Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Elmore Leonard and His Ten Rules

The words of another legendary writer came to a stop last month. Elmore Leonard died on August 20th. He was eighty-seven. His first novels, Westerns, appeared in the 1950s. He later became a screenwriter and gained fame for his gritty crime novels. He published his novel Raylan in 2012. You can find his death notice and biographical summary here.

Leonard's oft-reprinted "Ten Rules of Writing" appeared in the New York Times in 2001. If you haven't read them, here they are for your convenience. I think the real genius is in rule number ten, figuring out what parts "readers tend to skip."
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. 
My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. 
― Elmore Leonard
Photo Credit: By MDCarchives (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.

1 comment:

  1. I like these rules. It seems like we're losing a lot of writers lately... but the ones we're hearing about seem to the ones who have left us with something to learn from them.