Marvel Comics and Film Noir - What They Taught Me About Writing

Marvel Comics and Film Noir - What They Taught Me About Writing

photo-2I knew early what I didn’t want to read. Though I longed for adventure my mother bought me all the usual little girl comics/magazines containing stories about ballerinas in pink tutus, owning a pony, or cute puppies and donkeys. Even at such a tender age I didn’t care for them. I’d rather be out climbing trees.

One memorable day, I discovered that my brother’s reading was entirely different from mine, and much more exciting. All it took was a glance at his fabulous Marvel Comics and I was hooked. The 1960s story lines, (pre-computer and pre-digital) were perhaps simpler in outlook than those of today, yet their impact was dramatic. Back then I enjoyed them at face value – superhero good guy/gals battling superhero bad guy/gals.
Now, I can see I was taking subconscious writing lessons. Those superheroes had internal dramas, personal problems to overcome in order to vanquish the enemy. Each image on the page represented a moment of action, a micro-scene. Brief speech bubbles or explanatory tag lines conveyed the scene’s intent, the remainder to be fleshed out by the reader’s imagination. Enough tantalising plot information was dangled in front of us to make us turn the mental page and move on to the next image.
At the same time, another visual medium was adding to my writing knowledge. During winter weekends, when the weather was too dismal to go out, we had Sunday afternoon TV. In the late1960s and early ’70s, programme schedulers broadcast weekly reruns of 1940s and ’50s movies, all genres, romance, drama, comedy, cowboy and war. I loved the 1940s monochrome movies known as film noir – melodramas about cynical private eyes, corrupt cops, vicious gangsters and battle-weary soldiers returning from war.
Those tough leading men were more than matched by their female leads, strong women determined to succeed, dangerous femmes fatales able to convey sexual tension in a smouldering glance or commit cold-blooded murder. The scripts were spare and the dialogue crisp, often rapid-fire, coupled with fast-moving scenes that built to an explosive finale. It’s no surprise to me that fifteen of those 1940s movies received Oscar nominations for the screenwriting.
This post was prompted by a review for my novel, Blood Pool. The reviewer wrote, “Fabulous thriller…like watching a movie pan out.” I sat up when I read her words. She’d noticed what I hadn’t. The story doesroll through my thoughts as if I were watching it flow across a screen. My fingers tap the keyboard and the action plays out, the dialogue crackles, the characters strut across the stage, their internal conflict and body language adding to the drama. I know what they’re thinking or feeling even when they’re out of sight, waiting in the wings for their next appearance. I’m like an all-powerful movie director. Fade in. Play the scene. Fade out.
The great film noir actor, Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957) is quoted as saying, “The only thing you owe the public is a good performance.” Sound advice. I must finish up here. I’m working on my next novel and I’ve had an idea. I must get the scene out of my head and onto the page before I forget. Step back everyone. Give the actors room to breathe. Are we ready? Lights. Camera. Action!

One Response

  1. Somewhere around age 8 or 9 a child changes gears in reading skills. In the primary grades, you learn to read. In the junior grades, you read to learn. In order to master the skills, children need to “bulk read”.

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