They say you should never meet your heroes. Sometimes you shouldn’t find out too much about them either.
I grew up reading Raymond Chandler’s seven novels again and again (well, the first six, I’m not sure anyone reads PLAYBACK more than once). Even though I’ve not now looked at them in years, I still have them wrapped around my heart. I quote lines from them, think of the twists fondly in my own writing and know that if I could write something even half as good as – say – THE LONG GOODBYE, I’d consider myself highly successful.
But when you read about the man himself, he comes across as distinctly rude, awkward and dismissive. A drunk and a misanthrope who did nothing to hide his contempt of the people around him. When they were writing DOUBLE INDEMNITY together, Billy Wilder would frequently disappear to the bathroom to rage into the mirror about how much he loathed Raymond Chandler.
However, a dissection of personality flaws isn’t why I’m here today. The reason I bring Chandler up is that the way he wrote was just scene after scene after scene. He’d take two interesting characters – one of whom was always Philip Marlowe, as he wrote in the first person – think of some snappy dialogue and write a confrontation. Then he’d send Marlowe off elsewhere and have him confront someone else. And when he had enough of those scenes, he’d stitch all the scenes together and come up with a plot.
Now, that way of working does explain why Chandler’s plots are frequently seen as loose (although, with the exception of the chauffeur’s death in THE BIG SLEEP, he does tie everything together). But the point is that he didn’t start with an over-arching plot, he just wrote chapter after chapter and trusted in himself to somehow fit it all together later.
Because as I say, if you’re just starting writing, then you just need a scene. And then another scene. As long as the words are flowing and you’re enjoying what you’re doing, you can create a whole novel from there.
“But what happens if I just end up with a series of disconnected chapters?” I hear you ask…
While, if you want to read some of my noir fiction, the first three chapters of my novel DIANA CHRISTMAS are available for free here!