Thursday, April 5, 2012

Guest Blogger Jochem Vandersteen on Hardboiled Prose

It's my pleasure to introduce guest blogger Jochem Vandersteen. Jochem is the writer of the Noah Milano series and the founder of the Hardboiled Collective. He blogs at, a review site for private detective fiction.

To me, one of the main attractions to hardboiled fiction to me is the writing style. Sure, I love the tough guys walking around and the plots involving murder, crooks and femme fatales but if there’s one genre that is generally written in a style I enjoy, it’s the hardboiled one.

Hardboiled prose is sparse, direct, tough.

This style was born from the working class readership of the first pulp magazines like Black Mask and Dime Detective that offered these stories. Also, an important element was the fact the writers of these stories got paid by the word. If they didn’t want the content of their stories butchered by editors they had to tell those stories in as few words as possible.

The most famous name coming from these pulps is of course Dashiell Hammett. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett is the first great use of sparse, unemotional language to tell a story, still one of the best examples of a lean prose style as can be found. No wonder my blog is called “Sons of Spade” after the protagonist of this novel, Sam Spade.

Somewhat later Raymond Chandler came along and with his Philip Marlowe stories took  the sparse, clipped phrasings of Hammett and added some of the greatest similes ever along with a slightly  more poetic and romantic attitude.

RobertB. Parker picked up on this and perfected it in his Spenser novels which will always be great examples of how you can tell a story without getting bogged down by long, uninteresting descriptions. Elmore Leonard had as one of his writing rules “Leave out the parts people skip.” Together with Robert, he is a master at this..

Popular writer James Ellroy was forced to emulate the great pulp writers when his original draft manuscript, consisting of 809 pages, of LA Confidential (1990) arrived at his editor. The editor decided the book was too long and needed to be shortened for the sake of publishing costs. Ellroy decided the plot was too intricate to cut scenes and went through the manuscript page by page, removing extraneous words. He reduced the length of the manuscript by over two hundred pages and didn’t lose a scene. This ended up being his household style.

With my own Noah Milano stories I try to tell a good, exciting story that is easy to read and gives you the most bang for your buck as possible. That’s why I write a lot of short stories and bring out novelettes. I’m not writing psychological thrillers or conspiracy novels that go on and on for hundreds and hundreds of pages, I write hardboiled fiction and I’m proud of that fact.



Mark W. Danielson said...

Thanks for sharing, Jochem. Your hardboiled comments affirm what all good writing should be -- to the point, or at least words with purpose.

Jaden Terrell said...

Yes, thank you, Jochem. Your Sons of Spade is one of my favorite resources for reviews of detective fiction.