Artistic Intensity

“When a book, any sort of book, reaches a certain intensity of artistic performance,
it becomes literature. That intensity may be a matter of style, situation, character,
emotional tone, or idea, or half a dozen other things. It may also be a perfection of
control over the movement of a story similar to the control a great pitcher has
over the ball.”
Raymond Chandler

“He had the gift of tongue; he was a poet. Metaphors flowered for him in language utterly suited to the exotic people and places he was describing with Flaubertian meticulousness. Chandler didn’t moralize, satirize, deplore, or lament; he saw, selected, and said, in language that lives….He proved finally to have the three S’s that, joined in a writer, mean literature: the power to see, to sense, and to say.”
Lawrence Clark Powell on Raymond Chandler

Any writer seriously compared to Flaubert has a lot of gas in his style tank. The Big Sleep is one of four novels Chandler wrote in a short burst of creativity that elevated him to mythic status as a mystery writer. When my reading group met to ponder it over wine, whiskey, and pizza, we were filled with admiration for its snappy dialogue, smoldering similes, dead-on descriptions, and ability to evoke atmosphere with a deft turn of phrase. Here are a few techniques we especially admired in The Big Sleep (also see Blue-clock Socks):

He uses jarring, but oddly apt, images: “His thin clawlike hands were folded loosely on the rug, purple-nailed. A few locks of dry white hair clung to his scalp, like wild flowers fighting for life on a bare rock.” “All this time the soft giggling went on from the bed, that sound that made me think of rats behind a wainscoting in an old house.”

He uses external settings to reflect emotional states: “Under the thinning fog the surf curled and creamed, almost without sound, like a thought trying to form itself on the edge of consciousness.”

He amasses details to build atmosphere: “There was a winking yellow light at the intersection. I turned the car and slid down a slope with a high bluff on one side, interurban tracks to the right, a low straggle of lights far off beyond the tracks, and then very far off a glitter of pier lights and a haze in the sky over a city.”

His dialogue does double duty, revealing character and advancing action: Marlowe: “You’ve got enough shady friends to know different.” Vivian: “They’re all soft compared to you.” Marlowe: “Thanks, lady. You’re no English muffin yourself.” Vivian: “Let’s get out of this rotten little town.”

Perfect control over the movement of a story: Like a great pitcher, Raymond Chandler had it, plus the three S’s: “the power to see, to sense, and to say.” Let’s power up our “intensity of artistic performance” as we craft our own unique, arresting styles — and write on!

About karinwritesdangerously

I am a writer and this is a motivational blog designed to help both writers and aspiring writers to push to the next level. Key themes are peak performance, passion, overcoming writing roadblocks, juicing up your creativity, and the joys of writing.
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