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Time in Raymond Chandler
koganbot
When I'm walking from place to place I don't see most of what's in front of me and I don't have words for most of what I do see. Or I'll have general words — this person is agitated, that person is middle class — but I won't have words for the details that got them there.

So my writing is memories, plans, concepts, ideas, some dialogue, relationships, arguments, analogies, echoes, references, questions. But it isn't the way things look and sound. So it isn't a physical, real-time world.

Contrast to Raymond Chandler: He's not just the look and sound of a world, since his visual and sonic details are vibrating with opinions; they are social details. He sets up a rhythm in the variation between action and description. And the descriptions themselves flow between specific detail and vast overstatement. How he manages the overstatement is worth an essay in itself — how he layers wild metaphor upon wild metaphor while keeping them enough in their place so a story moves forward rather than stopping dead in its delicious prose.

But I'm going to focus on another role of Chandler's details: how they make you feel time as it passes.

Think of time in a story. Someone does something; someone else does something in response. Someone goes somewhere. There is a visit. People converse. All of these take time. Depending on the type of your story, and the type of writer you are, you can allude to time's passing, or you can try to make it part of the reader's experience.

Descriptive details take time to read. So in Chandler, while a character is waiting, or traveling, or watching, or listening, the reader is reading. Here's a passage from A Lady In The Lake that first alludes — effectively — to the passage of time, then gives you time directly.

Half an hour and three or four cigarettes later a door opened behind Miss Fromsett's desk and two men came out backwards, laughing. A third man held the door for them and helped them laugh. They all shook hands heartily and the two men went across the office and out. The third man dropped the grin off his face and looked as if he had never grinned in his life.

Not only do you get the time at the door, the laughing, the laughing continuing (as man number three helps the other two laugh), the handshakes, the walk across the office; you also get, as Tom Stoppard once pointed out, the sound of the office door closing on the word "out": "the two men went across the office and out." And as that passage reverberates in our minds, the laughers' helper takes time to rearrange his face.

In a very early story, "Spanish Blood," a chapter begins:

The big English house stood a long way back from the narrow, winding ribbon of concrete that was called De Neve Lane. The lawn had rather long grass with a curving path of stepping stones half hidden in it. There was a gable over the front door and ivy on the wall. Trees grew all around the house, close to it, made it a little dark and remote.

All the houses in De Neve Lane had that same calculated air of neglect. But the tall green hedge that hid the driveway and the garages was trimmed as carefully as a French poodle, and there was nothing dark or mysterious about the mass of yellow and flame-colored gladioli that flared at the opposite end of the lawn.

Delaguerra got out of a tan-colored Cadillac touring car that had no top. It was an old model, heavy and dirty. A taut canvas formed a deck over the back part of the car. He wore a white linen cap and dark glasses and had changed his blue serge for a gray cloth outing suit with a jerkin-style zipper jacket.

He didn't look very much like a cop. He hadn't looked very much like a cop in Donegan Marr's office. He walked slowly up the path of stepping stones, touched a brass knocker on the front door of the house, then didn't knock with it. He pushed a bell at the side, almost hidden by the ivy.

The description of the house and grounds covers the time Delaguerra's car is approaching the driveway: Chandler never tells us the man is driving, but we get the road, the almost hidden driveway, the drive up, which occurs as we see the hedge, several garages, the flowers; then the description of the car and the man, which covers the time he's walking the path to the door. Then he's reaching for the knocker, then reaching for the bell.

This entry was originally posted at https://koganbot.dreamwidth.org/369346.html. Comments still welcome here, there, and anywhere.