Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Does Noir have to be All Black?

My current writing project takes place in the 1950s and I have been seeing it as more or less a detective story (albeit with science fiction elements) in the hard-boiled tradition of the era (e.g., Hammett, Chandler, et al.). But after recently viewing several more noir films, of which many are based on such novels, it suddenly dawned on me that most, if not all, of these stories have no real winners, and perhaps no genuine heroes.

Yes, yes, you say, I should have seen that all along. That's the very definition of hard-boiled novels and film noir. Everyone is out for themselves. Everyone is a rascal. And nobody wins. Even the victims turn out to be guilty of something, if not the major crime. And sometimes an apparent victim is the antagonist, perhaps the murderer. The hero almost never survives the story as a genuine hero. They're one of the biggest rascals of all, in order to survive. And even the antagonist turns out, at times, to be a victim. What a world!

But in my mind, my protagonist needs to be a hero, at least for the most part. I guess what I've discovered is that in order to be hard-boiled, he's going to have to do something rash, and calculated, and wrong. Certainly, every protagonist has flaws. But this is probably something more, something dire, something with adverse consequences. It's going to cost him. And it may cost somebody else. But that's good. It's good to know these things about my hero and what it's going to take to make what I hope is a compelling tale.

Noir is black. And in literature, film, and art, black usually represents bad. But in film noir and hard-boiled literature, bad is what makes it good.

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