I’ve been pounding out three short stories every month for more than a year now. Between that and scratching my way through the other aspects of this here life, I’ve barely given a thought to writing a novel. When I do give it a thought, it sounds like a big one. Daunting, even. But then you come across Raymond Chandler’s letters.
Get it straight: I’m no Chandler scholar. Not even an expert. So I’ve got to take his musings with a grain of salt the size of a Marathon Cab. Still, I’ve got to wonder if he actually meandered his way through his larger works. If he winged it, faked it. When it came to plotting out plot points, Chandler actually claimed he was clueless.
Raymond Chandler had arrived by 1951. He’d published five novels beginning with “The Big Sleep” in 1939. “The Long Goodbye” was in the works. So it threw me for a loop to catch this bit from a letter to his agent, Carl Brandt:
I am having a hard time with the book. Have enough paper written to make it complete, but must do all over again. I just didn’t know where I was going and when I got there I saw that I had come to the wrong place. That’s the hell of being the kind of writer who cannot plan anything, but has to make it up as he goes along and then try to make sense out of it. If you gave me the best plot in the world all worked out I could not write it. It would be dead for me.
Mr. Chandler, are you kidding me? Are you trying to tell me that regarding plots and outlines, you didn’t know what you were doing any more than I do? That’s some kind of kick to the head. To think he’d take on a 60,000 or 70,000-word work no different than I approach a 5,000-word yarn. Go figure.
This is the point where I really get to show off. I can’t help but brag about this. More and more I write myself into a corner. Usually within 1,000—1,500 words. Sometimes I can completely handcuff my narrative direction in as little as 500 words. And to think that Chandler took on an entire novel in a similar way.
Then again, he was Raymond Chandler, after all. He proved that great talent can overcome plenty. If Chandler worked blind, then that must mean I’m working blinder.
I’m working in the dark, all right. And it turns out there’s more levels to that than levels of hell. Sure.