So you can read my books

Monday, May 11, 2015



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’ focus and wither her/his 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,  and the heat felt.

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

Please read the free sample of RETURN OF THE LAST SHAMAN:


  1. A very good list of what should stay in. You write solid and even witty dialogue, Roland, and that ain't easy! And for crackling, funny dialogue I also love to listen to (and watch) screwball comedies from the 1930's to about 1940.

    Here's a Damon Runyon line: She gave him a look you could pour on a waffle.

  2. Helena:
    Love that Damon Runyan line! :-) Yes, the screwball comedies of the 30's and 40's were so witty -- they did not talk down to the audience in those days.

    Thanks for the kind words about my dialogue -- I speak it out loud to get the zing and life to it just right. Thanks for liking it. :-)

  3. Knowing what to leave in is just as important as what to leave out. Your list hits on some pretty good points. Thanks for it :-)

  4. Angela:
    How great to see you here again! A recipe is important for what it says to add and how much rather than what it says to leave out, right? :-)

  5. Excellent points. Good examples.

    I particularly like the thought on sex and flirtation. The prelude of flirtation makes the sex more than just a scene. It means something to the main characters and to you, the reader. I'm not a prude, but my god, I hate blow by blow (by the manual) sex scenes. I tend to flip past it all. Give the reader enough to stay involved with the characters and let their mind fill in the blanks. And that also plays into Elmores thought on leaving the boring stuff.

    Sia McKye Over Coffee

  6. SIA:
    I had the ghost of Mark Twain chide the detail by detail sex writers with his insistence that they must use kitchen utensils -- and not to leave out the egg beaters!

    Elmore was popular because he was a reader as well as a writer. The most fearsome monster on the screen is the one we only catch evocative glimpses of, right?