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Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules for Writing

September 6th, 2013 | Posted by Veronica Louis in Authors | Writing

by Veronica Louis

Three exclamation marks

Image: Veronica Louis

I recently came across Elmore Leonard’s writing rules and thought that he was right on the money. The recently deceased novelist wrote many books that were later adapted into film such as Get Shorty, Be Cool and Rum Punch (Jackie Brown). Leonard overall, encouraged authors to show instead of tell, to remain invisible and to rewrite if the writing sounds like writing.

My favorite suggestion? “If proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.” That’s right, in the world of literature rules are meant to be broken.

The ten rules are described in detail in Leonard’s New York Times article Writers on Writing; Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle

A Summary of the 10 Rules

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” . . .

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

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.

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