The Assassin's Elements of Style

assassin1.jpg

This edition is dedicated to Vieri de’Pazzi, who gave his life to the multitude of booby traps surrounding the original manuscript. Requiescat in pace.

Foreword

Ezio Auditore da Firenze was thrown into the world of assassins when his father and two brothers were murdered as part of a country-wide conspiracy. Seeking revenge, Ezio clumsily assassinated the man responsible. Over the years, he became skilled and respected within the assassin community and decided to make a guide for those who stumbled at first just as he did. Cleverly disguised as a grammar guide, Ezio’s little pocket book quickly gained respect in the literary community to those who didn’t know its true intent. The recent discovery of the original manuscript shed light on the realities of the book. This edition contains some of the original text.


I. Elementary Rules of Usage

2. In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.

When more than one target is involved, tactics must be changed. It’s easiest to tackle them all at once instead of in separate occurrences.

Thus write,
Knives, swords, and hidden blades
Breastplate, bracers, and hood.
He jumped upon his mark, sliced his throat, and ran before the guards could see him.

6. Do not break sentences in two.

A second attempt should never be made when the situation could be resolved with one.

In other words, do not use periods for commas.

My target was mixed in the crowd. Coming from High Mass.
My finger was sliced off. To make room for my hidden blade.

In both these examples, the first period should be replaced by a comma and the following word begun with a small letter.

It is permissible to make an empathic word or expression serve the purpose of a sentence and to punctuate it accordingly.

“Who’s there?” the woman called. No reply.

The writer must, however, be certain that the emphasis is warranted, lest a clipped sentence seem merely a blunder in syntax or in punctuation. Generally speaking, the place for broken sentences is in dialogue, when a character happens to speak in a clipped or fragmentary way.

Rules 3, 4, 5, and 6 cover the most important principles. They should be so thoroughly mastered that their application becomes second nature.


II. Elementary Principles of Composition

14. Use the active voice.

The active voice is usually more direct and vigorous than the passive:

I shall always savor the memory of my first kill.

This is much better than:

The memory of my first kill will always be savored by me.

The latter sentence is less direct, less bold, and less concise. If the writer tries to make it more concise by omitting “by me,”

The memory of my first kill will always be savored,

It becomes indefinite: is it the writer or some undisclosed person or the world at large that will always savor this?

This rule does not, of course, mean that the writer should entirely discard the passive voice, which is frequently convenient and sometimes necessary.

15. Put statements in positive form.

Make definite assertions. Avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, noncommittal language. Use the word not as a means of denial or in antithesis, never as a means of evasion.

He was not alive. He was dead.
She did not think that the de’Pazzis were an upstanding family. She hated the de’Pazzis.
He spent his free time not doing things that sensible men would do. He was an idiot.

The last example, before correction, is indefinite as well as negative. The corrected version, consequently, is simply a guess at the writer’s intention.

All three examples show the weakness inherent in the word not.

17. Omit needless words.

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and plans no unnecessary steps. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Don’t walk in circles around a subject, strike it. Unnecessary steps add time and make you look sloppy.

Many expressions in common use violate this principle.

the question as to whether whether
there is no doubt but that no doubt (doubtless)
used for fuel purposes used for fuel
he is a man who he
in a hasty manner hastily
this is a subject that this subject
her story is a strange one her story is strange
the reason why is that because

III. A Few Matters of Form

Exclamations. Do not attempt to emphasize simple statements by using a mark of explanation. Your goal is to remain low key.

He stole her purse! He stole her purse.

The exclamation mark is to be reserved for use after true exclamations or commands.

Help! He stole my purse!
Halt!

IV. Words and Expressions Commonly Misused

Clever. Note that the word means one thing when applied to people, another when applied to assassins. A clever assassin is one who doesn’t get caught.

Contact. As a transitive verb, the word is vague and self-important. Do not contact people; get in touch with them, look them up, write to them, find them, or meet them. Specificity is of the utmost importance. As a noun, your contact is the person you report to when your contract has been fulfilled.

Flammable. An oddity, chiefly useful in saving lives. The common word meaning “combustible” is inflammable. But some people are thrown off by the in- and think inflammable means “not combustible.” Remember that all clothing is inflammable. There is no such thing as fireproof fabric despite your best attempts to prove otherwise.

Gratuitous. Means “unearned,” or “undeserved.” Avoid such circumstances.

The fifth stab was gratuitous; the man was already dead.

Personalize. A pretentious word, often carrying bad advice. Do not personalize your methods; simply make them good and keep them clean.

Personally. Unnecessary, as we should never become so emotionally involved with the job that we take it personally.

The foreseeable future. A cliché, and a fuzzy one. The future by definition is unforeseeable. Don’t rely upon predictions of the future.

Try. Takes the infinitive: “try to kill,” not “try and kill.” In any case, you should never try, you should just do.


V. An Approach to Style

1. Place yourself in the background.

Write in a way that draws the reader’s attention to the sense and substance of the writing, rather than the mood and temper of the author. Your goal is to execute the deed without leaving a lingering presence. To achieve style, begin by affecting none—that is, place yourself in the background. Blending in is a more effective way to do things, as drawing attention to yourself only brings on ridicule and possibly trouble.

14. Avoid fancy words.

Avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, the coy, and the cute. When it comes down to it, your target will be unable to appreciate it anyway.


Afterword

Though Ezio encouraged cleverness and finding his own style of doing things, even he accepted that there were basic standards that could not be ignored if he wished to succeed. It was made apparent in his original manuscript that he wanted to pass these standards along to beginning “writers” so they could fulfill their goals without floundering. This guide was not created as a demanding list of to-dos, rather as gentle suggestions for helping the reader succeed.

Bona Fortuna,
Lauren M. Mickens


Return to the table of contents for 1.1 Elements