Monday, 27 September 2010

What qualities do you look for in a noir novel/short story?

What are the ingredients you look for in a noir short story or novel?  I'm thinking I like the darkness, but not to the point of self-pity nor do I like bleakness without humour.  In the bleakest places comes the blackest humour and in the moments of greatest tension, there always seems a propensity for the human being to find something funny.  There is a temptation in this genre, it seems, and perhaps it is something I'm flagging up for my own benefit, for the author steeped in bleakness to take him/herself a bit too seriously.  That's why I love the stories of Paul Brazill.  Great writing, riveting stories, but anyone who saw that photo of Mr Brazill in his Dracula get-up knows he could never be an author accused of taking himself too seriously :)

Mostly, and this is why I love noir,  I look for stories and books that don't shirk.  Give it to me straight, don't give it to me fluffy, and once you've started taking me down the road of unvarnsihed truth, I want to go with you right to the end.  No shirking.

I like to be led straight to the furnace.  I want to feel that heat.

So that's what I look for.

What qualities do you look for in a noir novel/short story, and why?


  1. Transgression.

    Thanks for the hat tip BTW

  2. Great stuff here.
    As you know, I don't stictly write crime/noir, but I have read loads of it, and I'd have to agree with you one thousand percent on the author taking him or herself to seriously. Even dark, gothic paintings have candle light, it illuminates darkness to expose what it is, which makes it so much terrible than if it were just dark. There has to be balance or there will be no true tension, the story will fall flatter than Paris Hilton's hair.

    Speaking of which, this is what I appreciate about your writing, Ian. You are great about showing both sides, the light and the dark. And its why we fall inlove with your pycho killer characters. ;-)

  3. Character attitude.

    Loyalty to voice.

    I want to hear the sad, muted trumpets as I read; I want to feel the blood-beat in the streets.

    Don't want to get gut-punched by adjectives.

  4. I like when the darkness comes out of the situation, seeing how the characters deal with the lousy hand they've been dealt. "Winter's Bone" is a good example. It's dark, but human, and yes, a bit of humor sprinkled in.

  5. Transgression. Exactly, Paul. Got to have a conflict. And Jodi, ah, thanks :) That light and dark thing, I wonder if that implies a sense of hope. There has to be hope, doesn't there? Surely. A glimpse of redemption?

    And Christopher. Loyalty to voice and attitude. Spot on. And the musical accompaniment. I want that. I tend to write a lot of my stuff with all sorts of stuff and sounds and music going off in my head. Helps with the rhythm of the writing, you know. And as far as adjecitves go, if you have to have them, take em out with .32 in the first para. Now there's a metaphysical story I'd like to write . . .

  6. Sandra: dark yes and human, an almighty YES. A story has to have some degree of humanity, even if it's hidden in the darkest shadows. Hope and humanity and humour - noir? The bestest sort, I reckon :)

  7. Cool post. I love Paul's sense of humor, too--really good a contrast (or not a contrast at all, depending on how you look at it) to the dark subjects he tackles.

    It's hard to say exactly what I'm looking for (or not looking for) because authors tend to prove me wrong. That being said, I'll go with mood and a strong sense of story. If I can get lost in the fictional dream and care about what happens next, I'm hooked.

  8. Mood is a massive one for me, Chris. I suppose because I write mostly character driven rather than plot driven stuff. I want to be there. I want to feel what the character feels. I want to be there with him. That's why I love Richard Godwin's stuff so much. Can't help but be dragged kicking and screaming into the swirling morass of madness when you're reading Richard's stories. I love that.