elmore leonard

  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.”
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
  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.
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.
—  Elmore Leonard

A Top 10 List of Writing Tips from Famous Writers…

10. Work according to the program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time! (Henry Miller)

9. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. (George Orwell)

8. Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page. (Margaret Atwood)

7. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.” (Elmore Leonard)

6. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing. (Henry Miller)

5. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it. (Neil Gaiman)

4. Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils. (Margaret Atwood)

3. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. (George Orwell)

2. Don’t overuse exclamation points!! (William Safire)

1. Leave out the parts readers tend to skip. (Elmore Leonard)

Read the article in by Jim Higgins in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Photo credit: John Nowak/CNN

On the Passing of Elmore Leonard:

As you have probably heard, Elmore Leonard passed away at 7:15 this morning due to complications from a stroke. He was at home surrounded by his loving family.

It feels not in keeping with Elmore’s “no fuss” persona to try to pay tribute to this great man. But Elmore was a true legend—unpretentious, unbelievably talented, and the coolest dude in the room.

William Morrow has published 47 titles with Elmore since 1980 with more than 8 million books in print in the US, including e-books. He has won more than a dozen literary awards, including a medallion from The National Book Foundation saluting lifetime achievement.

All of us at HarperCollins will miss working with this national treasure and one of our favorite authors of all time.

—Michael Morrison, President & Publisher, HarperCollins

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.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

—  Elmore Leonard (Ten Rules of Writing)

“I don’t like a lot of description. I like to judge for myself what a character looks like from the way he talks. I picked up on that immediately. I thought, That’s the way to go, just keep the characters talking and the reader will discover what they look like. When you are developing your style you avoid weaknesses. I am not good at describing things so I stay away from it. And if anyone is going to describe anything at all, it’s going to be from the point of view of the character, because then I can use his voice and his attitude will be revealed in the way he describes what he sees. I want to remain completely out of it. I don’t want the reader to be aware of me as the writer.” —Elmore Leonard (1925-2013), from Como Conversazione: Criminal Conversations in our Winter 2002 issue. 

Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of 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 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.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

—  Elmore Leonard

In memory of Elmore Leonard, who died this morning at 87, here are his 10 rules of 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 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.

Top writing do’s and don’t’s from Elmore Leonard, Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Helen Dunmore, Geoff Dyer, Anne Enright, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, Esther Freud, Neil Gaiman, David Hare, PD James, and AL Kennedy.