Writing Rules from Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard 1925 – 2013

Much has been made of Elmore Leonard’s writing rules over the years. His passing this week, at 87 years young, was a sad event for all readers. His output was slowing but he was still writing, still making us laugh, still showing us how to do it right. His rules, below, don’t necessarily apply to every writer. He followed them, for sure, leaving out all that crap the reader skips. That rule, #10, is his most famous and encapsulates all the others. Some his own exceptions to his rules are discussed here.

So goodbye corporeal Dutch, but long live Elmore Leonard the amazing author who showed how it was done for so many years, and will live on as long as great stories are told. (I shook his hand once at a convention but only because the person who was supposed to shake his hand had to find a napkin first! Hey, opportunities sometimes knock only once. And sorry about that exclamation point.)

Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing:
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”…he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
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 and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Here’s a link to his long and loving obituary in The Guardian. And another in The New York Times.

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