Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Good Writing

I just one-clicked Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Good Writing. I've had a dog-eared copy of the NYT article that inspired it posted on my wall for about five years, but I decided it would be worth it to have the bound, expounded, and illustrated version.

Since it's no secret what's in the book, I'll cheat you the ten rules and encourage you to hie thee to the library or bookstore to get the full Elmore experience.

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'' . . .

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.

Leonard says his most important rule is one that sums up the ten: "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."

This is a great book, but for my taste, good writing doesn't have rules. Seems to me that if Elmore Leonard was a rule follower, he wouldn't be the amazingly delicious writer that he is. I posted that article years ago, embracing it the way Jack Sparrow takes the Pirate Code: "It's really more like...guidelines."


I totally agree with you. Elmore's rules are *his* rules. We all have to figure out our own.

Remember that great quote from Somerset Maugham? "There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."

Even my "kill no dogs" rule isn't a hard and fast one. There's been some great dead pooch literature penned over the years.
Suzan Harden said…
Thanks for the tips, Joni!

The great thing about writing is you can do whatever you want (even make you're heroine a zombie) as long as you keep John and Jane Doe entertained.

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