The great writer Elmore Leonard died recently and many people passed on his 10 rules for good writing, as follows:
- Never open a book with weather.
- Avoid prologues.
- Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
- Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
- Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
- Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
- Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
- Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
- 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.
Make sense to you? I think there is a lot of good advice in there but also that rules are only worth keeping if they work for you and for the book you are writing. Here are my gut responses/thoughts to these rules.
- It was a dark and stormy night. As a reader I’m hooked. Love it. Like weather. A lot. Maybe it’s a British thing?
- Some prologues work, some don’t. I’d ask if it was really needed.
- Okay as a generalisation. But never say never.
- A little variety is okay, Just a little.
- I agree! Though I’d maybe allow seven or eight per 100,000 words (I have never written a book of anything like that length!)
- Yes to the latter. ‘Suddenly’ I can handle – sparingly.
- Bare true dat.
- Beg to differ here – it’s a matter of personal writing style.
- Ditto no 8. I relish descriptions of locations that help me see/taste/smell and hear just what it’s like. Books that take me to unfamiliar places, vividly depicted, are among my favourites.
- Well, maybe but do all readers skip the same parts?
What does make sense in all this is that these are the techniques that worked for Leonard, whose novels are a joy to read and who has a very specific voice. But pick another writer and I think their own rules would differ depending on the style of their prose and the way they like to tell their stories.