Saturday, 2 June 2012

Elmore Leonard's 10 rules of writing and how badly I break them

I'm a huge fan of Elmore Leonard, the American crime and western writer, and read with interest his 10 rules of writing when I stumbled across them recently. I break many of them in Sunliner so reviewing them, especially when I admire Leonard's work so much, was something of a sobering experience.

Here they are, with notes to indicate how badly I've strayed from them.

 1. Never open a book with weather.
Phew - this one I didn't do.

 2. Avoid prologues.
Whoops - although in my defence the prologue was on the advice of someone who works in publishing and I think it works.

 3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
This is a great one and something I'll definitely do in future...I really didn't in Sunliner though.

 4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said”…he admonished gravely.
Another black mark for me and Sunliner...

 5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
That ratio would mean I could have no more than 3 in Sunliner. Pretty sure it's more than that! Way more!!!

 6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
Bollocks, I think I even have a "suddenly all hell broke loose"

 7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
I don't think I break this one, unless you count the 50s hardboiled style of speaking that everyone in the book uses as a regional dialect.

 8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
I spend a bit of time describing JJ when we first meet him but not, I hope, too much.

 9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
Woohoo - I stuck to this one.

 10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
I think (and hope) I managed this one. Unless my readers like to skip car chases.

I'm going to give myself 5 out of 10.

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  1. Best opening line ever - "It was a dark and stormy night, suddenly a shot rant out..." ;)

  2. YES! I'm making that the opening line of Sunliner 3.

    The weather rule did make me remember the openings of 2 of my favourite novels, 1984 and Neuromancer, both of which start with weather-ish lines.

    "It was a bright cold day in April..."
    "The sky was the colour of a television set tuned to a dead channel"