Elmore Leonard, the modern master of the “low life” detective story and mystery, was one of my favorite contemporary writers and when he died a few years ago I felt a personal loss of a very unique, important voice on matters literary. Most will know him from the great movies made from his books, like “Get Shorty” (John Travolta) and “The 3:10 to Yuma” (Russell Crowe).
The strong points of his books were distinctive unforgettable characters and drop dead dialog. Elmore could do more with dialog than most writers could with their whole bag of tricks. It’s a gift, but one that can be cultivated if you pay close attention to how people really speak and render that in your fiction accurately.
Anyway, a passing reference to Leonard in a column recently brought to mind how much I truly owe him, for he taught me so much by example and made a huge difference in my own writing.
He had a word for all the extraneous frippery some novice writers load into their books: hoopededoodle. It should be avoided at all costs. It is death to a work of fiction.
At one point in his life not too long ago at the pestering of understudies, he put together his “10 Rules of Writing,” showing how to do this, which I share with you here for your own edification:)
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 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.
“My most important rule is one that sums up the 10,” he wrote. “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
For a more in depth look at the rules of the road a la Leonard, check out this NYT article
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/entertainment/movies/Elmore-Leonards-10-Rules-of-Good-Writing.html#hIatAzrZwYJqmdt8.99