CHANDLER’S TEN COMMANDMENTS
As a Noir Crime Fiction writer, I read a lot of noir both modern and golden age, this writer’s preference being those set in the 30’s and 40’s, and the kingpins of the noir crime caper were my literary idols Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. These two creative masters both set the foundations and gold standard in my opinion, on what good crime fiction should be! This can especially be said for Raymond Chandler, most notably through the eyes of his most beloved creation, his character Philip Marlowe later played on the small screen by Powers Boothe, a tv show I can’t recommend enough to those wanting to not just read but see the glory of chandler. The script lifts a lot straight from his books (a character I heavily based my own private eye Jack Malone on – check out my book The Lost Angel to read about Malone). Marlowe showed a side of Los Angeles back in the 1940’s that most crime novels and films of the day refused to show, mainly the everyday people with everyday problems and how they suffered through the greed of others and the city leaning on and over them, pushing them into acts, they would later regret.
Chandler throughout the tradition of crime novels of his time, the so-called ‘Locked Room Mystery’ made famous by authors like Agatha Christie. Instead, Chandler created outward-looking stories and plots that showed the world with its lose ever-changing morals. This genre, the genre of noir crime fiction, (some would also say the golden age of crime fiction –I tend to stand by both labels) was his life’s work and even after his death would go on to influence and inspire future generations of noir and crime writers and authors, this author, in particular, being one of that touch and inspired by this god of the genre. So it’s not a stretch to find out the man who gave his life to a genre, had some very strong often controversial opinions on crime fiction.
Below are what he called The Ten Commandments of Writing a Detective Novel.
*These are taken from a book by him Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler published in 1981 – note this book has been republished countless times and the commandants have been added to and expanded upon but this is the original ten.
1) It must be credibly motivated, both as to the original situation and the dénouement.
2) It must be technically sound as to the methods of murder and detection.
3) It must be realistic in character, setting, and atmosphere. It must be about real people in the real world.
4) It must have a sound story value apart from the mystery element: i.e., the investigation itself must be an adventure worth reading.
5) It must have enough essential simplicity to be explained easily when the time comes.
6) It must baffle a reasonably intelligent reader.
7) The solution must seem inevitable once revealed.
8) It must not try to do everything at once. If it is a puzzle story operating in a rather cool, reasonable atmosphere, it cannot also be a violent adventure or a passionate romance.
9) It must punish the criminal in one way or another, not necessarily by operation of the law… If the detective fails to resolve the consequences of the crime, the story is an unresolved chord and leaves irritation behind it.
10) It must be honest with the reader.
These ten commandments are heavy-hitting left and right hooks to the locked room mystery that was popular in the 1920’s-1940’s. Chandler delivers a heavy volley of creative punches two of these works in his seminal essay about crime fiction, The Simple Art of Murder. (a must-read for any crime author)
In that essay after taking thoroughly a part the murder mystery The Red House by A. A. Milne (yes, the writer of Winnie the Pooh), Chandler fights back against detective stories where the whole point of the plot makes no sense when compared to what would happen in real life in that exact situation. On the matter, Chandler says this “If the situation is false, you cannot even accept it as a light novel, for there is no story for the light novel to be about.”
He goes on to trash other British mystery writers like Agatha Christie who Chandler paints not only as a hypocritical snob but also as boring. “The English may not always be the best writers in the world, but they are incomparably the best dull writers,” he quips. (being a fellow Brit crime writer I have to say if I could go back in time I would happily punch the yank, with a choice quip or two of my own.)
Chandler then offers praise to his hardboiled partner in literary crime Dashiell Hammett who infuses his stories with a sense of realism. “Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought dueling pistols, curare, and tropical fish….He was spare, frugal, hardboiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.” Chandler says.
It’s funny that this quote about Hammet also sums Chandler up two.
Time To Smite The Dragon!
By Noir Crime Writer Adam C Mitchell
Well the written word is something, isn’t it? They can make people laugh, cry, inspire and dream. But what if those very same letters and words can make people feel sad, hurt, ashamed and uninspired to chase their dreams. Especially if those dreams involve the glorious written word, dreams of becoming an Author.
