Writing advice from one of America’s greatest crime novelists.
While Elmore Leonard got his start writing Westerns in the 50s and 60s — back when Americans obsessed over cowboys with the same level of peculiar exuberance as we obsess over entrepreneurs today — he eventually made the transition to crime novels where his prose and affections for car bombings, violent murders and ruthless kidnappings would earn him a reputation for being the Dickens of Detroit.
When Leonard died in 2014, he left behind forty-something novels, countless short stories and a critically acclaimed television series called Justified.
Two decades ago, Leonard wrote a magnificent piece for The New York Times outlining his rules on writing. It consisted of ten gems and it went something like this.
Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.
“These are rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.”
For the sake of brevity (and to not copy Leonard word for word) throughout this article, I am just going to present to you the headlines of his writing advice.
(Though, I highly encourage you to read his advice in its entirety at the pretty red link I provided up above).
- 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”.
- Keep your exclamation points under control.
- 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.
- If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.
By Cole Schafer (but mostly Elmore Leonard).
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