Noir writing examples are hard to find these days. We don’t see many noir movies or read books written in the same style. And yet, there is a genuine audience today which yearns for high-quality noir drama. The success of noirish TV series like True Detective shows how much people still enjoy noir.
In literature, examples of noir writing are fading fast. Much of modern noir literature comes from Nordic writers. One way to make sure we see more examples of noir writing is making the current crop of writers aware of great noir literature. After all, we will only see more examples of noir when more writers bring the style to their work.
One thing to understand about noir is that it is not exactly a genre. Noir is in fact a style of storytelling. Writers can bring noir into different genres such as fantasy, science fiction, and so on. Many writers are skeptical about noir because they believe it is an entire genre in itself. However, a closer analysis of noir history shows it is style rather than a genre.
Since it is a style of writing and storytelling, writers can experiment with it more confidently. There are many resources on this website on writing, and more specifically on writing noir.
However, this piece is not about educating writers. Instead, we wish to bring instances of noir writing to writers and inspire them into taking up noir as a style of writing. With these examples and some noir writing prompts, we hope to make sure more writers learn noir as a style of writing and storytelling.
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
Of all the examples of noir writing, The Maltese Falcon is probably the most popular. The stoic and flawed Sam Spade makes for the perfect tragic noir hero in Hammett’s classic.
There are enough rave reviews of the book you can find online. However, from a writer’s perspective, those reviews won’t help you much.
The Maltese Falcon is a great starting point for noir writers. Its ability to convey a sense of weariness and dread is second to none. Generally, noir as a style is associated with cynical characters and apathetic societies. Hammett is able to convey all these emotions with his book.
Furthermore, the end of the story solidifies the reason behind having a cynical outlook towards life. In the beginning, readers cannot justify the reason behind Spade’s cynicism. However, the ending of the story shows Spade was right all along – the world is a bad place where nobody is honest about their intentions.
Of all noir short stories and novels, The Maltese Falcon stands out because it inspired many other noir tropes and characters. The femme fatale trope was used before in films and books, however Hammett’s use gained more popularity and inspired other writers to use it.
Sam Spade as a character inspired many others like him. Jake Gittes from Chinatown and Joe Gilles from Sunset Boulevard are similar in style and approach to Sam Spade himself.
For writers, reading The Maltese Falcon is crucial because it is an essential primary education in noir writing. There are many other examples of noir writing, but only a few are better at introducing writers to this particular style of storytelling.
The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
The Black Dahlia is a crime novel which brings to the fore the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short. The particular murder received wide attention in popular media at the time due to its sheer brutality.
The novel helped Ellroy’s writing career immensely, making him a respected author in the crime genre. It was the first of four books Ellroy wrote, each exploring the crime scene of LA during the 1940s and 50s. The third novel of the series, LA Confidential, is also a very popular example of noir writing.
The story itself is a typical noir set in the underbelly of Los Angeles. Bucky, an LAPD officer, and his partner are handed the murder investigation case of Elizabeth Short. Short’s lonely existence draws Bucky into the investigation as he slowly becomes obsessed with finding her killer.
Much like most examples of noir writing, the Black Dahlia also exposes the worst of LA’s rich and powerful.
The Black Dahlia is a phenomenal study in writing noir characters. Bucky plays the tragic hero while everyone around him have dark secrets. For writers who wish to study how noir characters are written, Ellroy’s classic is an absolute must.
Furthermore, The Black Dahlia is also an example of making a character out of an entire city. LA is at the front and centre of the tale. Like telling a Batman story is impossible with Gotham City, the Black Dahlia leans heavily into the criminal nature of LA.
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Chandler is a master at noir storytelling. Many of his works are great examples of noir writing.
The Big Sleep is easily one the more popular books he wrote. It is often counted in the best novels every written.
There is not much point going into the noir plot outline of this epic novel. However, it is worth discussing some of the qualities Chandler brings to the fore as a writer.
Firstly, the complexity Chandler brings to his plot is an interesting starting point. Unlike Hammett who brought simplicity with his exploration of Sam Spade, Chandler uses the moral ambivalence of his characters to create an unpredictable story.
This marks an important lesson for noir writing. Writers can add a number of noir elements to write noir fiction. However, it is even more important to keep the story interesting. Remember, writing noir doesn’t mean writing something boring. Sometimes, writers obsesses about style and genre rather than focusing on the one thing that matters – entertaining readers.
Chandler is a great teacher in this regard. He traps the readers into thinking along one line and then flips the script.
Another thing which works well for Chandler is his talent to write great prose. Most instances of noir writing generally have pared-back prose. This tricks many writers into believing writing noir is easy. However, the exact opposite is true.
Pared back prose only makes it difficult for writers to choose their words carefully. To tell a noir fiction story with all its complexities while writing sharp and concise prose is very difficult. Thus, Chandler’s prose presents an extremely valuable lesson in writing.
In Conclusion – Noir Writing Examples
The examples we covered in this piece are only a few instances of noir writing and fiction. There are many noir movies and books which can inspire writers today to take this style of storytelling.
There are many reasons why we don’t see an example of noir story these days. For example, Bollywood noir is an especially rare combination which is largely unexplored in a film-obsessed country like India.
However, lament is not an option. As those who like reading and watching noir fiction, the way forward is clear. Inspiring the next generation of writers into writing noir novels is the right path to bringing content diversity and richness.
Also read: What is Speculative Fiction?
Also read: Indian Fantasy Novels: The Best Fantasy Fiction From India