Today, we turn to Black Mask, where Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler made their home. Established by H. L. Mencken, the magazine offered "the best stories available of adventure, the best mystery and detective stories, the best romances, the best love stories, and the best stories of the occult."
Editor Joe Shaw offers this advice, in the May 1934 edition of Writer's Digest:
Long descriptive openings are for the most part taboo. For that matter these too often tedious stretches have little place in any part of a rough paper story of today.
Start your story in action if you can do so quickly. Identify your characters so that the action will be understandable to the reader; and keep it moving all the way to the end. To accomplish this, it is not necessary to stage a gun battle from start to finish, with a murder or a killing in every other paragraph. You can keep it alive and moving, when sympathy is once aroused, by tension and suspense, through dialogue or other form of plot development, when action is absent. Action in one form or another is, however, pretty generally in demand.
Logic and plausibility are much abused terms. As a matter of fact, although they are at times mentioned editorially, in by far the greatest volume of crime and detective fiction they are completely disregarded, while rapidity of motion, exaggerated menace and exaggerated action are substituted in their stead, and, let it be said, with the apparent approval of many readers of the crime magazines today.
While it must be admitted that their use can produce the strongest possible emotional effects-since the happenings carry the illusion of reality-the danger lies in the fact that unless skillfully employed, their demands tend to clog the smooth, swift run of the story.
After all, their acceptability depends upon the treatment, upon the manner in which the material is presented to the reader. If it is done in such a way as to seem logical, the writer has little further worry in that regard and he may speed up his action as much as he sees fit. Where plausibility enters the question, the writer merely has to have his characters move and talk, act and react as real human beings would do in like situation, however imaginary, and his task in that respect is done.
In addition to these elements there is one general principle that is quite fundamental. Unless you have a clear mental picture yourself, you can scarcely expect your reader to get a clear, understandable impression of your thought. If your own ideas are undeveloped or confused, your purpose in your story unclear in your mind, its presentation will not be less so. Thus it would seem that word choice and arrangement, diction if you will, come secondary to clear thinking. If your mental image is clear, you will have no difficulty in expressing it in the simple language and simple technique of rough paper fiction.