Don’t Be A Hack


Just read an article about it not being easy for writers of hard-boiled crime fiction to avoid imitating Raymond Chandler and recycling some of his signature flourishes and time-honored story-telling devices.

I revere Chandler as one of the founders of the hard-boiled detective genre and learned a lot about driving a story with characters and dialogue by reading his novels and short stories. The main things I learned from Chandler was that the story has to be rooted in realism, plot is secondary to characters and dialogue and you aren’t bound by somebody’s checklist of what a hard-boiled crime story should and shouldn’t be. You’re free to have your characters talk about politics, music, the eternal dance of mutual misunderstanding between men and women and the banality of American culture — long as you’re telling a rip-roaring crime story to boot.

A lot of writers have influenced my work, including James Crumley, James Lee Burke, James Ellroy, Lawrence Block and Elmore Leonard. And that other giant of hard-boiled, Dashiell Hammett.

But if you’re going to be a success as a writer, you have to develop your own style and voice, something unique that draws on your own talent, your own experiences and what you learn from better writers than you.

It’s like anything else — you internalize what you learn and make it your own, running it through the filter of your own talent, to develop something that is unmistakably yours — not a pale and cheap imitation of the masters. Or the flavor-of-the-moment best-selling authors. In other words, don’t be a hack — tell the best story you can in your own voice.

Which brings up another pet peeve of mine — writers who ceaselessly try to pitch their work as something that’s just like somebody else’s writing. If I really want to read ‘the next Baron Birtcher, Dick Belsky, Rich Zahradnik or — heaven forbid, Lee Child — I’ll wait for their next book, not buy yours because you promise to be the second-coming of them.

Sheesh, I know it’s marketing, but why not describe what your work is without relying on this cliche crutch?

2 thoughts on “Don’t Be A Hack

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