Write as Elmore Leonard Says, Not as Elmore Leonard Does

Speaking of how to write well, Dangerous Minds contributor Paul Gallagher has posted Elmore Leonard’s “10 Rules for Writing Fiction.” The list is from a 2001 New York Times article and it goes like this:

1. Never open a book with the 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.

I commented that Leonard breaks at least two of these rules in his books. That knowledge came from five minutes worth of what us in the business call “using the internet.” I’m not going to spend more time on this, but I wanted to relay another comment by witzed that had me rolling:

A lot of people don’t know it, but Elmore Leonard is also an architect, and he has some really good rules for that, too.
1) Do not start with the roof.
2) Make sure there is another room on the other side of the door.
3) Carpeting must always face left.
4) No boilers in the elevator!
5) All arbitrary lists must have at least ten items.
6) A bedroom is not a bowling alley.
7) Make up your mind: shoes or no shoes.
8) Think first: Is this supposed to be a bathroom?
9) Pay attention to the stuff everyone can see.

Remember, folks, the best players often make the worst coaches. For more hilarity, check out the contest held by the National Post and CBC Radio. The contest is closed, but you can check the comments.

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Author: Joe McVeigh

I'm a linguist who researches email marketing. I also teach at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland. I write about language and linguistics on my blog, ...And Read All Over, and I write about language and marketing on my other blog, Email and Linguistics.

3 thoughts on “Write as Elmore Leonard Says, Not as Elmore Leonard Does”

    1. You better be goddamn sure Charlie Longstaf doesn’t post here anymore. You tell that SOB that the next time I see him, I’m going to stick my foot right up his candy ass. You hear me, Longstaf? Longstaaaaaaaaaf!

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