Thursday, December 12, 2013

Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing

I was introduced to Elmore Leonard's books through Joe Soucheray over lunch at a writer's conference at Mankato State in the mid-1980's. Soucheray, who was then a St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist and now better known as the mayor of Garage Logic, was six chapters in to a novel he was wrestling with. He confided that novel writing is far more difficult than it might appear to outsiders. For Soucheray at the time, Leonard was the master he aspired to emulate.

Elmore Leonard is evidently one my favorite writers because I must have read twenty, and maybe thirty, of his books, several of them multiple times. And it's quite remarkable how long he's been cranking them out, how many have become Hollywood films and how fun they are to read. Some, like Hombre (Paul Newman) and Mr. Majestyk (Charles Bronson) were decent films but never could hold a candle to the subtle pleasure of the written words as Leonard assembled them.

Being that it's Christmas coming soon, I received a nice "present" in my email inbox this week. A co-worker who was aware of how much I enjoy the fiction of Mr. Leonard sent me this list of rules from the master. She'd received them in Judy Vorford's eZine for writers. I didn't realize till a few minutes ago that the 10 Rules have been assembled in a book.

Elmore Leonard was one of many remarkable people who passed away this year who will be acknowledged in various lists for his achievements. So many of his books have been translated to film that I'm sure he'll be cited at the Oscars early next year.

But without further adieu... here are the rules.

Never open a book with weather.
Avoid prologues.
Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" . . . he admonished gravely.
Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10:
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Thank you, Mr. Leonard. 

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