Elmore’s 10 Rules (and 2 of Mine)

If the only thing legendary writer Elmore Leonard had done was create Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens, that would be enough for me. But late in his decades-long career Elmore posted an article in the New York Times titled “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points, and Especially Hooptedoodle”. Within were his ten rules about writing, excerpted below. This list is gold, folks, brilliant in its simplicity. I’ve broken each of these at one time or another, but this is what keeps me on the path. They 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 use”.
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 parts that readers tend to skip.

Elmore’s most important rule is one that sums up the 10 – If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.

I also have two of my own, learned the hard way (and with a respectful tip of the hat to Steven Barnes):
1. Be honest.
2. Steal from the best.

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