Elmore Leonard: 10 Good Rules for Writing

Image by: Peabody Awards, By Peabody Awards – Flickr: Peabodys_CM_0382, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40130927

Elmore John Leonard Jr. was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1925 to Flora Amelia Rive Leonard and Elmore John Leonard Sr. The family moved around a lot due to his father’s job as a site locator for GM. In 1943, he graduated from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School. He tried to join the Marines but his eyesight was too weak and his application was rejected. He served in the Navy with the Seabees in the South Pacific for three years and was involved in WW2. He acquired a Bachelor’s Degree in English and Philosophy from the University of Detroit. His first job afterwards was as a copy writer with the Campbell-Ewald Advertising Agency. He married Beverly Clare Cline with whom he had 5 children. He suffered from a stroke in 2013 and passed away shortly after.

Over his life, he produced 49 novels, 8 screenplays and 3 stories. Some of his more famous works include “Get Shorty”, “Three-Ten to Yuma”, “The Bounty Hunters” “La Brava” (for which he won an Edgar Award) and “Naked Came the Manatee”.

His 10 Good Rules for Writing are:

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

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Excerpted from the New York Times article, “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle.”


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