Writers on Writing — Elmore Leonard

February 22nd, 2008 • Kate

Part of the fun of packing and moving and unpacking and getting my new office set up is finding the strange and wonderful things I decided were worth saving. In a file marked “articles”, between pieces on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, I found this article by Elmore Leonard on ten rules for writing. The highlights:

  1. Never open a book with weather
  2. Avoid prologues
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places or things
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip

Go read the whole thing. It’s totally worth it, and definitely something to bear in mind for the queries and partials you’re submitting.

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4 Responses to “Writers on Writing — Elmore Leonard”

  1. Caryn Says:

    This is a great set of rules. What I especially liked about the article itself, though, was that he admits that there are exceptions to all of these rules–as long as they are used sparingly and with good reason.
    I do have to say, however, that the following cheap shot irritated me: "I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances 'full of rape and adverbs.'" It seems like some authors like to slam the romance genre so that they can seem more literary and "above such trash". I have to wonder if he's ever actually read a romance novel–a good one, at any rate.
    And, finally, since you're sharing a NY Times article, have you seen this one? It made my day. http://egan.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/02/20/book-lus

  2. Trish Says:

    I distinctly remember writing the words hell, break, and loose in the FIRST SENTENCE of Unbecoming. *gulp*

  3. Brigid Says:

    Number 10 is my favorite. My manuscript is — wait, WAS — over 125K words. I recently received some personalized feedback on a full, which somehow conveyed this exact sentiment, and told me to get rid of all the exposition. So now I've gone through and deleted everything that's exposition — everything I SWORE I couldn't get rid of when I started querying — and all of a sudden I have a manuscript that feels tight, and tense, and all the things I wanted, but didn't quite have before. And now it's just over 105K words. It's amazing how such a little piece of advice can make so much darn sense.
    Thanks for sharing the article. I had to send this one to my writer buddies, too.

  4. beth Says:

    I like the one about adverbs. I used one adverb in my first page and was SLAMMED for it in a crit group… not all adverbs are bad! I agree ones connected with dialogue get old (my biggest problem with some of the later Harry Potter books), but it's OK to use ONE in a book! Not all adverbs are evil!