On Writing Noir (Laurie Dix)
To write good noir takes practice. It takes an understanding of the subject matter, of the world which you are creating, of the people who inhabit that world.
It is all well and good trying to write a good detective story, but unless there is a real mystery, all you have is a conundrum and a body.
As discussed at length in Raymond Chandler’s ‘The Simple Art of Murder’, which I examined here, it takes a lot to write good noir, and the line between good and bad noir, even good and bad writing at all, can be a fine one.
Although it has often been suggested that Noir is not a Genre, it is a style, many ideas can be attributed to it. Stylistically, ‘Noir’ refers to the lighting often used in those kinds of films in the 1940’s, where low light highlighted certain important aspects. There was a much more photographic view of how to direct the camera and lighting on set. One of my favourite examples of this is Orson Wells’ ‘Touch of Evil’, which uses lighting to show only what needs to be shown, and hides what does not need to be seen. It also takes into account light sources within the set, at one point using the shadow from an iron bed to add an element of sinister mystery and latent malignancy to Orson Wells’ character.
Whereas Noir does not encapsulate a genre, it is often associated with detective pulp fiction from the 20’s onwards, most famously revolving around a magazine called ‘Black Mask’, which inspired the more recognised hardboiled writers. It was also the magazine that directly influenced the film ‘Pulp Fiction’, which was originally going to use the same title.
One of the upsides of writing pulp fiction was that it was fairly throwaway, so the writers could practice a lot without too much refinement in their stories, meaning that they could produce numerous works and get paid to do so. It meant that the more tenacious writers could get paid for their writing, just enough to live on, and thus hone their art.
Noir is generally associated with detective fiction and hardboiled, our film ‘Johnny Noir’ does not stick to quite the same rules as would often be assumed when writing this style of story.
In one of my other pieces I identify what tropes are often associated with noir writing. Here, however, I merely identify that what I have written cannot possibly count as ‘Film Noir’ in an of itself, and in fact requires an entire team to turn it into noir.
Noir fiction is a slightly different style, often referred to as ‘Roman Noir’, which is a style of writing, although not what people would usually associate with what we now call ‘Noir’. This usually came down to a style of writing which often had a pseudo political or social commentary or referenced some corner of society that most people would not like to identify themselves with. The political statements often ran much deeper in Roman Noir than in hardboiled, and their social commentary was more central to the story than the mysteries that might present themselves. Often, the lead character would have plenty of his own flaws and would encapsulate an anti-hero rather than what we think of as a classic protagonist. The relationship between Hardboiled writing and Roman noir is incredibly close, and my understanding of either of these styles of writing is not deep enough for me to comment too closely on their differences.
One of the things most commonly associated with noir is the language, the frequent use of metaphor and simile which came so apparently naturally to people such as Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, and thus I felt that it could only benefit my writing to attempt to mimic these styles.
Although I have not stuck to what many would consider to be classic noir writing, I have rewritten the original script in a way that I hope imitates what people would consider to be noir. The purpose is not to mirror the style completely, but to heavily hint at a style which many would recognise. As mentioned in one of my other posts, had I the time to go back and completely rewrite the story, I would, as I would like to adhere to the common styles and tropes associated with noir as closely as I could, however at this point it is simply too late for me to stick honestly to what I would consider to be true noir fiction, and thus all I can do is paint over this short story in a shade of noir that I hope hides a few of the cracks.