How to write a crime novel: 4 tips from Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler quote on how to write a crime novel

If you want to learn how to write a crime novel, studying the masters is a good first step. Read on for 4 takeaways from Raymond Chandler’s fiction that will help you become a better crime writer:

Raymond Chandler was one of the great crime writers of all time, and his ascent from humble beginnings as a pulp writer in the 1930s to his eventual position of prestige in American literature can teach us a great deal. How to mix action with depth of character, how to use language effectively and the importance of setting are all key to Chandler’s artistic success.

How to write a crime novel: What Chandler gets right

1: Blend action with interesting and sympathetic characters

Blend a pulp sense of action with a literary writer’s sense of humanity. Chandler began life as a poet and turned to the pulps in order to make money. What critics eventually recognised was that while Chandler did indeed give readers the goods in terms of crafting compelling and page-turning mysteries, but he also imbued his books and characters with a sense of humanity rather than making them cardboard cutouts.

2: Respect your readers

Respect your readers. Chandler knew his editors had contempt for his audience, but he did not share those feelings. Writing in a genre that was popular rather than highbrow, he firmly believed that readers wanted more including “the creation of emotion through dialogue and description.” His enduring success suggests that he was correct.

3: Find your authentic crime writing voice

Chandler had one of the most distinctive styles of any crime writer, and anyone familiar with his voice would be unlikely to mistake a line of his fiction for someone else. Praised for his similes and turns of phrase such as describing a character as wearing “a hat that had been taken from its mother too young,” Chandler showed that style and facility with language was not just for writers of literary fiction.

4: Create a strong sense of place

Have a strong sense of place. Chandler effectively evoked the California setting of his novels, and in part, this strength may have been because he was an outsider in his own country. He spent many years in England before returning to the United States. You need not become an expat in order to cultivate the same ability to see your own setting with such an incisive eye however. If you are writing about a familiar place, think about what you take for granted and how that would strike an outsider. These details will resonate with your readers and bring your settings to life.

Share your crime writing in progress with other crime fiction lovers for helpful writing feedback on Now Novel.

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