Writing Wednesday: Slinging the Slanging
In previous entries I mentioned I’m working on a story right now that takes place in the ’30s. The biggest challenge so far has been with the vernacular. There are times when I have to stop and ask myself, “How would a person in the 30s insult someone?” Or, “What would they say if they think something is great?” I mean, they wouldn’t say it’s “cool,” or “awesome,” or “groovy,” or “gnarly,” or “rad,” or “sweet.” When in doubt I suppose just say, “That’s great.”
To try and combat that, I’ve been reading a lot of old detective stories. First I read The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, who I take it was one of the first to do the hardboiled detective thing. Then I also got from the local library a 1300-page collection of every short story Raymond Chandler has written.
That’s helped a little bit so far. Like I know I can have my character say, “That’s swell” if she likes something. Or she can call someone a heel if she doesn’t like him/her. And what she really doesn’t want is to get pinched by the police instead of getting busted by the cops like I’d say these days.
Besides reading, I’ve also watched a number of noir movies from the ’30s-1950, including the movie version of “Maltese Falcon” that sticks mostly to the book. (Except of course they had to cut the part where Spade asks the girl to strip so he can see if she swiped $1000 from him. That’s fine because I really didn’t want to see Mary Astor naked anyway.) God Bless whoever came up with Netflix Instant for that. I also finally bought all the Indiana Jones movies, which unfortunately included the lousy fourth one. Did you know that technically “Temple of Doom” is a prequel to “Raiders of the Lost Ark?” I didn’t until I watched them back-to-back and realized the beginning of Raiders says 1936 and the beginning of Doom says 1935. Weird how 25 years go by and then something like that finally hits you.
In one writing group I was in, someone was working on a sort of reference book about slang. I should probably go look for something like that. But I think reading it in books and watching movies from that era is better just in that it helps you to hear things in context, which I think gives me a better feel for it.
Any suggestions from y’all out there?
Friday I’m going to talk more about old movies, hooray! (Or groan.)