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Thread: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

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    Default Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel 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 "saidĒÖhe 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.
    ITS CHAOS, BE KIND

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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    Hmmmm....I've never read any Elmore Leonard...with those rules I may not.

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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    His dialogue is especially strong. I agree with him about avoiding detailed descriptions of characters--a telling detail or two is enough. The age of trying to describe what a character's face looks like in prose is long past us, and wasn't a good idea even then.

    As for detailed descriptions of places and things, well, it depends. I would say don't unnecessarily include them. But good writers can do a lot with them. On the "said" issue, better to use as few "saids" as possible as well. An occasional "whispered" or "shouted" isn't terrible. But yes, be deeply skeptical of writing that searches too hard for ways to avoid "said."

    The rest, I generally agree with. Except his "most important rule"--sometimes artful prose IS the point, or part of the point.

    Tom
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 11-26-2022 at 02:05 PM.
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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    The only rule a writer needs is to have something compelling to say, and to write in a way that makes a reader want to go from page two to page three.

    Jeff C
    Donít expect much, and you wonít be disappointedÖ

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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by leikec View Post
    The only rule a writer needs is to have something compelling to say, and to write in a way that makes a reader want to go from page two to page three.

    Jeff C
    Sure. But "writing in a way that makes a reader want to go from page two to page three" is a complex endeavor, made up of lots and lots of little behaviors all combined in different ways, for different effects. And it can be interesting to reflect on the specifics of how one writer does it compared to how another writer does it.

    I'd add two comments:

    1. They're more guidelines than actual rules. The best artists know the rules, and when to break them or follow them.
    2. The list would be better titled "Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules for Writing an Elmore Leonard Novel."

    Tom
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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by WI-Tom View Post
    The age of trying to describe what a character's face looks like in prose is long past us, and wasn't a good idea even then.
    not a fan of nabokov, mellville, john kennedy toole? fitzgerald, kipling, wolfe, dickens? twain, angelou, hemmingway?? rowling, herbert, ann rice, tolkien???

    you seriously wrote that "and wasn't a good idea even then" that wasn't written in wi-tom trolling flaming jest?
    Simpler is better, except when complicated looks really cool.

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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    i like elmore leonard, a great deal, especially his work that has resulted in movies and tv, like justified and get shorty
    that doesn't mean i can't like other writers who write in entirely different styles
    Simpler is better, except when complicated looks really cool.

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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Pless View Post
    not a fan of nabokov, mellville, john kennedy toole? fitzgerald, kipling, wolfe, dickens? twain, angelou, hemmingway?? rowling, herbert, ann rice, tolkien???

    you seriously wrote that "and wasn't a good idea even then" that wasn't written in wi-tom trolling flaming jest?
    Show me a passage in which an author describes what a character's face looks like in great detail, aiming for a complete description rather than a couple of telling details, and I will be happy to expound at great length about why that passage is a failure.

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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Pless View Post
    not a fan of nabokov, mellville, john kennedy toole? fitzgerald, kipling, wolfe, dickens? twain, angelou, hemmingway?? rowling, herbert, ann rice, tolkien???
    1. Nabokov? Haven't read too much. Lolita didn't particularly draw me in.
    2. Melville? Hell, yeah.
    3. John Kennedy O'Toole? Never got past the first few pages of A Confederacy of Dunces. Great title, great reputation. The narrator/protagonist (can't even remember if it's first-person or not) was too unsympathetic for me to get past at the time. I think it probably deserves another attempt from me someday.
    4. Fitzgerald? Nah. Leaves me cold. He certainly has chops, but I don't like the tunes he plays, or how over-produced his records tend to sound.
    5. Kipling? Haven't read much. I think I like him overall.
    6. Wolfe? There was a time... Seems histrionic mostly now.
    7. Dickens? Hell, yeah. His character names alone are worth the price of reading so many pages.
    8. Twain? Hell, yeah.
    9. Angelou? Sadly, I've read very little from her. Not informed enough for an opinion.
    10. Hemingway? Hell, yeah. (Short fiction). Novels: some "Hell, yeah" and some "Do I really need to hear more about how you decided to "utilize" another bottle of wine in the next Spanish town you visited on your rambling journey around Europe?
    11. Rowling, as in JK? The Harry Potter books are very good examples of what they are. Mostly derivative of standard fantasy tropes that don't create a terribly consistent world. A nice Roald Dahl-esque British kind of atmosphere. Plotting is nice. Overall, I like them.
    12. Herbert? I read Dune and one of its successors. Great concept, good execution. Not a particularly memorable writer at the level of the line or sentence. Maybe I'm remembering that wrong--it's been a long long time.
    13. Ann Rice? High marks for execution. The concept doesn't draw me--very angsty. Like teen books written for non-teens. I've read a few.
    14. Tolkien? Oh hell, yeah. Despite an almost complete absence of meaningful female characters. His world feels more real than any other world created by any other writer. His posthumous "The Children of Hurin" is probably even better--a dark Germanic/Norse exploration of the terrible inevitability of Fate, written in convincingly archaic prose.

