Search This Blog

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Elmore Leonard's rules for writing

The mortal sins that authors commit ...

I have to admit I had never heard of Elmore Leonard before I read a news piece headed "Elmore Leonard's Mortal Sin" in The New Zealand Author.  Shame on me, because the 86-year-old veteran is known for his pithy prose, his occasional deliberate neglect of grammar ... and the fact that many of his works have been converted to film.

Here is the blurb about his latest, which sounds like really oldfashioned fun:

Elmore Leonard’s 44th novel, Djibouti (£7.99, Phoenix), has for its backdrop the Horn of Africa. An American film-maker, Dara Barr, sets out to make a documentary about the pirates who prey on commercial shipping off the coast of Somalia. She quickly encounters a host of idiosyncratic characters: Billy Wynn, an eccentric Texas billionaire who appears to be operating as a one-man anti-terrorist secret service; the pirate leader Idris Mohammed and his Oxford-educated weapons dealer friend, Sheikh Ari “Harry” Bakar; and James Russell, an American-born al-Qaeda operative with designs on blowing up an oil tanker captured by the pirates.

Even more rivetingly, Elmore Leonard has written a book called 10 Rules of Writing, which elaborates on the following:

1.  Never open a book by describing the weather.  (Weather, it seems, is boring.  Unless, perhaps, it is a dark and stormy night.)

2. Avoid prologues, particularly if said prologues follow forewords which follow introductions.  (In whichever order.)

3. Never use any word but "said" to carry dialogue.  (This means that you should make a New Year resolution to avoid such blunders as "snapped," "barked," "roared" or "hollered," even in the middle of a really taxing storm at sea.)

4. And, never use an adverb to qualify "said."  (Said he sternly.)

5. Avoid exclamation marks like the plague.  (Your ration, he admonished, is no more than two or three per 100,000 words!)

6.  Never use the word "suddenly" or the phrase "all hell broke loose."  (Writers who use these, he lectured, tend to be the same blokes who have no self-restraint in respect to exclamation marks.)

7. Use dialect and foreign words sparingly.  (Ever read Clockwork Orange, Elmore?  Or Sea of Poppies?)

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.  (Even if they are blonde?)

9. Don't describe settings in great detail. (Herman Melville, go stand in the corner.)

10. Leave out the bits that readers are going to skip.   (Is this guy psychic?)

I am delighted to say that I have blithely broken every single one of these rules.

No comments: