Elmore Leonard: Rules for writing


  • Lots of people seem to want rules for writing — as if that makes the process easier. (It doesn’t.)

Still, these rules make for interesting reading and are sometimes good reminders. They are the habits that writers should develop. Elmore Leonard works in the genre of fiction, but his rules are worth noting for any type of writing:

1. Never open with weather.

2. Avoid prologues.

3. Never use a verb other than said to carry a dialogue.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ‘said’.

5. Keep your exclamation marks under control.

6. Never use the word ‘suddenly‘.

7. Use regional dialects and patois sparingly.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

9. Ditto, places and things.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

These come from a site called Everything2, which is where a lot of the links above will take you, and there is a short explanation for each if you need explanations or examples.

Leonard likes dialogue to tell his stories and tends to think that everything else is extraneous. Not a bad approach.

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About Jim Stovall

Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.
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