Writing Noir

Someone asked on a discussion group today “What is Noir to you?” and that got me thinking.

Drake has been called Noir and I suppose it is, in a way. So what does that mean to me?

Noir needs to be dark, by definition, but I don’t think it has to be tied to any particular time period. The classic Hollywood Noir is set in LA or New York in the 1940s but it can work equally well in the backstreets of ancient Rome or the mean cantinas of Mos Eisley, or even in modern South London for that matter.

Noir implies bitter, cynical black-and-white men in hats and beautiful, dangerous women with secrets to hide, but it doesn’t have to be that. You could have a hard-bitten battle-scarred female veteran of an alien war as your main character and still be writing Noir.

It’s about the feel and the vibe rather than the place or even the people who occupy that place. Noir is about dark thoughts and dark motives, deep introspection followed by double-crosses in back alleys and brief moments of sudden, brutal violence.

But there is a certain aesthetic as well, and I think that’s important. To understand the visual motif you only have to look at how the old movies play with light and shadow, the half-seen faces and the way sunbeams stream through the slats of a blind into the air of a smoky room.

That’s Noir.

Case in point – this clip is from the late 1960s and is really nothing but a lightbulb swinging back and forth. But look at the lighting, and add that music… there it is, that’s Noir right there :

This is something I tried to capture when I was writing Drake – not the standard tropes of Film Noir but the feel of it, that sense of downtrodden cynical weariness but with perhaps a spark of hope in the distance, however far away it may be.

Let me know if I got it right.

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