Welcome to Noir Week! I’m so excited to do a week of introspection on one of my favorite genres to read and to write.
For this week, I’ll write a post each day on an aspect of noir writing. All of this leads up to my online noir writing class through WriteSpace in Houston, Texas — Femme Falates, Sidekicks, and Gumshoes: A Noir Writing Workshop
A little about the online class:
The femme/homme fatale, the detective, the side kick, the villain. Sprinkle in dark, moody atmosphere, a crime, the snarky voice of a lead character–and you have the ingredients of a stellar noir story.
Noir is a mystery subgenre that has its own grime and grit. From Raymond Chandler to Jessica Jones, the genre has moved and shifted over time but one thing remains the same, you know noir when you see (or read it!). In this online course, we’ll discover what makes a noir story tick, how to flesh out the characters, and he best way to tackle place and atmosphere. By the end of our time together we’ll create our own noir stories, as dark and gritty as a dark, windless night.
To sign up for the class: Femme Fatales, Sidekicks, and Gumshoes: Writing a Noir Mystery .
Now, for today’s post, let’s talk about the least known and thought about in the noir genre.
The sidekick! They get such a bad wrap and are so under used.
In vintage noir, noir stories written or filmed during the golden era (30s and 40s), the sidekick was usually the secretary. That lonely woman who knew her detective boss better than he did and knew exactly how he liked his drink … and his women.
The sidekick could also be a reluctant friend or person that helps the main character do their job better.
With all this work that the sidekick does, you would think that this would be a more important role in a noir story. Why isn’t it.
The sidekick is a SECONDARY character.
Let’s talk about that. In short, a noir story is dark usually in its subject matter but not always. It’s a sliver of life where things are never neat. It’s where humanity shows its underbelly without abandon. That’s what makes the story dark or noir.
A sidekick can prove a big a levity but not too much. One sidekick that stands out in my reading comes from a Rachel Caine story, “Marion, Missing” from the anthology Dark Secrets: A Paranormal Noir Anthology.
In the story, Tilde, is killed and the detective, Valentine, needs to figure out a way to solve the murder of his sidekick. And she does that … as a ghost.
No one said you couldn’t cross genres.
Even as a ghost she makes sure her detective is taken care of. Here’s something from the opening scene when the reader first meets Tilde Sands.
“Really?” Tilde Sands sounded like she’d found it funny. “That’s how you’re handling it? Moping like some sad sack whose girl dumped him?”
“You weren’t my girl,” he said. “Any you haven’t dumped me. You’re still here.”
“Val,” she said, “you’ve really got ot let go of the past. Now get in here and pull some files. You like like a cliche sitting there. All you need is a half-empty bottle of cheap scotch.”
“Be fair,” he said. “I like vodka. Doesn’t leave a smell that upsets the clients.”
“Come get the files.”
In that scene, even though Tilde is dead and a ghost, she’s still keeping her detective in line. He needs focus. He’s starting to spiral. She is making sure that he continues and not taking any grief from him in the process.
A sidekick doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical person, or even a person. In modern noir stories not only can genres be crossed but noir can expand past the edge of traditional storytelling.
A more traditional example? Of course! Jessica Jones has several sidekicks even thought she prefers to work alone (they always do). In season one of the Netflix show, we see that her childhood friend Trish helps her beyond what would be considered logical. Add to her posse Malcolm Ducasse, who has his own problems that he has to face.
One pattern that I do want to point out here is that just like our detective, the sidekick is also troubled in some way. In fact, every character in a noir story is. However, the trouble of the sidekick can not eclipse the detective’s (it’s that character’s story after all) but can be part of what makes the side kick useful.
In Caine’s story, having a ghost side kick proves useful to finding clues but Tilde had secrets. For Jessica Jones, Trish is important to Jessica’s back story and provides some opportunities to push the plot forward.
See how important sidekicks are? Now image how important they can be for the villain.
Yes, plot twist and a cliffhanger. Want to learn more? Sign up for my noir writing class through WriteSpace: Femme Fatales, Sidekicks, and Gumshoes: Writing a Noir Mystery .
Alright everyone! Hope this has been useful and intriguing for you. Tomorrow we’ll cover another aspect of writing noir and one of my favorite things — grit! Oh, I love me some noir grit.