Writers are often asked about what makes a character interesting. What’s the difference between a Scarlet O’Hara and Mary Mud who you forget in 30 seconds? Part of the answer is contrasts.
Within interesting characters are built-in contradictions that make the person memorable. Unfortunately, beginning writers tend to produce one dimensional hollow stereotypes who stay the same through the entire story. Readers may not understand why they find these characters disinteresting, but they quickly close the book and move on in search of a more genuine human that intrigues their imagination.
Scarlet O’Hara stays with us because she is beautiful and charming while being conniving and manipulative. She can rebuild Tara, her father’s estate, because there’s no price she won’t exact from those around. She builds by destroying. A contrast indeed!
In The Assassins, we begin with a FSB type operative Masha Khaykina who has done whatever was necessary to get out of the poor countryside and into the thriving city. From humble beginnings, she rises to the top of the state’s secret spy agency. But early on in her life, we discover a grandmother who cared and instilled values. In Russia, grandmothers preserve the best of the past and care on the best the church has to offer. Marsha has been infected with this goodness that keeps surfacing even in the midst of her philandering. Something higher found its way into her soul earlier in life.
One of the values that stuck with her was a concern for people faced with injustice. She is willing to stick her neck out to even the score. As the book unfolds, we will discover this quality has a dramatic effect on how the plot turns.
In contrast, the other assassins are flat, one-dimensional types. Not very likeable, they are bestial and brutal. Contrary to many movie images, I’ve found this to be the way killers truly are. Some years ago, I worked with Lou Smit, a well known and highly successfully detective. He wanted me to help encourage a serial killer to talk by offering to write his story. The man had killed at least forty women, but we never got the story off the ground bcause his psyche proved to be empty. Almost nothing was there.
The Assassins offers other insights into Masha’s development. As she became involved with the Russian Orthodox Church, we received glimpses into her inner journey. We see her thinking new and humane thoughts. Expanding insights introduced her to a new appreiation of life and relationships. The reader observes a kinder and more humane person emerging from under a rough and permissive past.
Russia remains an enigma to many in the West. However, genuine Russians continue to intrigue us because their contrasts are often severe while reaching to a greater depth than is often displayed in America. Many of our cinema and popular celebrities exist purely for entertainment, but who wants to live next door to them? The Kardashians have an effective publicist, but they’d never make it in a serious novel. Too superficial.
So, hopefully Masha captures your attention because she offers a complex character reaching out to find a higher and better way of life.