“As you can see, noir is more complex than a guy with a gun, a hat and a woman. It’s a complex genre with a simple message and that’s why I love it. As a genre, it’s not without its problems, namely a preoccupation with fetishising dead women – see L.A. Confidential. And then the femme fatale herself, the very embodiment of a sexual woman as manipulating or evil. Despite these troubling tropes, I love noir and never get tired of its examination of the darker side of life.”
Source: 11 Elements of Writing Noir
I found this excellent informative post on noir, and since I’m doing Camp NaNoWriMo I thought I’d share something that’s giving me ideas. Ultimately this post has some excellent resources, and today I want to tell you how I plan to use some of the ideas capture by the author.
I’m going to subvert most of them.
Well, I’m no stranger to noir, but my struggle has been capturing the traditional elements and then boiling down why they work, how they work, and how to implement them. Recognizing, understanding, and pulling from these traditions creates better authors and better readers because then we can pick up on how these elements are used in each story. Whether a broken nose is an omage to the creators beloved favorite film or is a symbol can be determined by this understanding.
That is why this is such a cool article, and it will really help if you’re just beginning to look at noir. Let me tell you how I plan to subvert much of what’s in the story?
Noir carries nihilistic themes, but my upcoming novella Five Days with The Stranger combined puts nilism beside and against the idea of abstract moral beliefs. Instead of saying the world is just grey…the idea is to say even in the grey we hold fast to these abstract ideals that really may not serve us in the real world. Perhaps they even hurt us. This is most demonstrated through the romance. By using and subverting these norms and standards one can begin to engage with their story in intriguing ways that keep your readers glued to the page.
The femme fatale has always been one of my favorite archetypes. The first action figure I ever owned was Catwoman, and I absolutely adored Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns, which is truly a superhero noir film in how it is shot and constructed. Another figure in classic noir is the “good girl”. In the film The Asphalt Jungle this is typified by Jean Hagen as Doll Conovan, whose love for Dix Handley is mildly hindered by the desire for Angela Phinley (Marilyn Monroe). While other noir films and movies have gone deeper into these contrasting archetypal characters they both tend to provide the romantic conception of the Angel and Devil on your shoulder. The former wants to redeem the male protagonist and bring him back to believing both in hope and hope society, while the latter seeks to embrace him regardless even encouraging his wild passion in the name of freedom. They can become cliche, but often creators have given these archtypes richness.
Combining the two characters into one, or using the appearance of one with the twist of the other can turn out pretty damn awesome. Jessica Rabbit is one well known combination of the two. She’s the femme fatale who has the best traits of the good girl. She’s loving, affectionate, loyal, and even a touch of a homebody(“Let’s go home I’ll make you a carrot cake”). She’s sensual and sexy…but still a devoted wife. She may be oggled but she has power and strength to challenge almost anyone. As she says in the film it’s not her fault she’s bad she’s “just drawn this way” and she isn’t ashamed.
For Five Days with The Stranger, I’m exploring more modern concepts in noir and pulp. As seen in both The Guest and Baby Driver, the waitress is often the representation of a good girl. She’s pretty, but works hard and wants more than she gets without being overly ambitious. She’s obviously attracted to the male protagonist sexually, but may be the first to love him wholeheartedly. Rene is the waitress, she’s black and middle class. She grew up in Miami and has dreams of a better life. She is a good girl…but she’s also the femme fatale in a way. She’s drawn to Jack’s dark side, in fact, recently I added a scene where she says exactly what draws her in, and she’s ashamed but accepting of it. It repulses Jack in theory, but on a more visceral level it arouses him because she is both the Angel and the Devil. She encourages his goodness, but doesn’t discourage his brutality. This story is incredibly difficult to write, for that reason. IT’s a balancing act and both characters don’t know who will fall off first. Its taxing, but rewarding because it gives me an opportunity to really explore these noir troupes and this woman in my head and on the page.
It also gives a chance to explore the attraction of both the good girl and the femme fatale, as well as the attraction to the nihilistic male who is usually the only lead.
In order to better toy with troupes and cliches, giving signals to your readers about what is what, you have to read as much as you can about them. For noir this article, and hopefully my input as well, will really help if that’s where you want to go with your writing.
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