I was in the second bullpen, the one where my very dreams got squished. So here’s a little about me, I was diagnosed at 12 and ridiculed and bullied by both my teachers and classmates for years. But it was the library that got me going and showed me even the dreaded DYSLEXIA can be beat, if you know where to look, that dragon can be slain if your have the write sword for the job. Well consider me the blacksmith and quartermaster for your quest. Now my nobles squires, shield maiden’s, knights and lords. Please chose your weapons the quest to kill the dragon begins in earnest.
Now do you prefer sword or bow?
The first two weapons for you may well be…A font… No…how about a magic keyboard that speaks the dragons language. Well if that tickles your fancy I give to you…
OpenDyslexic v2. This rather brilliant replacement font has now been updated, and was created to increase use-ability not to mention readability of children and adults with dyslexia, I, yes me your humble blogger to write two novels and one award winning book all on Amazon (see dreams do come true.) Unlike most of the regular fonts out there this typeface includes regular, bold, italic, and bold-italic styles. Its clean and easy to use and is a nice clear print on the page as well, and more importantly it is absolutely and completely FREE at no cost to you, and has both a professional and commercial licence. So fill your boots. The creators continually update and improve the font hence the updated version and they do so exclusively with the thoughts and feedback of us Dyslexic warriors, knights and the like. Now onto the second of my wonders for you brave hero’s on your quest to save the day. So clap your eyes on this my good friends.
(Get it here: https://www.dafont.com/open-dyslexic.font)
This FREE App is an electronic keyboard layout that can increase computer accessibility and development for folk like you and me with a learning disability like dyslexia, heck it even helps the two fingered typists among us. It’s really something nifty. The alphabetical ordering of its keys enable even the technically unsure of us out there easy when using modern computer devices such as laptops and good old PC’s. But what else makes this so good I hear you ask. For individuals with the dreaded D word and other special needs. Learning the characters of the alphabet can be blooming tricky at times. The ABC Keyboard cuts down the learning curve of the key patterns on a traditional keyboard. Making it so much easier to use and less stressful for us all. A nice little bonus is the ABC keyboard allows us to choose a visual style to best suit our own set needs, rather than a blanket approach which is nice. So onto the techy stuff…
- Alphabetical ordering of the keys rather than the standard QWERTY set up we’re all used to.
- Customizable key fonts, and themes.
- Upper and Lower Case letters on Keys
- Word prediction, pre-programmed automatic capitalization and “.” shortcut options.
All you wandering bards who like to write and read on the move, with your ipads and iphones and such do not despair. I have chosen a few little wonders for your quests too….
Lowercase Keyboard and Dyslexiakey.
Although this little gem is for school children it can be adapted to cater for everyone, this keyboard for the ios8 and other ios devices uses both lowercase and uppercase letters and a much more simplified and streamlined set of numbers and grammar characters. It also has OpenDyslexic v1 built in, and can be updated for the version 2 model. This has been done to increase readability for readers with dyslexia.
Now for the second next little gem I have on offer for you today my dear reader.
DyslexiaKey. is a font that increasing that magic ‘R’ word again…Readability and more so for those with reading disabilities. It sets itself apart by using a set base line, with alternating stick/tails and larger normal openings. This programme will ensure each character has a different yet only slightly look to allow reading to be easier. Both of these are again 100% free and also like before come with a personal and commercial licences to use however you see fit on your quests out there in the big wide world.
Textkraft. Now every self respecting bard or travelling hero needs a shield, and well I’ve covered that too. This dyslexia friendly shield is a professional text editor (A shield that I’ve used extensively when writing my books.) It works on the Apple Ipad, Iphone and Apple Watch and comes with 22 built in dictionaries in 22 different languages.
For when your out of range of the wi-fi holy grail it comes with offline dictionaries too with synonyms and pre-programmed online references to help with spelling, language, expression, grammar, definition and translation. It also comes with some tech-stuff with a lot of jargon but in a nutshell its a dyslexia friendly Grammarly. And yes before you ask its again 100% with all the same licences and can be got from the i-store.
