Do As I Say ….

Novelist, scriptwriter and master yarn spinner Elmore Leonard died last week at age 87. He was working on his 47th book.


Meanwhile, I’m failing miserably trying to get to number two.

I never read him, but I came across some of his writing rules the other day. I like them, so I’m sharing them for my weekly writing clinic.

Yeah, I’m kind of phoning it in today.

Elmore Leonard was not only prolific, he was also extremely successful at getting his books adapted for film. Indeed, it would probably be easier to list the books he wrote which weren’t made into movies. Leonard was probably best known for his work in the crime drama genre, including the novels Get Shorty and Rum Punch. The latter was brought to the silver screen by a certain Quentin Tarantino as Jackie Brown.


Which I haven’t seen.
Image credit: csullens

Right, now that I’ve established I’m completely unqualified to write this, here we go with his advice. Leonard’s instructions are in bold, followed by my reactions.

1. Never open a book with weather.

“It was a dark and stormy night ….” Yeah, only Charles Schulz could get away with that.

2. Avoid prologues.

No one reads ’em anyway.

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” … he admonished gravely.

Being primarily a non-fiction writer I don’t encounter dialogue much. However, there’s a lot to be said for not being overly cute.

5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

It’s also worth noting books are rarely justified being longer than 100,000 words in general.

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

Trite phrases suck. I touched on this earlier this month.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Seriously, y’all.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

Paint the basics, then get on with it.

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

Leonard definitely has a theme going here. Don’t write just to fill up space.

All Purpose Filler Tub

Advice I’m clearly ignoring today.

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