Oral Storytelling and the Antihero

This blog ties back to the one I wrote a couple days ago about backstory. What I want to talk about today is the concept of the antihero. For me, these are my favorite types of heroes, because they’re real, they’re flawed, they’re not James Bond, they’re not entirely good or ethical, but we love them because they are like us. Only, in most cases, they dare to do things we wouldn’t dare to do. The caper I’m writing now, about bank robbers, is a great example of this.

Antiheroes Have Backstory

Writing a lovable antihero requires back story. To make them lovable we have to understand how they got to be the way they are, how past circumstances were often out of their control, and how a bad world molded them so that this bad-ish person is really the best that they can be.

The key to making criminals lovable is to show that they are really doing the very best they can do, given the circumstances of their lives. At the same time, you have to avoid lapsing into extensive backstory flashbacks that take you out of the real time story and give you TOO MUCH information. In fact, the same technique used in oral storytelling applies to telling back story–don’t include irrelevant details.

Oral Storytelling and Backstory

When doing oral storytelling, like folks do in the Santa Fe Speakeasy, a little ongoing Santa Fe project of mine (see “where’s ruby” on this website), you don’t have the luxury you have in written work, where you can delve into details that might be a bit peripheral to the main story.

Oral stories are better told succinctly, focusing on the point you’re making and leaving out fun details that use up your allotted time. You stand there long enough giving people fancy details, they are going to get bored, simply because the whole attention-span thing comes into play when you’re telling a story orally.

Condense your Backstory

My point is that inserting back story for a character is a lot like oral storytelling: you have to condense the heck out of the back story about ten times more than you do for the real time story, just to get the main jist of it out there, so the reader quickly understands what made the character this way, quickly learns to sympathize, and quickly gets to go back to the action of the main story. It’s almost like writing a short story inside a novel.

Leave a Comment

15 − eight =