There was a moment of silence in the literary world this week when Elmore Leonard passed away on August 20, 2013 at the age of eighty-seven. Well known for his clean, direct narrative, he listed his now famous “10 Rules of Writing” in an article written for The New York Times in 2001.
As an editor, lists like this make me happy—especially number three. But not simply because I agree with what he has to say, but because he took off his ‘famous author’ hat to speak to fellow writers on the most basic of levels.
And readers benefited from it—he didn’t just write those rules, he lived by them. This style is reflected in his writing, often described as “crisp,” “direct,” and “succinct.” He stripped away the flowery prose, the litany of adjectives and adverbs, and let the characters say what needed to be said.
Instead of an ‘Ask the Divas’ question this week, we decided to post the list. This is a simplified version; the full article can be found on the NY Times website.
10 Rules of Writing
- Never open a book with weather.
- Avoid prologues.
- Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
- Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
- Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
- Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
- Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
- Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
- Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
“My most important rule is one that sums up the 10,” he wrote. “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
Some food for thought. Rest in peace, Mr. Leonard.