Keith Rawson's Ten Rules To Write Noir

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer who lives in the alkaline desert waste of southern Arizona with his wife and very energetic daughter. His stories, poems, articles, reviews, and interviews have appeared in such publications as Plots with Guns, Needle Magazine, Out of the Gutter, the Lineup,, Powder Burn Flash, A Twist of Noir, BEAT to a PULP, Spinetingler and many others. He is a staff writer for Spinetingler and the publisher of Crimefactory magazine. You can find him stroking his over-inflated ego at his blog Bloody Knuckles, Callused Fingertips.

The First Rule of Writing Noir—Don’t Write Noir: I know Anthony Neil Smith listed this as his #1, but my reasoning is a little different. When I say don’t write noir, I mean don’t intentionally go out and write it. If your natural writing voice takes on a noir tone, so be it, but don’t force it. Plus, like, only two people will end up reading you, so there’s that. If you want to make a living as a writer, noir is not the genre to be in.

The Second Rule of Writing Noir—DON’T WRITE NOIR!

Third Rule—Don’t read Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler.
Read Jim Thompson.
Read David Goodis.
Read George V. Higgins.
Read Derek Raymond.
All four of these writers will teach you a thing or two about the genre. But for the love of GOD stay away from Hammett and Chandler because they’re about as noir as plaid socks (except Red Harvest, of course.)

Fourth Rule—Take up smoking, drinking, and develop a drug habit if you have the inclination. All three activities will help you connect with your characters. Also think about marrying a whore, you know, an actual streetwalker….and ya know, with your drug problem, she’ll probably be a great hook up.

Fifth Rule—Commit actual crimes. You know, nothing serious, just petty stuff where you can walk away with a slap on the wrist but you still have the thrill of being bad. And, once again, it will help you connect with your characters.

Sixth Rule—Get lots of tattoos and learn some form of martial arts. Why? Because most crime writers are dopey over weight suburbanites who are really into comic books and obscure films, so it would be kind of cool if some bad ass who looks like he stepped out of a prison movie with moves like Bruce Lee was actually writing in the genre

Seventh Rule—Brood endlessly while chain smoking and enjoying your booze and drug habits. You’ll, of course, be brooding over the shenanigans of your whore of a wife

Eighth Rule—Jail time is your friend. Once again, it will help you cozy up to your characters.

Ninth Rule—Get into fights, commit random acts of violence, and be homeless for a bit. Chances are all three of these activities will lead you to down the road to Rule Eight

Tenth Rule—If this is your first time writing noir, your story is going to suck. This isn’t always a hard and fast rule. Sometimes your first couple of stories are going to be out and out gems. Remember, there’s a learning curve when it comes to writing. Some people just get it, others take time to learn their craft. Be prepared to face rejection, but always keep working and trying to better the stories you’re trying to tell.

And the Unspoken Eleventh Rule of Writing Noir—You need to not pay attention to any of these rules, or any other rules someone tries to lay down about the genre or about writing in general (Yes, this includes famous books by guys like Elmore Leonard and Stephen King.) We all know the writers of these books and lists have found a certain level of success with their rules, but it doesn’t mean their secret sauce is going to translate well to your recipe. The only real advice I can give to anyone is to experiment, try different genres, read widely—and just not crime fiction, read whatever seems interesting to you—write every day, have fun, and take your time to learn. Becoming a writer isn’t a race and there are going to be plenty of road blocks along the way to writing your first novel, or whatever it is you’re trying to do with writing.

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I'm a pop culture blogger and author living in Montreal, Canada with my better half Josie and my dog Scarlett. I am a proud member of author collective Zelmer Pulp and have about a dozen of short stories published to my resume.


  1. I love this! These are hilarious but at the same time filled with truth. Thanks to both of you!

  2. They are probably great rules, but I don't read rules. I jump in there with a hammer and a screwdriver and I make it FIT, goddamnit.

    So does Keith. He eats nails *and* glass for breakfast. No coffee. Just swallows the blood in his mouth.

  3. Is goat blood OK? I've been running black masses since high school and I must have drank liters of goat's blood.

  4. Should've read Rule 11 before I took care of 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10. No regrets, though. I suppose that's why I couldn't do 7.

  5. Aye, I've ticked a few of those boxes! Smashing!

  6. I will follow these rules to the letter by not follow these rules. Good stuff and all true.

  7. Just when I thought I could never be a noir writer, because I could not complete rule #4 (I can't marry a whore, darn it), I read rule #11! Now I know exactly what I must do! Ignore all the rules! Wait...I always ignore rules and I still can't write noir. So...I'm going to have a stiff drink, a cigarette and snort some coke while robbing a bank and beating up my boyfriend and see what happens.

  8. They're all pretty much bang on, but Rulle 11 rocks! It's all trial and error, as I'm finding out. Great post guys!

  9. Excellent post - especially #3 (although 6-8-9 have a little merit also).

    And yea, at the end of the day, it really is all about #11.

  10. Sweet! Though I seem to be stuck in the research aspects of your advice. Should I ever make time to write, I'm totally set on the character connection front.