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Monday, March 29, 2021

Raymond Chandler on Writing

     Raymond Chandler (1888-1959), the British born author of bestselling hard boiled private eye novels The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye, transformed the mystery genre into literature. Chandler lived many years in southern California and wrote for the movies. The following passages are from The Raymond Chandler Papers: Selected Letters and Nonfiction, 1909-1959, edited by Tom Hiney and Frank MacShane:

I have never had any great respect for the ability of editors, publishers, play and picture producers to guess what the public will like. The record is all against them.

American [writing style] has no cadence. Without cadence a style has no harmonics. It is like a flute playing solo, an incomplete thing, very dextrous or very stupid as the case may be, but still an incomplete thing.

When a book, any sort of book, reaches a certain intensity of artistic performance, it becomes literature. That intensity may be a matter of style, situation, character, emotional tone, or idea, or half a dozen other things. It may also be a perfection of control over the movement of the story similar to the control a great pitcher has over the ball.

I have a peculiar idea about titles. They should never be obviously provocative, nor say anything about murder. They should be rather indirect and neutral, but the form of words should be a little unusual.

The people whom God or nature intended to be writers find their own answers, and those who have to ask are impossible to help. They are merely people who want to be writers.

You never quite know where your story is until you have written the first draft of it. So I always regard the first draft as raw material.

I write when I can and don't write when I can't; always in the morning or the early part of the day. You get very gaudy ideas at night but they don't stand up.

The detective story is not and never will be a "novel about a detective." The detective enters it only as a catalyst. And he leaves it exactly the same as he was before. [As opposed to "straight" novels where the protagonist, by the end of the book, has to have undergone some kind of change.]

A classical education saves you from being fooled by pretentiousness, which is what most current fiction is too full of.

Television is really what we've been looking for all our lives. It took a certain amount of effort to go to the movies. Somebody had to stay with the kids. You had to get the car out of the garage. That was hard work. And you had to drive and park. Sometimes you had to walk as far as a half a block to get to the theater. Then people with fat heads would sit in front of you.

Not-quite writers are very tragic people and the more intelligent they are, the more tragic, because the step they can't take seems to them such a very small step, which in fact it is. And every successful or fairly successful writer knows, or should know, by what a narrow margin he himself was able to take that step. But if you can't take it, you can't. That's all there is to it.

The private detective of fiction is a fantastic creation who acts and speaks like a real man. He can be completely realistic in every sense but one, that one sense being that in life as we know it such a man would not be a private detective. The things which happen to him might still happen as a result of a peculiar set of chances. By making him a private detective you skip the necessity for justifying his adventures.

Talking of [literary] agents, when I opened the morning paper one morning last week I saw that it finally happened: somebody shot one. It was probably for the wrong reasons, but a least it was a step in the right direction.

The only private eye I have met personally was brought to the house one night by a lawyer friend of mine. Most of his work consists of digging up information for lawyers, finding witnesses etc. He struck me as a bombastic and not too scrupulous individual. The private eye of fiction is pure fantasy and is meant to be.

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