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Pushing myself to try new things is one of the most important exercises as a writer. For me it is like skateboarding, I spent ages learning how to ollie and it was great, but I had to try something else or I’d have gotten bored of just jumping up and down kerbs. Pushing myself can be anything from writing a different kind of story, trying a different genre or simply altering the way I physically write.
It took me maybe a year initially to learn how to write in a way that I was happy with, however, after some time I felt the stories I was writing were becoming too formulaic, becoming less interesting. When this happened first I tried writing in a different way but unfortunately the cycle came round again to formulaic and uninteresting. I had got into a rut of writing stories in the same kind of format with the same kind of voice and it wasn’t exciting me anymore. To fix this I deliberately tried writing in different styles.
The most exciting style for me is that of old-school crime writers and hardboiled dialogue. I got into hardboiled detective novels after watching a fantastic movie called BRICK, incidentally my favourite film of all time. When talking about the movie Rian Johnson mentioned Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest as inspiration and said he told all the cast to read Hammett before shooting.
I thought I would search out some Hammett, along with some Raymond Chandler, and give them a read. I had never read a crime novel before so didn’t know what to expect but was utterly amazed by them; Red harvest is now one of my favourite novels ever. The writing is so strong and the dialogue so witty and almost dangerous. I love how fast paced they are and how each little bit of exposition leads you to think one thing only for the next bit to make you doubt yourself.
The dialogue is what absorbed me most of all, I loved it so much that I wanted to try and write something that I could lend this hardboiled style to. A few months ago I started writing a story currently called “My Brother’s Tale.” It is a story written from the perspective of a boy who has been watching too many old Noir movies and is acting like a detective, trying to discover what has happened to his brother. I won’t go into too much detail but it starts with the line:
“Last night my brother may or may not have killed someone.”
Trying to emulate a very specific style and tell a story not considered congruent with that style has been a significant challenge, one which I’m still not sure works, but it has undoubtedly given me the confidence to experiment further with voices and characters and ways of telling regular stories in irregular ways.
Alex writes short stories and occasionally things a little bit longer. He has had fiction published in places like Wilderness House LIterary Review, Metazen and Spectre Magazine and has a story in the National Flash Fiction Day anthology Jawbreakers. He is currently working on a collection of stories, a novella and his blog at alexthornber.wordpress.com.