This is part of a larger though process in crime/pulp fiction that I’ve been having not so seriously for the last four years. I started reading 361 by Donald Westlake last night. He’s the guy that wrote Payback (which the Mel Gibson movie is based on [which is apparently being re-released on DVD with the original badass version intact]).
Not surprisingly, 361 touches on some of the same themes, namely, revenge. Thirty pages in, we have everything set up. Two brothers. The oldest brother’s wife is dead. Their father is dead. Both murdered. Apparently dad was a lawyer for bootleggers back in the day. Protagonist is the younger brother and he is just out of the Air Force. GO!
That’s it. I thought there would be more backstory as to how or why the protag is such a badass. Nope. He just is. Same with the older brother. They beat on a guy for information like it’s what you do everyday. No explanation.
See, this is a big for me. It’s always been a bit of a barrier, and maybe its all mental for me. However, I always wanted to plan that stuff out better when telling the story – why is the guy a complete badass? Isn’t there a reason? How does one research this sort of thing?
Westlake breezes into it and you don’t even care about the ‘how’ or the ‘why.’ The Syndicate killed his dad; he’s going to kill them. End of story.
Maybe that is all you need sometimes when you are telling a tight genre story. Maybe it’s that easy (look at Apocolypto for what it is – a minimalist action movie heavy on spectacle). Or maybe as crime fiction writers moved on, there was a demand for more back story, and after reading a lot of modern stories, 361 seems refreshingly stark and minimal.
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