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9 Great Raymond Chandler Quotes on Writing and Reading

Simon Owens By Simon Owens Published on June 30, 2017

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Illinois-born author Raymond Chandler is best known for his crime novels, not least of which The Big Sleep. What you may not know is that Chandler came to writing relatively late, having lost his job during the great depression at the age of 44.

Chandler’s work tends to be remembered less for the thrilling or spectacular resolutions of his mysteries and more for his incredible sense of style. His prose is deceptively simple, but packed with over-the-top similes and hilarious metaphor. He was also a man with some very strong opinions on writing and reading, as the following quotes attest. 

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That Chandler’s style enjoys such a strong reputation should come as no surprise. At one point, Chandler himself described a scenario in which he effectively fell into mystery writing not only because he was interested in the genre, but because his style suited the genre particularly well. He even described himself as having read pulp crime magazines largely because they were cheap enough to read and then throw away.

On style, Chandler once wrote in a letter to a magazine editor,

“The most durable thing in writing is style.”

Chandler is particularly well known for his use of vernacular English, which many might initially mistake for something that comes easily to him. He once described the process that led to his signature style, saying,

“I had to learn American just like a foreign language. To learn it I had to study and analyse it. As a result, when I use slang . . . I do it deliberately.”

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You may notice here that Chandler refers to the language he writes in as “American,” but he did have some fondness in him for English writers too. In an essay in the collection, The Simple Art of Murder, Chandler says,

“The English may not always be the best writers in the world, but they are incomparably the best dull writers.”

It may not be surprising to find that, as a man writing during the peak of the pulps, but Chandler had some fairly stern opinions on the state of literary consumption. Describing the literary landscape, he is often quoted as having said,

“The flood of print has turned reading into a process of gulping rather than savoring.”

Should you find yourself stuck and without any sure idea of what should happen next in your plot, consider the Chandler approach.

“In writing a novel, when in doubt, have two guys come through the door with guns.”

Aside from his impressive use of vernacular, the wit of Chandler’s work is often considered central to his style. As a result, it’s interesting to read that, in 1949, he described the importance of his comic asides and how they fit within his work.

“To say little and convey much, to break the mood of the scene with some completely irrelevant wisecrack without entirely losing the mood — these small things for me stand in lieu of accomplishment.”

Describing the process that led him to his writing career, Chandler once wrote,

“This was in the great days of the Black Mask (if I may call them great days) and it struck me that some of the writing was pretty forceful and honest, even though it had its crude aspect. I decided that this might be a good way to try to learn to write fiction...”

Part of what makes him such an engaging writer is the refusal to talk down to an audience. Chandler was writing at a time when many pulp editors would happily cut lines from a story if they felt it didn’t suit their audience. Having been told that audiences cared only for the action, Chandler wrote,

“My theory was that they just thought they cared nothing about anything but the action; that really, though they didn’t know it, they cared very little about the action. The things they really cared about, and that I cared about, were the creation of emotion through dialogue and description; the things they remembered, that haunted them, were not for example that a man got killed, but that in the moment of his death he was trying to pick a paper clip up off the polished surface of a desk...”

Of course, we knew when we started this post how it would end. For those of you struggling with being productive or waiting always for inspiration, Chandler once offered the advice,

“Throw up into your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon.”
I am a man who enjoys hiking and woodland walks. I love the smell of freshly cut grass and of wild onions in early spring.

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