I don't know about you, but I find that there are few things more pedantic than reading an author's description about his own composition, inspiration and intent. You often end up with a self-congratulatory piece that is more about revisionist history than the true creative process. I offer Poe’s The Philosophy of Composition as a case in point. In an effort to avoid pomposity -- which I've already failed to do by using the word pomposity -- I generally shrug off questions about the creative process. Why be a jerk when you don’t have to?
And yet here we are.
I tried to explain Pride Goeth before a Fall to a colleague at work. I've done similar things in the past, and it always goes the same way. I start by explaining the tenants of hardboiled crime and what writers were doing in the 40s with detective fiction. People are generally interested and might even be familiar with The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep. I tell them that I like the style and borrow from it. By way of explanation I might explain the scene of the story, in this case an upper class brothel hidden in an ordinary suburb. This may elicit a few questions or comments, and the conversation progresses. After some further niceties, I casually mention that my main character is a demon. Moments later I'm alone at the water cooler.
Belial as a main character in a hardboiled story sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud. I get that, but stick with me. The heroes of hardboiled crime are men and women that do the right thing in an uncaring world that doesn't acknowledge their efforts. This style of storytelling avoids simple solutions of clear morality, looking instead at the complexity of the human condition. The best outcome may not always be a fairy tale ending, but it’s better than the alternatives presented by the narrative. Hardboiled heroes are real people with real problems. They fight their personal demons, but try to do what’s right. Who better to tell that story than a demon himself?
The rest fell into place with the usual sort of influences: TV, film, books, media, popular culture. If you have a character you like, build the rest of the story from your own interests. It really is that simple. If it connects with you, it will connect with someone else. Beg, borrow and steal to create something unique. Poe would like you to think it's more complicated than that, but take a look at his personal history. Is there any wonder he wrote the works that he did? If a literary great couldn't escape his influences, what hope do the rest of us have? In the end, my message is a simple one that doesn't require a rambling essay with a shot of self-aggrandizement.
Put simply: shut up and write.
Very interesting! Thanks, Tim!
Check out "Pride Goeth before a Fall" and the other stories on May 31, 2019!