I've been on a recent Chandler kick, and have been making mental notes about what I can take away from him to use in my own writing:

1. Keep It Lean. Chandler doesn't waste a word, and his books are never overlong, yet he creates incredibly vivid and complicated worlds.

2. Make Dialogue Count. Every bit of Chandler dialogue either serves as necessary exposition or character development. There's no wasted small talk. Or long speechifying.

3. Set A Scene. Chandler, I am realizing, is a very cinematic writer. He seems to have instinctively understood that good writing and good camerawork are somewhat the same thing — open with a wide context-establishing shot, then focus in on the action. He never makes you guess where and when things are taking place.

4. Create Characters With More Than One Dimension. I think almost every major or secondary character in every Chandler story is holding something back. Chandler is gifted at making readers aware of this without beating them over the head with it, planting a seed of unease in us as we dive deeper into each tale.

5. Create Chemistry Between Characters. Be it two males talking, or Philip Marlowe sizing up a dame, Chandler always creates interesting tension between any two characters who come into contact with one another. Some like each other before they're sure of one another; some dislike one another but aren't sure that means that they aren't good people in the end.

What else would you add to this list?



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What? Who is worth four million? I think I was alive back then, and I don't remember powder blue suits being the power wardrobe.
But this does make me think how clothes do, in fact, make the man and are part of the character.
It also makes me think that changes in fashion could well influence how a novel comes across decades later.
It certainly can impose upon the reader the need to know the styles of the day. That "powder blue" may not have been proper business attire then, but for his line of work it could have been expected. In any case, I invariably enjoy Chandler's descriptions of clothing because it makes me feel part of the time.
It's only a matter of time in a Chandler discussion before people start quoting passages.

Recitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

"He didn't say anything. We just stared at each other, half curious, half hostile, like new neighbors."
That one is good. :)
6. Having a sense of poetic prose in one's descriptive passages.
Call it voice, POV, whatever. No other writer has enveloped me in his world like Chandler has. I make a point to read at least one Chandler every year, so I've read them all several times. I still lose myself in them within a few paragraphs. I know enoug about writing now to recognize the plot holes and the occasional stretch simile, and to understand the occasional stretch is the price we pay for those no one has even matched. "(My personal favorite: From thirty feet away she looked like a lot of class. From ten feet she looking like somehitng made up to be seen from tihrty feet.)

Hammett may have been a better writer, all things considered. I'm gradually coming to that conclusion myself. But no one before or since has been able to top--rarely even to matc--what Chandler could accomplish at his best. What better lines have ever been written than,

What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the sanme as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now. Far more a part of it than Rusty Regan was. But the old man didn't have to be. He could lie quiet in his canopied bed, with his bloodlesshands folded on the sheet, waiting. His thought was a brief, uncertain murmur. His thoughts were as gray as ashes. And in a little while he too, like Rusty Regan, would be sleeping the big sleep.

I had fun just typing that. To know it is the end of the same book Jack quoted the beginning of is to know there was something special about the writer, no matter what anyone thought about what came between them.
Nice tribute, Dana!
Just attended the NE Crimebake writer's conference (highly recommended) and a writer on one panel (How to write page turners) said Chandler advised that when things get dull, send in a man with a gun.

Works for me. How about you?
Certainly not. They didn't have guns in the eleventh century.

Swords and knives work pretty well, though.
True, but Chandler wasn't living in the 11th Century.

Then again, I think we can view the "gun" as metaphorical for something ominous and threatening.
Point by Point

1. Keep in lean.
Chandler wastes a lot of words with overly long descriptions that others here call "setting the scene." But many people just love that. I'm not among them.

2. Make Dialogue Count.
I can't argue with this one. But he does deliver long-winded speeches that although unrealistic work well in context.

3. Set A Scene.
See 1. Keep in lean.

4. Create Characters With More Than One Dimension. I think almost every major or secondary character in every Chandler story is holding something back.
If no one holds anything back, there is no story. But he does do great characters.

5. Create Chemistry Between Characters.
Again, if a writer doesn't do that, where is the story.

Comment:
Rather than call this, "What Does Raymond Chandler Have To Teach Us?" Jim Thomsen might have said, "What makes good fiction."

Yes, Chandler is pretty good but I recently read "The Big Sleep," "The Long Goodbye," and "Fairwell, My Lovely," back-to-back-to-back, and I saw many flaws in Chandler.

Overly long social comment that really was not part of the story.

Very long speeches.

Great figures of speech, but also metaphors and similes that seemed to be force in with a shoehorn.

All the criticism being said, I feel that Chandler is probably the best private-eye writer of all time, although "The Maltese Falcon" is the best private-eye novel. Dashiell Hammett wrote "The Maltese Falcon" for those one or two who don't know--although probably no one following this thread.

I specify "Private-eye writer" to differentiate from other sub-genres. I am sure PI is not everyone's read preference.

But if that's all we can say bad about a writer, he's a pretty good one. Damn good in fact.
I said pretty much the same (a lot more scathingly) in "What are you reading?". I started HIGH WINDOW, and was appalled and bored by the totally useless mass of detail in the scene description that starts the book. I next saw the same detail in character description and found the character to be an absolutely flat rendition of the proverbial "rich bitch." From that point on, the plot looked predictable and I tossed the book.

Much of the older detective fiction suffers from flat characters and puzzle plots. No excuse for that, and one of the reasons I don't read those books any more. That includes British and American detectives. The excess of detail and length of speeches may be more the customary style of the time.

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