How to Write Noir Fiction with David Byron Queen
by Writing Workshops Staff
A month ago
Derived from the French noir (“darkness”), this iconic genre rose to prominence in the first half of the twentieth century with its densely plotted stories of hardboiled detectives and femme fatales, before taking over the Hollywood studio system in the 1940s and 50s.
But what really makes a story noir? How do you write noir? Reading masters of the genre such as Daniel Woodrell, Thomas H. Cook, James Ellroy, and Megan Abbot is a good start. In any great work of noir protagonists don’t have to be heroic (or even likable), endings don’t have to be happy, form and style can reflect themes, and writers must embrace the deep end.
“Noir can incorporate either simple detection or active suspense,” says author Noreen Ayres, whose story “Rust” is included in the Best American Mystery Stories 2009. “Its distinguishing feature is an alienated protagonist, a person on the edge of moral breakdown or has completed it, even though his or her actions may be understandable. The setting may be shoddy or upscale, but the internal conversation is bleak.”
Susan Straight, whose noir story “The Golden Gopher” won the Edgar Award in 2008, says, “What I love about noir is how the plot moves things along, allowing the author to examine a society or landscape or family in ways that stay vitally adhered to the plot.”
In our upcoming Writing Noir 6 Week Zoom Workshop, led by Word West publisher David Byron Queen, writers will read and discuss a number of noir classics—from Raymond Chandler and Dorothy Hughes, to contemporary authors taking the genre into new and exciting places (Megan Abbott, S.A. Cosby, and more). We’ll also spend our classes breaking down noir tropes and techniques and learning how to apply them to your own noir-inspired fiction.
Keep in mind when you're writing noir that you should keep it short as noir short stories and novels are most always on the shorter side. The criminal is the star and you can find your atmosphere and tone in the shadows.
Join us for our next Writing Noir 6-Week Zoom Workshop starting January 20th, 2022.
- The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
- In a Lonely Place by Dorothy Hughes
- Black Wings Has My Angel by Elliott Chaze
- City of Glass by Paul Auster
- Queenpin by Megan Abbott
- Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby