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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Writing Rules?

Writing Rules. Yes? No? Maybe?


I’ve been watching the blogs posted by Thrillerfest attendees. More than one said panelists spoke of Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules for writing. I knew about the rules but never knew he was the dude who came up with them.  Quite handy I must say.

So I present to you, in all their glory, Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules for writing. 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 2 or 3 per 100,000 words.
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. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

EL’s comments on the rules

1. Never open a book with weather.

If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people.
Rita here: I think there are exceptions like: It was a bright and sunny day on a planet where the last bright and sunny day was eight hundred years ago.

2. Avoid Prologues

They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But, said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied.

 
4.  Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” . . .

. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange.

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.”

Rita here. Recently purchased a trilogy of a thriller author ‘everyone is talking about’. I listened to the first one and had to buy the book. Why? I wanted to count how many freaking times he used suddenly and quickly. Quite honestly he was easier to count the sentences those words were NOT in. It was edited by a NY pub. OMG!
           
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

Rita here again. I like this rule.
           
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

Unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you’re good at it, you don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

And finally:

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Rita here. (will that chick ever go away) Three books this summer, THREE, I skipped more than read. (Mr. Quickly Suddenly was one)
 
My most important rule is one that sums up the 10. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character-the one whose view best brings the scene to life-I’m able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what’s going on, and I’m nowhere in sight.

Rita here dancing around – Yes. Yes, and YES. I would rather read a book that has some typos, maybe a plot problem mixed with a couple of continuity errors that is a great story with a brilliant voice than some grammatically correct, with all the proper punctuation ,book that has been so stripped of voice by editing that it becomes a chuckawalla book ( a book you chuck against the wall and move on)    
 
What do you think of the rules?

Rita writes sexy stories about Extraordinary Women and the Men They Love
http://www.ritahenuber.com/

13 comments:

Anne Marie Becker said...

These are awesome points! Thanks for sharing. I need to work on #4, particularly. ;)

Wynter Daniels said...

Thanks for posting the rules!(exclamation point, sorry;-)
I agree with most, but I've broken a few and will probably continue to do so. I am guilty of a prologue or two! (another exclamation point - yikes!)

Rita said...

Anne Marie they are so simple and yet difficult to keep.

Rita said...

Wynter my first mentor told me if i used another ! she was going to drive across country and beat me over the head with one.

Toni Anderson said...

I've read those rules before and I like them :) 'Suddenly' I feel the need to edit ;)

I love the last one. It makes me laugh at how I can end up with such a simply sentence after a rewrite. It's that moment of 'people will never know hard that sentence was to write' clarity :)
Thanks Rita!

Rita said...

I know - not writing the words people skip is hard.

Elise Warner said...

I've read Elmore but never knew they were his rules. He does practice what he preaches.

Rita said...

Elise hmmm I might have to try one of his books

Cathy Perkins said...

I've read Leonard's before and try hard but I'm sure I break a few. The last one made me laugh. I did battle with a copy editor over this: Heroine's internal thoughts - "yeah, like that was going to happen"
The copy editor insisted it should be
- "yes, as if there were going to happen."
Thank God my editor stepped in :)
No "suddenlys" were employed in those sentences

Shelley Munro said...

Rules are made to be broken :)

Rita said...

@Cathy I know your pain. Been there. You know, my 'suddenly' book is a SMP. I'm still stunned when i look at it.

Rita said...

@Shelley I agree about breaking rules. I do think we need to know them first

Jean Harrington said...

Who's going to argue with Elmore? Best sellers, movies, an American icon. A short while ago I read an anthology of his early western short stories. He was terse--and effective--then too.

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