    I don't recall that any of them (with the possible exception of Dickens) spent much time trying to precisely describe their characters' faces.

    Tom
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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Bow View Post

    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.

    So Patrick O'Brian had it all wrong?

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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    He left out legibility. I'm sure I speak, as it were, for all of us with less than acceptable penmanship, that legibility is really important if you want something read. Even if you just want to read it yourself.

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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by George. View Post
    So Patrick O'Brian had it all wrong?
    unreadable dreck
    Simpler is better, except when complicated looks really cool.

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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    Leonard begins, Get Shorty with this line, which disputes some of the rules he provided.

    ďWhen Chili first came to Miami Beach twelve years ago they were having one of their off-and-on cold winters: thirty-four degrees the day he met Tommy Carlo for lunch at Vesuvioís on South Collins and had his leather jacket ripped off.Ē


    I dont think he deliberately meant to mislead. I think people oftentimes treat being interviewed like a game of fill-in-the blanks.

    Kevin
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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by Hugh MacD View Post
    Hmmmm....I've never read any Elmore Leonard...with those rules I may not.
    +1

    Quote Originally Posted by leikec View Post
    The only rule a writer needs is to have something compelling to say, ...
    Absolutely! Compare modern novels to contemporary pop music. One has something to say even if you aren't interested and the other is a regurgitation of last month's hit.
    "Where you live in the world should not determine whether you live in the world." - Bono

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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    Do we have any members present who have authored a novel?


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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    mickey lake
    todd d
    Last edited by Paul Pless; 11-26-2022 at 09:44 AM.
    Simpler is better, except when complicated looks really cool.

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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by twodot View Post
    "A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs."
    You have found the exception that proves the rule!

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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by Breakaway View Post
    Leonard begins, Get Shorty with this line, which disputes some of the rules he provided.

    “When Chili first came to Miami Beach twelve years ago they were having one of their off-and-on cold winters: thirty-four degrees the day he met Tommy Carlo for lunch at Vesuvio’s on South Collins and had his leather jacket ripped off.”


    I dont think he deliberately meant to mislead. I think people oftentimes treat being interviewed like a game of fill-in-the blanks.

    Kevin
    1. That opening breaks the rule about the weather, arguably (though it does a lot more story and character-related things than "It was a dark and stormy night"). Does it break others?

    2. I think those "rules" are from a how-to book about writing that Elmore Leonard published, not an interview. I could be wrong about that.

    Tom
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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Pless View Post
    mickey lake
    todd d
    leikec

    Self published. I had a few essays published and decided I was a writer. After writing two books I decided that essays were a lot more fun and easier to sell. Then I decided music was more my thing.

    A friend from high school (Nancy Bilyeau) has had several books published. She’s had some success, but it’s a tough way to make a living.

    Jeff C
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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    ^ the bit about the leather jacket verges into a detailed description.

    Leonard, perhaps appropos of nothing, or perhaps providing more context for this thread, hated anything literary and made it a point to say so. ( And whether that is insight into the mind of a famous author or simply smart PR remains another question)

    Kevin
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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    Leonard opened a chapter with the line: "It was another typical ****ty winter day in Detroit." Leading me to believe the "list" was a put-on. He has a fantastic talent for dialogue and detail. His career started with doing ad copy for Chevrolet pickup trucks, alongside David E. Davis--editor of Car and Driver, founder of Automobile. He went from cowboy books on to crime fiction, which ended up in several movies.

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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by Breakaway View Post
    ^ the bit about the leather jacket verges into a detailed description.
    Nope--"had his leather jacket stripped off" tells us virtually nothing in the way of detailed description. What kind of jacket? What color? How old? What style? How much metal hardware? What color?

    It tells us even less about what the character looks like.

    As far as "hating anything literary," well, maybe he said that. But he pretty clearly was influenced by Hemingway, for sure. And there are plenty of smart literary-minded people who take him very seriously as a writer.

