a criminal organization. She feels that nothing she does can make her any more "unclean" than she already is. She thinks she's damaged goods and irredeemable.

Interesting quirks about Alaura: she's fixated with blood: it's patterns, color, taste, and consistency. She can find enjoyment in killing if the victim is "bad" in her mind. She has masochistic (enjoyment of pain) tendencies which really flare up when she's hurt or wounded during fights. She also has recurring nightmares where a "demonic" version of herself attacks or comforts her. She mimics this version of herself by tattoos and body modifications.

Angela wants to know: Does it make sense for a character to have as many psychological fixations as Aurora does? Does her mentality as a survivor of abuse justify her criminal behavior?

From reading your detailed sketch, I don't think you've got too many psychological problems wrapped up in this character. You do, however, have some serious issues that you've given her.

Childhood abuse can lend itself to serious mental and physical consequences for the victim. It very well could make a person unstable enough to murder their abuser, as you've had Alaura do. I'd probably include a flashback scene to that murder (depending on when you start the story) and really show how her fixation on blood got started. Maybe she killed the guy and was fascinated at how the blood soaked into the sheets like kitchen yuck onto a Bounty towel in a commercial. His blood flowing out might have been freedom or power infusing her own veins. No doubt that was a critical moment in time for her development.

She'd feel justified in this kill since he was hurting her. This justification could for sure translate to other victims if they were "bad," but I'd never say that her mentality as a survivor of sexual abuse justifies her criminal behavior. That's a slippery slope I wouldn't want to get on. Nothing justifies murder. (Although I'm sure someone, somewhere would get into a debate over this.)

The part that has me concerned is how connected do you want the reader to be to this woman's plight? You've given her some characteristics that are disturbing, such as the fixation on blood, masochism, and enjoyment in killing. I can only assume with the enjoyment comes no feeling of remorse, and that's a scary trait found in most antisocial serial killers, psychopaths, etc.

You mentioned that you didn't want her to think she's redeemable, so she would figure, "What do I have to lose?" That's a different mindset from a psychopath, for sure, because they don't see the value in human life the way a normal person does. Alaura probably values human life, but her job is to take it, which leaves the reader wondering what need is being fed by her occupation to put her in such a quandary. There's dynamic tension there, but why?

Maybe a crucial question to ask would be how she got into the hitman business. Does she just have the stomach for it (with the whole blood fixation and thinking its cool)? Does she have a knack of going undercover to be what the victim needs her to be before offing them? (Kinda reminiscent of how she took it from the orphanage caretaker for so long before killing him.... learning not to cry out in pain, etc.) What's the ultimate reason behind her doing her job?

I'm reminded of the action movie Wanted with Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman. They were in a "fraternity of assassins" and they killed people whose name popped up in cloth (which is weird, but go with it). They ruthlessly killed, and felt no remorse, mainly because they believed in Fate. Fate would direct them to kill the right people, people who might go on in life to kill others. The good of the many versus the death of one. Something like that. They were able to kill because they believed they were doing the right thing (until it all blows up at the end and they come to find out that all of the assassins names had come up in the cloth, yada yada). If we thought they were just killing for the heck of it, we might not have appreciated the story as much. It would have just been a bunch of pointless gore.

Maybe her being a hitman should have something to do with the vague memory of her mother's violent crime that she witnessed. I think you should revisit this early childhood memory at some point, because things do remain latent in a person's memory like that. That motivation would at least be forgivable by readers...they'd understand that she's seeking revenge, or to seek recompense for her mother's death one death at a time until she gets to the right person. We can at least understand why then. (Oh, and FYI...while she might not remember the actual event, she might retain a sense of anxiety or apprehension around a certain type of man, who she might later find out resembles the killer. Just something to consider.)

Is it possible that she's become a criminal because she was criminalized (although I don't think this justifies it, but I said that before)? Kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy? The man abused her, made her think that's all she was good for, so she just likely falls in with a criminal gang/group of people and does what they do. Perhaps it never feels natural to her, but it's all she knows? Or what if they are "abusing" her by threatening her to do their dirty work for her? Does she have to find any pleasure in it?

To redeem her, I'd give her a very soft spot somewhere. You don't want the reader thinking she's lost her humanity even when she may think she has. Maybe she takes care of a baby rabbit or cat. Maybe there is a street urchin she goes out of her way to feed or protect. And maybe that little street urchin ends up saving her life someway (either literally or metaphorically) because she invested time and love into him, perhaps not even knowing what it was she was doing.

All food for thought. :) Interesting assessment, although I'm not sure I've met my end of the bargain. If I missed something crucial, please let me know in the comment section.

IMPORTANT: If you missed my announcement yesterday that you can pick my brain without writing in with a character sketch, click here or just scroll down.

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Angela R. Sasser said...

Thanks very much, Jeannie! I think you've hit the nail on the head as to why 'Alaura' is even a character I want to write about, especially in the dynamic tension between still having a seed of humanity and being dangerously close to a psychopath. I was especially worried about being too tame or being too severe, insofar as how she came to be in the state of mind that she's in.

You've given me some great advice to think about as far as scenes that are worth relating to a reader to understand her mentality (especially with her story still in the planning phases) and also much to think about for her motivations. Very, very grateful for that!

It's an interesting thought that her kindness and humanity would be shown by being given an external opportunity that is perhaps more comfortable (and sensible) for her in her line of work. In one version of this character, she was a single mother as well and made many changes in her life for the good of her child, but I am not sure if the same twist will happen as this story comes alive via other means. We shall see!

In a past plot, she was also somewhat forced into the profession after having witnessed another hit and being taken under the wing of the same hitman after he saw some potential in her weirdness. (Apparently, she has VERY bad timing for catching murders in progress) She either had to work for them or 'go for a ride'. Your suggestion that she finds this the only work in which she's suited for adds depth to that decision and its motivation, as well.

I'm also quite amused that you should relate this character to Angelina in Wanted. I've always thought Angelina would be the perfect actress to portray this character and was quite inspired when Wanted came out (though Alaura has been a brainchild in the works for the past 8 years since before I heard of the comic and subsequent movie). The Fraternity is an excellent example of a reader or viewer being able to tolerate a story of murderers with what they view as a 'just cause'. Angelina just plays self-destructive semi-psychotic very well (Girl, Interrupted).

You've given me so much to think about! Thanks for taking the time to do this, Jeannie. This is such an invaluable tool for any author pondering a character. I may have to send more your way at a future point.:)

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

i'm so glad it was helpful, angela.

by the way, angela has a drawing of Alaura on her website! check it out to get a great visual:

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.