So in closing I just want to say one writer, to I hope some new authors and bloggers of the future, take these weapons to smite your dragons and fulfill your dreams. If you want get your stories wrote and out there, the dyslexia dragon is no longer the monster it once was. So until next time brave warriors, see you at the castle gates!
FIND YOUR WRITING STYLE: PART ONE
By Noir Crime Writer Adam C Mitchell
Everybody who has a favourite author, and you probably are a die-hard fan because of how they put their words and thoughts on the page…their writing style. A lot of authors have either a commercial or unique way of doing this, and just like everything else this either works or it doesn’t, and between the two goals, there are varying degrees of tone and about a billion other things that make them stand. There is no good or bad point to either style of writing, it all boils down to personal taste at the end of the day. So your about to put pen to paper, or hit the first key on the keyboard, but wait ask yourself one question… What do I need to think about, if I want to create my own trademark writing style? Well, dear readers here are some tips to get you started, with part two coming next month titled ‘Fine Tuning Your Style’.
1. Who are you as an author writing for, who is your audience going to be?
First dear reader think about the favoured genre you now want to write in. If your writing fiction of course, if so the Genre can determine this before you even start, or at the very least gives you the blueprints. Novella’s and Novels are a product for the reader…YOUR READER, when you describe your novel on sites like Amazon, you have to provide an all-important description for it. This is a way to put your novel into a pigeon hole and let your reader know what it is they’re going to pay for and what they will expect afterward. With a great description in hand, they may decide to buy or not to buy! This also applies to writing nonfiction, whether memoir, self-help book or historical biography.
By picking and making a B-Line for your target audience, while examining other books aimed at your reads which are close to yours, you can get an idea of what styles do and do not work in your chosen genre. You may think this is a nasty old way to get the job done and snipe the competition, but its not far from it, in fact, if you want to go down the mainstream publishing route this is how an agent or publisher at some level would determine if to pick up you and your book or leave you in the slush pile. After all, the only thing the publishers are thinking is “will this novel sell and who will it sell to?”
So ask yourself: Who am I writing this book for? Do I want to appeal to a wide audience? Do I want to brand myself with a trademark style?
2. Tailoring your style on purpose
If you want to be the next big thing, or even get close to being recognized in the chosen genre you right in, you ARE going to need to get the word based needle and cotton out and tailor make a writing style that is ALMOST similar to other authors in the same genre. If like me though you write in several genres this can mean juggling many different tailored styles, it’s not difficult but NOT impossible, so don’t panic! So yes you can write however you like, but you always need to remember who and what genre your writing in and for!
3. Be A Copycat…Well almost!
It’s true what they say, PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT! This is so true when writing a novel or anything really, we as writers spend countless hours focusing on getting everything ready be it plot, characters or structure, all this takes time to master over sometimes many mistakes and false starts. Nine times out of ten writing style is totally forgotten about, as a writer’s early attempts especially when just starting out are to simply get words on a page. (Even if this can sometimes read like a bag of cats fighting on the keyboard) But this is just part of the process of mastering your craft and genre.
Just like a toddler starts to form words by listening and copying those around them, a new writer will often do something very similar by copying the writing style of a writer or writers they love (even if they don’t know they’re doing it) This is a great thing to do….to a point! By standing and imitating the writing style of great writers you can get at the very least how the stories you want your stories to read and feel.
There will come a point, where you as a writer will have to let go of the safety rail and step out into the big wide written world. There is NEVER a magic moment where you suddenly from out of nowhere find your style, but when you get an old hat at things and have been writing a while, you will be able to look back and see the journey your style took to get you to where you are then. I started taking risks with my style on that journey, letting my imagination go wild and try out all sorts of things. I knocked out, tied up and chucked my internal editor in the back of a car trunk and drove it off a cliff. More and more moments came after my writing was given the chance to go wild, without the worry of the ‘rules’ you set yourself or the world set upon you. Looking back at my styles journey I think it took me the writing of 6 novels to fully find and get to grips with mine. So don’t worry there’s no rush!
