So you can read my books

Thursday, May 17, 2012



We all know what to leave out:

1.) It’s Open Season on anything ending in –ly.

2.) Clunky sentences and long paragraphs that dull the readers’ mind and attention-span.

3.) Any word that you wouldn’t pay a quarter to keep in your manuscript. Ernest Hemingway learned to write lean when a foreign correspondent. EVERY WORD cost his employers money.

Elmore Leonard suggests: “Leave out the boring stuff.”

In reverse logic: we leave in the riveting stuff:

1.) Primal is riveting.
THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA is riveting. Why? Because the fish means more to the old man than just something to keep hunger at bay. Catching the fish would say to those who jeer at him that he is not old and useless, that he is still a man.

2.) Sex is riveting.
Without it, the species would end. But we don’t live for abstractions. We live for attractions. Flirting is only verbal fondling. The act doesn’t have to be literally on the page, blow by blow. Still, the sparks should be seen.

3.) Danger is riveting.
But only if we care for the characters at risk. And the danger must flow out of the natural development of the narrative – not just be thrown in for spice out of nowhere.

4.) Empathy is magnetic.
We care for characters to whom we can relate. So we leave in those prose strokes that resonate with the pains, the dreams, the struggles of our readers – the search for love, the endurance of loneliness, the tragedy of being misunderstood.

5.) Great dialogue sparkles.
No clichés – even for teenagers, for clichés or even modern slang has a very short shelf-life.
Think of your favorite movies.
Each one had snippets of dialogue that had you repeating them to your friends. Try to make your novel someone’s favorite in a like manner.

6.) Poetry in prose.
Ernest Hemingway said the secret to writing great novels was that they contained poetry in prose.

Make each first sentence on a page memorable by use of metaphor, dialogue, or simply tilting an image on its ear.

Each of us must do that in our way. Read a page of Hemingway or Zelazny at random to see how they did it.

“She gave him a look that should have left bruises.”
“The sea was harsher than granite.”

*) I hope this has helped in some small way. Roland

Here is the video of Adiemus which Victor hears within his mind as he struggles to make it through a mystic ordeal for the sake of innocents depending upon him in BEST OF ENEMIES:


  1. Good tips! Although the poetry part is where I struggle.

  2. I love Hemingway's writing. I'm a big fan. Hem has poetry with minimal words, where Elmore Leonard has grit and energy.

    Good points Roland, and I like your interpretation of what to keep in. Thanks for the reminders!

  3. Alex:
    Poetry does come hard, doesn't it? I was thinking today how what to leave out comes quickly to mind, but what to leave it -- and how to do it!

    Hemingway and Leonard are both lean as you say -- but I love the way you put how they differed. Thanks for visiting and staying to chat!

  4. Excellent post, Roland. It's great to see some tips on what works instead of a rulebook of what doesn't work!

  5. LOVE THIS! There are so many people telling us what we need to take out. It's good to remember the things worth keeping in.

  6. Roland- you were looking for my e-mail it is

  7. Catherine:
    Abraham Maslow had a similar problems with theories of personality. He felt we should study what works in daily living not what doesn't! I'm glad you enjoyed this post.

    It occurred to me that we need to focus on what we need to put into our prose. I'm happy it struck a chord with you, too!

    Thanks. It's on its way!

  8. This is a slippery slope. Much of what we find interesting differs from person to person. So leave out the boring parts and make everything exciting...well that's harder to do well than most people think because of subjectivity. It's good advice though. It goes in the pile of all other good advice the writing blogosphere has to offer (much of which is like listening to Captain Flint).

  9. Michael:
    Not really. Elmore Leonard was making a tongue-in-cheek statement, of course.

    Ernest Hemingway and Elmore Leonard both stressed that making the stakes primal got most readers' attention.

    Primal as in Maslow's hierarchy of needs:

    Physiological - Survival as in the recent movie THE GREY (man against wolves and the arctic.)

    Safety - One step above literal survival to keeping one's life as in the recent movie, THE DARKEST HOUR.

    Love & Belonging - Friendship, Intimacy, and Family. This need for belonging and love can often overcome the physiological and security needs -- as in the soon to be released movie, MOONRISE KINGDOM.

    Esteem - All humans have a need to be respected and to have self-esteem and self-respect. Esteem presents the normal human desire to be accepted and valued by others.

    That is what Hemingway and Leonard meant by primal, and it is not prone to subjectivity but is basic to the human condition.

    If we focus on those elements in our fiction, we will have the attention and the heart of our readers.

    It is what I tried to do with BEST OF ENEMIES and the seven lonely teenage girls who find healing even during the End of Days in becoming "sisters."

  10. Awesome post!
    It definitely did help!
    And even if you know what to put in or leave out, its still good to remind yourself again and again!


  11. Thanks, Theresa:
    Yes, you're right. We have to keep growing and sometimes that includes reminding ourselves of what we already know! Thanks for visiting and staying to chat. Roland