Sunday, June 26, 2005

Chandler: Not a snowflake* kinda guy

Sorry to harp about Chandler, but Karen and I went to see Land of the Dead this afternoon, and I'm still trying to get the taste out of my mouth. This flick was not Dead goodness. Here's proof (I think) that Chandler didn't write from an outline, at least not circa 1947. This is an excerpt from a letter written "To Mrs. Robert Hogan", March 8, 1947, reprinted in Library of America's second Chandler collection: "One of my peculiarities and difficulties as a writer is that I won't discard anything. I have heard this is unprofessional and that it is a weakness of the amateur not to be able to tell when his stuff is not coming off. I can tell that all right, as to the matter in hand, but I can't overlook the fact that I had a reason, a feeling, for starting to write it, and I'll be damned if I won't lick it. I have lost months of time because of this stubbornness. However, after working in Hollywood, where the analysis of plot and motivation is carried on daily with an utter ruthlessness, I realize that it was always a plot difficulty that held me up. I simply would not plot far enough ahead. I'd write something I liked and then I would have a hell of a time making it fit in to the structure. This resulted in some rather startling oddities of construction, about which I care nothing, being fundamentally rather uninterested in plot." Chandler began writing The Big Sleep, his first novel, at age 50 (1938). He wasn't a fast writer, nor a prolific one by today's standards. By the time of his death in 1959, he'd written seven novels, all featuring Philip Marlowe. As for Marlowe, I think the second paragraph in The Big Sleep sums him up best: The main hallway of the Sternwood place was two stories high. Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a group of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a night in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn't have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair. The knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling with the knots on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him. He didn't seem to be really trying. That's Marlowe: a would-be stand-in for a tarnished knight. D. *Snowflake: this is not a reference to Chandler's machismo or lack thereof. I keep forgetting you're not all writers. The 'Snowflake Method' refers to a particular technique of novel outlining. See link.


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