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Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing

August 11, 2006

thomkras

Elmore Leonard was one of the most prolific writers of popular fiction in the late 20th Century. However, unlike most genre writers, he was also taken seriously by the literary crowd, as evidenced by his inclusion in the New York Times’ Writers on Writing Series.

Read Leonard’s Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle from that series, and cherish the wit & insight behind these 10 deceptively simple tips for the would-be fiction writer:

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 exclamation points on a short leash – two or three per 100,000 words is plenty.   

6. Never use “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

7. Use regional dialect 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.

…and clocking in as #11 is Leonard’s most important rule, the one that sums up the other 10…

11. If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.

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