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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan McCosh View Post
    Leonard opened a chapter with the line: "It was another typical ****ty winter day in Detroit." Leading me to believe the "list" was a put-on. He has a fantastic talent for dialogue and detail. His career started with doing ad copy for Chevrolet pickup trucks, alongside David E. Davis--editor of Car and Driver, founder of Automobile. He went from cowboy books on to crime fiction, which ended up in several movies.
    Lots of movies, many of them bad ones.

    The weather bit may be a joke, but the other rules sure sound like Elmore Leonard-esque writing to me.

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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls deified among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds. Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much as the sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom by husbandman and ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hours before their time--as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard and unwilling look.
    The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy streets are muddiest near that leaden-headed old obstruction, appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old corporation, Temple Bar. And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln's Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.
    Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition which this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds this day in the sight of heaven and earth.
    I am familiar with this bit of Dickens, from Bleak House, because when I was working as an ediotrial assistant* for a publisher of books for small businesses, the author of a book on writing your own business contracts, a lawyer, quoted it in his introduction. My boss, the main editor. and I had a discussion about including it. It ended up in the published book anyway.

    *Hired as one of five editorial assistants, my regular duties included correspondence with the authors of our line of books, and I actually signed a letter to an author, whose book I was copy-editing, with 'James Mahan, ediotrial assistant.' I'm sure it gave him great confidence in the future of his writing career.


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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    Those rules sound fine if you want to write like Elmore Leonard. Nothing wrong with that, but there are many other perfectly good ways to write.
    "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations,
    for nature cannot be fooled."

    Richard Feynman

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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    I like that Hemingway used write, the physical act of writing, on a yellow pad on top of the refrigerator as he stood next to it. Brooding, downcast, at times upbeat and forlorn, heavy in his limbs and sagging under the weight of responsibility and guilt for the unspeakable ways in which he conformed to models of prose hitherto unseen in modern times down by the old saw mill. He rose. It was good.


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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    I've been something of an addict of crime-genre books for a long time, a habit encouraged by long hours on airplanes, with the goal to finish one before the airplane lands. Ian Fleming, John D. MacDonald, Evan Hunter, Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen, and so on. I think the art of storytelling is underrated in literary circles. Leonard is one of the best.

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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    I remember someone posting the formula for writing successful short stories: include religion, the upper class, sex, and mystery.

    Some wag came up with: "My God", said the Duchess, "I'm pregnant. Who dunnit?"

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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    One of my guilty pleasures is that I'm excessively amused by Hemingway parodies.
    "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations,
    for nature cannot be fooled."

    Richard Feynman

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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    Not a huge Elmore Leonard fan
    Henry Miller, oh yea
    Hemingway, yea I know, but I loved him as a young man and his prose stuck.
    Faulkner
    F. Scott Fitzgerald
    Gabriel GarcŪa MŠrquez
    T. S. Eliot
    Mark Twain ( come on one of the greatest )
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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Pless View Post
    not a fan of nabokov, mellville, john kennedy toole? fitzgerald, kipling, wolfe, dickens? twain, angelou, hemmingway?? rowling, herbert, ann rice, tolkien???
    These authors break of the rules as listed and that is what makes them great!

    Know the rules and then know how to break them.
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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    Could be like the bush doctor who, when followed, picking various leaves and berries for some curative, was challenged, how could he remember all those ingredients? He replied that only three were needed, the rest were just to confuse anyone trying to copy his potion, he never put them in the mix.

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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by Joe (SoCal) View Post
    Not a huge Elmore Leonard fan
    Henry Miller, oh yea
    Hemingway, yea I know, but I loved him as a young man and his prose stuck.
    Faulkner
    F. Scott Fitzgerald
    Gabriel GarcŪa MŠrquez
    T. S. Eliot
    Mark Twain ( come on one of the greatest )
    What's the best novel T.S.Eliot wrote?

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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan McCosh View Post
    What's the best novel T.S.Eliot wrote?
    I should have said poet sorry - The Waste Land is wonderful
    Talking of poets I love Dylan Thomas, especially "In my craft or sullen art"
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    Default Re: Elmore Leonardís 10 Rules For Novel Writing

    T. S. Eliot wrote an excessively short novel. Called it The Wasteland.

    (My 11th grade English teacher made the mistake of offering us an extra-credit A for every 4 lines of poetry we could memorize. My recitation of the above took the entire class period, and I didn't finish.)
    ďArenít you supposed to be the gentlemen who lie for the good of their country?Ē
    ďThatís diplomats. Weíre not gentlemen.Ē
    ďSo you lie to save your hides.Ē
    Thatís politicians. Different game entirely.Ē

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