5. Everything is a Learning Curve?
The process of writing and learning to write is just the same as learning any new skill or sport. There is a whopping large learning curve to tackle when you first begin, but with patience (something I didn’t have when I first started but that’s a different blog post altogether), and a level of luck and ability you will get there and get good at what you love, you will ‘get the hang of it’. Take note fellow wordsmiths; your writing style is never solid, and like Bruce Lee said in this famous quote “Be formless, shapeless like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash.” So too is your writing style it will change and be fluid depending on the words you write or the genre you choose to put your skill too. In fact, that very same quote can be said for you as a writer too. So remember your style will always be fluid, versatile, adaptive. Or it should be at the eventually. Even better is the fact that you can have various styles—as many as you like.
Adam C Mitchell is the Author Of The Lost Angel, The Queen and The Viper and Central City Tales find out more at his website https://mitchell-ac.wixsite.com/acma
The Criminal Ten
Ten things all New Indie Crime Writers Should Avoid
By Noir Crime Writer Adam C Mitchell
So, you want to write Crime Fiction, good for you. It’s one of the most popular genres on the Indie circuit, not to mention one of the most popular genres out there on the market today. Because of this, the catalog of crime fiction out this is literally bursting at the seams. But despite it being full and popular there are more traps and pitfalls out there than I can simply put into one blog or a blog series. So I am just going to give you what I think is the Criminal Top Ten of them nasty pitfalls that can trouble new writers, (they even cause trouble to experienced writers so don’t worry there) causing them to possibly give up on their dream to write in a genre they love. So, without further ado, here are my top ten mistakes crime writers make, and how to avoid them:
1: GIVING CHAPTER & VERSE
As a writer of any genre, but most importantly in Crime Fiction you only need to tell the reader the nuts and bolts of a story, tell them as much as they need to know and not a word more. Anything other than that is just window dressing so cut it back or out.
2: TELLING AT THE WRONG TIME
Don’t give us every detail and key points to an arc or character right away. Hold your cards back as long as possible. Let us discover as we read. Drip-feed your information. In no genre is this more important than crime fiction.
3: HOLDING ON TO THE TRUTH
Despite points 1 and 2 there does come a point where you need to play your hand of cards and tell the reader what’s going on. If you hold the cards back too long you’re risking losing the readers commitment to the book. For example, you may have a character in denial, or you may have a character who can’t remember because of trauma, or alcohol, or dementia. But, it takes a lot of skill to keep those Criminal Mystery plates spinning in the air for as long as possible without it coming across as forced or engineered. Knowing this is halfway towards winning the battle.
4: GETTING THE BALANCE WRONG BETWEEN PLOT AND CHARACTER
Within the Indie Crime Fiction, and genre as a whole NOT ONLY do you HAVE to write and create a fully realized world, with characters that live and pop out of your created worlds. No, you also have to masterfully craft a twisting plot that will keep your reader guessing and hopefully wanting more! Oh, and did I mention you have to do all this in prose that appears to be effortless.
But you have to remember is that all these jig-saw pieces need to fit perfectly together to form the whole picture. A common mistake is to let your stories flow dictate or even worse force your characters to act a certain way. It happens way too often that for a beginner to ram the plot into their cookie cutter character template, forcing them to act out of character in order to conform to the plot. You may tell yourself A, B, C and D needs to happen for X, Y and Z reasons- for example chucking in a shoot out, fight or saucy scene under the guise of it being just ‘another’ layer to a character. But if you believe that you’re just fooling yourself, sorry! Truth be told it should happen in reverse character should, no needs to drive plot not vice
5: TOO MANY RED HERRINGS
Every single object, event, character, chapter, and sentence is there to advance your story. It’s far too easy, when starting out on the road to being a crime writer, to get sidetracked into scenes, characters, events, and dialogue that are basically just fluff and not needed. These can often be useful explorations for your written craft but unless pivotal they should never find their way into the finished novel. When you are editing, you must ask yourself the same, brutal question about every aspect of your novel: ‘does this advance my story?’
