Writing Tip — What is Country Noir?


According to an article on Wikipedia about author Daniel Woodrell, “country noir” is a phrase he invented to characterize his crime fiction set in rural Missouri.

After doing some online research, I have discovered country noir goes by several names like “rural noir” and “southern noir”. Besides Mr. Woodrell’s novels, another example is the series Justified. The themes of poverty and violence described in the nonfiction book Hillbilly Elegy are common in country noir. Many country songs, like “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”, would qualify.

Opinions differ over what should be included in country noir, but I think stories should echo themes originating in film noir, the classification that started all the noir subgenres. That’s why I categorize my short story which will published in September as country noir.

Classic Film Noir

In Film Noir, eds. Paul Duncan and Jurgen Muller, the classic period for film noir is listed as 1940-1960, but other experts say it ends in 1958 or 1959. Along with a distinct visual style which often included  low-key lighting and deep shadows, classic film noir contained at least one or more of the following elements:

  • A weak, male character
  • A femme fatale — she manipulates the weak male
  • A private eye — who may be either weak or strong
  • A determined, good woman — usually, she is trying to rescue the weak male.  (These weak, male characters are a a lot of trouble.)
  • Corrupt authorities — including the police
  • An innocent man or woman convicted of a crime — see weak, male character
  • Characters doomed by fate or their pasts
  • Greed and opportunities to make huge scores
  •  Caper film — from Film Noir by Alain Silver, The audience sees a crime from the criminals POV. And during or after the execution of the crime, Something Goes Wrong.
  • Couple on the Run — from Film Noir. The couple can be innocent, fleeing from a trumped up charge, or guilty and trying to escape the police.

The setting for most of these is the gritty, corrupt city. A few movies from this time period can be labeled country noir — On Dangerous Ground, They Drive By Nightand one of my favorites Inferno.

What draws me to country noir  is the combination of noir elements in a rural setting. The country landscape gives noir themes a fresh twist.

If you are interested in learning more about film noir from the classic period, check out Noir Alley on TCM ( Turner Classic Movies). In September, the series will begin again on Saturdays at midnight and Sundays at 10 a.m. The introductions by the hose Eddie Mueller, the Czar of Noir, have taught me so much about this style.

Another aspect of country noir I like is that it limits technology. Next time, I will write about the problems I’ve encountered with technology dissolving tension.

Have you read or watched anything that can be called “country noir”?

4 thoughts on “Writing Tip — What is Country Noir?

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  1. I like that you include the different “Noir” classifications- I’d never really thought through a definition of the genre. “Country noir” really does sound like a fascinating twist 🙂

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