“In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero; he is everything….The story is this man’s adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure.”
Raymond Chandler, “The Simple Art of Murder: An Essay”
Raymond Chandler, author of The Big Sleep and other detective novels, is widely credited with elevating his genre to literary status. His lively essay, “The Simple Art of Murder,” is a kind of manifesto laying out his beliefs about the ingredients that go into a truly
realistic detective story. He ends the essay by describing the qualities that the detective as hero — “a man fit for adventure” possesses.
This set of intriguing attributes strikes me as being generally helpful in crafting a heroic character in virtually any genre. They are offered here as described by Chandler for us all to ponder as we shape heroes and heroines for our own stories:
“He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man.”
“He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor — by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it.”
“He must be the best man in his word and a good enough man for any world.”
“He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job.”
“He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge.”
“He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud manor be very sorry you ever saw him.”
“He talks as the man of his age talks — that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness.”
“He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in.”
“If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in.”
Something to absorb and apply as we all write on!