If the answer is ‘no’, however wonderful it is, however much fun you had writing it, cut it out now before the whole plot is affected. Everything must link causally to your plot and not forced. A misleading, inconsequential distraction is at best dissatisfying and, at worst, downright annoying for the reader.
6: BEING CLICHÉ HEAVY
In order to write great crime fiction, you should be a fan and avid reader of the genre. This will mean that you understand the tropes and themes. (Oh and if you don’t know what a literary trope is, it’s the use of figurative language, via word, phrase or an image, for artistic effect such as using a figure of speech. The word trope has also come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works. If, for example, you create a conflicted middle-aged male 1940s P.I (a trope that is used a lot) who has problems with drinking, commitment, and his marriage, and a tortured, then this should be coming from a place of knowing that this character is something of a stereotype and should be written with CAUTION! What you’re aiming to do is, something different. Or, possibly providing commentary on said stereotype! If you just serve him up as he is, you are, essentially, just using a cookie cutter and this will bore the reader and again taint your work. Try mixing up the stereotypes, gender and any other details you can to make the Cliché be it character, place or whatever feel fresh and new!
7: LACKING EMPATHY FOR THE VICTIM
I and many other readers of crime fiction (and remember 80% of your fan base will be women) are sick of semi-pornographic descriptions of female suffering, mutilation, and passivity. For God’s sake, give us something different. At least give your victim a greater existence than just being blank pages for your male aggressors. A lot of really powerful crime fiction can be very gory and horrifying, yet still, give a unique emotional experience with a strong moral fist to the face.
8: NOT ENOUGH RESEARCH – ESPECIALLY THE POLICE STUFF
Even though I write 1940s Crime Fiction which isn’t and wasn’t too heavy on Police Procedural like it was and is today, I do add some and try to make it as accurate as possible. BUT and it’s a big but I have many friends in the Indie crime fiction field who are ex-law enforcement of one form or another, not to mention other emergency services on both sides of the pond in the U.K and U.S. All of which get mightily annoyed when writers fudge the details and get it all wrong.
If you do have to include an element for example of police procedure. Then for you need to research absolutely every minor detail even the stuff you think is unimportant. Even if you don’t use all the detail it’s there ready for when you do. A good tip to remember is – don’t rely on the TV shows for accurate research, they try to get it right but cut corners to entertain the viewer and fit a time requirement. Getting it wrong can completely ruin the integrity of your story. As an author you owe it your reader, to pay attention to the details and get it right. This counts not just on the elements listed above but in fact ALL elements of your novel although the processes of law and order are governed by strict rigid rules and so, therefore, are less flexible than, say, understanding what it must be like to work in a graphic design studio or fast food restaurant. But it does no harm to get an idea and basic grassroots understanding about what any world in the crime fiction field entails.
9: DOING TOO MUCH RESEARCH
The downside about doing the background work is that it is also all too easy to follow the criminal white rabbit and get lost down a research rabbit hole. Spending days, discovering stuff that you really don’t need to know in too much detail. I tend to approach my research on a need-to-know basis – I’ll find out the facts I need to make my story or scene feel and flow in a real way. It’s dictated by what happens as I write. Currently, for example, I am finding out about the use of herbs in certain Louisiana Voodoo practices in the 1940s. The very worst thing is to include too much detail, just because you have sweated blood (or lost two entire days to Google) to find it out.
10: MESSING UP YOUR TIMELINE
A big part of crime fiction – and the most satisfying aspect for your fans of your work – is about providing facts, clues, and hints with which your reader can start making their own guesses and conclusions. So, as the author, it is vital that not only do you get your research-based facts right, you also have to get your story facts right. When I’m writing I use Aeon Timeline to organize my plot, and every new event is assigned a date and time which I can refer back to it as I’m piling on the story. This is incredibly useful in many ways. Obviously, it cuts down massive errors and possible major re-writes later on down the line. But also, as the diary of events stacks up, the story really starts to come alive for me. And that means it will come alive for the reader.