Tuesday, March 4, 2014

On Writing Noir

I've prettied up this article and moved it over to my new blog at:




TravisRossAuthor said...

Love the post. I think you nailed what genre my writing belongs it and that's great! Perhaps you can give me guidance. While striving for the noir tone, I'd also like to write thematically deeper stories. Do you have any reading recommendations that might be classified as "literary noir"?

Chris said...

Hi Dave, wonder if we could dig a little deeper into the moral choice of the noir protagonist? You write: "Have your noir protagonist cross a moral line where there’s no turning back from."

Mamet says drama has to be a choice between two wrongs, two evils. Does this apply for noir? I am thinking of, say, Detour, where the choice is either take on the dead Haskell's identity or go to jail for murder (That's how he narrator defines the choices, anyway). Not sure if going to jail is a choice. More a consequence of Haskell's unexplained death. In Postman Rings the choice is between murder to get the girl and restaurant or lose the girl. That doesn't seem to be two wrongs either, does it? Losing that girl would have been a good thing for the narrator. Would do you think?

Dave Zeltserman said...

Chris, Detour is great film noir, but it shows where film noir differs from literary noir, at least according to how I (and others) have defined it. For this to be literary noir (using my definition), Al would've had to make the choice to murder Haskel so he could assume his identity and steal his money, instead of himself finding himself stuck because of bad luck.

Chris said...

Dave, interesting. Thanks for the input. So what you're saying (I think) is the literary noir protagonist cannot be passive and allow things to happen to him. Only the film noir protagonist can? Maybe Detour isn't a great example for discussion. I did enjoy the novel though, and he was pretty passive in that.

Tiffany Simpson said...

Would you consider it something other than noir if the protagonist were a good man? For example; my main character is just, loyal, basically honest, and dedicating his life to helping others, only to be thrust into a situation where there is no right choice and whatever decision he makes will eventually lead to a miserable life but he doesn't know that. In the end he chooses selfishly, betrays his values in a way that actually harms no one but it still a selfish choice, then has a short time of happiness only to have his choice trigger the antagonist to bring his life crashing down and the protagonist loses everything important to him.
I ask because my premise is for a series of books with this protagonist, and making him irredeemable would make that unlikely. He needs to be someone the readers sympathize with. I want them to want to see him recover from what happens in the first book, and come back to see if he has better luck or makes better choices in the next novel.
So, would that still be considered neo-noir or shoud I give up on that genre and just say I'm writing a thriller with a very unhappy ending?

Dave Zeltserman said...

Toy put a 100 writers together and you'll get a 100 different definitions of noir. My definition fits the classic noir novels as written by Jim Thompson and James M. Cain, but if you want your noir protagonist to claw himself back from the abyss, go for it!