Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Elmore Leonard's 10 rules for writing

   Even if you've never opened a book in your life, you probably know the work of Elmore Leonard.
Elmore Leonard, 1925-2013
   He wrote dozens of best-selling novels and popular short stories over the decades, and lots of them were turned into movies. He wrote some screenplays too. Most of the movies, like most of his books, achieved that rare combination of mass appeal and critical admiration. Among them are "Jackie Brown," "Get Shorty," "Hombre" and "3:10 to Yuma."  His short story "Fire in the Hole" was the basis for the excellent TV drama "Justified."
   He favored Westerns and crime stories. His prose was terse and powerful.
    He once summed up his approach in an essay that included his 10 rules for writing. They are:

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

   Elmore Leonard passed away Tuesday, a couple of weeks after he suffered a stroke. He was 87.

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