I did a blog post on this called The Five Essentials of Noir. Whether you read it or not, I'd like to hear your definition. Jack Bludis, an author on this site, said it best in terms of the difference between the main characters in hardboiled and noir. "Hardboiled = tough, noir = screwed."

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Noir is more of an overall feeling than a set of characteristics. A work is not noir because of the things that happen but how they are presented. So I don't think Bluis' description, as you gave it, is complete. If the character is screwed, what happens if he's also tought? Is it hardboiled or noir? Can a tough character not be screwed? While hardboiled deals with a person's character and/or personality, the way in which the character reacts/responds in a given situation,noir is the overall tone of black despair permeating the entire work, not just a character, and I think that is where a lot of confusion comes in.
Crime/mystery lit 'noir' (black' in French) grew from the original Existentialists. "Kill a man you don't know, or be killed yourself," is the basic plot here.

The root of the movement is how the world turned to muck between the world wars and afterwards. Social contracts, common expectations and civility are not worth the paper with which butts have been wiped.

Bludin-san is certainly correct that 'screwed' is more important than 'tough' in lit noir, film noir, crime fic noir. Don't forget 'amoral,' don't forget 'No Exit.'
I like Jack's definition since no-ones EVER going to agree on what is noir :o) I also like Eddie Muller's (the Czar of Noir) definition. I can't remember it exactly but it's something along the lines of a man walks into a PI's office and asks him to follow his wife, the PI solves the crime, returns to his lonely, seedy office, cracks open a bottle of whiskey and all's right with the world; that's a PI novel. A man walks into a PI's office, asks him to follow his wife, the PI falls in love with the wife and she persuades him to help her kill her husband and split the loot, and then she double crosses the PI and runs off with the loot; that's noir.

And is it also Eddie who says that the hero starts out fucked and it goes downhill from there?
Great discussion!
I'd say noir and hardboiled are interconnected in my mind anyway.
For me, it's the other world out there. The world of the lost. Characters lost in their own way, because of the life they've led or circumstance.
the story has within it extreme emotions--lust, desire, revenge, hatred--all sorts of menacing angst. I think of the homicial wife in (you guessed it)! Double Indemnity--or I see the dark streets of urban decay in the 1940's and onward--
I see people who are generally their own worst enemies--who might feel fate is doing a number on them and who would want to reverse it, only they can't--because it's hopeless in their hopeless world.
Someone on crimespace commented to me that they didn't like reading about losers--well, noir/hardboiled is so not for them!
I like it. I like reading it, watching it and writing it.
I like it because I stepped into a world like that once--circumstance--which changed. but it might not have. it shaped my outlook forever.
I never was Mary Sunshine nor would I want to be.
I like the night--it sings sad songs to me. It moves and inspires me--it's just the way it hits me.
So Paul, and everybody else--noir to me is a dark world that, like the Twilight Zone, is out there--and we can walk into it through film and books and I'm glad.
Well, I like Jack's definition, but I keep thinking that the two take very different views of women. I'm assuming now a male protagonist. In hardboiled, we find frequently the easy lay or warm-hearted hooker; in noir, the female is gorgeous but evil. That means that in terms of romance, the male is macho in hardboiled, but the proverbial naive kid in noir.
However, these are rather sweeping generalizations.
A very important word has popped up - 'existential.' Existential despair is at the core of noir stories. Hope glimmers dim in the distance. The Buddhist curse - whatever it is you want, you can't have it - is in full force.

Faust's recent MONEY SHOT is a good example.

I'd be glad of some sweeping generalizations if they'd get the kitty litter off the floor. There's a dustpan available. Kittens! I ask you! They'll play with ANYthing!
I thought everybody was screwed basically in both of them--but I tend to get confused by the distinction as hardboiled being one thing and noir the other.
I understand what I.J.'s saying and I love Jack's definition too--but can't the kinds of women in hardboiled be other things, other than warm hearted hookers?
as women are writing in this genre, this will change a bit I think.
nothing creative should remain static in my opinion.
I'm not envisioning Mike Hammer in lace panties either btw--FELLAS! this is for some of the men on this forum (not Paul, however)!
Congrats, Paul, for starting this thread--and thanks for the kudos.

Donna Moore, does a far better report on Eddie Muller than I could ever do. In my mind, Eddie is the Pope of Noir.

Donna is the Queen of satire.

BTW, I agree with almost everyone who has been quoted so far. Each has a twist on what is what. And yes my definitions are over-simplified. The only complete knowledge of noir comes from Eddie Muller. No offense to anyone else.

I like Donna's words: When I wrote my noir, "The Little Mornings" I considered it a noir novel from day one. Someone mentioned that in the end the guy gets fucked, but in my case, the guy fucks himself, something many of us do all the time. Trying to get the book published by describing it as noir, however, evidently wasn't a great idea. It got published as a mainstream novel, and some consider it a mystery, but I stick to my guns. In my mind, while writing it, authors like James Cain and Jim Thompson seemed to be looking over my shoulder and it was the easiest book I ever wrote.
well said, I agree with that Naomi.
I really do.
You sound as though you are more of an expert than I am!
I get it fuzzy most of the time, blurred between the two--but I like how you've defined it.
Naomi, I think you've got a perfect concept of noir, and the difference between noir and hard-boiled, although, as you point out, a book can be both up to a point.
I come late to the game. I think of myself as a writer of "Medium Boiled" novels, so I'll give it a shot. The noir is by definition dark, while the hardboiled attitude can be used in any kind of novel. Noir is a kind of post-reason tragedy. The players are fated, the outcome certain. Or just maybe I've been to too many grad schools; yeah, Jack caught the squeal and got the skinny.


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