So you can read my books

Thursday, October 11, 2012


For Oscar Wilde's cover reveal for Shelly Arkon's SECONDHAND SHOES at Meilori's see:
Elmore Leonard (JUSTIFIED, VALDEZ IS COMING, GET SHORTY, BANDITS, HOMBRE, 3:10 to YUMA) turned 87 today.

He and I did a switch of sorts.  He was born in New Orleans and grew up in Detroit, becoming the "Dickens of Detroit."  I was born in Detroit and grew up in New Orleans and in other near-by cities.

He has 10 rules for writing that have become famous.  Here they are:

  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.  Oh, and leave out the boring stuff.



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Elmore Leonard gives more fantastic tips to writers in this:


  1. Happy Birthday to the man who understands dialogue. I had a critique once who likened my dialogue to Leonards as if it was a offence. *eyes cross* Show and do not tell. I live by his "sum up" rule. Thanks for this.

  2. Elmore Leonard also wrote Road Dogs, one I happened to borrow from the library. I didn't like very many of the characters in that one.

    I prefer to read Tony Hillerman. I agree with most of Elmore's rules, but don't agree about prologues if the story is epic.

    I didn't know he wrote Hombre (makes me think of Paul Newman).

  3. Nicole:
    To be compared to a master is quite a compliment even if it was meant negatively. For me to be likened to Roger Zelazny would have me swell-headed! :-)

    I'm glad you liked this post.

    Like you, I do not care for many of Elmore's books, though I did like VALDEZ IS COMING when done as a movie.

    Robert B. Parker and Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald are my crime favoirte authors.

    And if you read RITES OF PASSAGE and ADRIFT IN THE TIME STREAM, you will see I think prologues and epilogues can work in historical fantasy novels! :-)

  4. Avoid details! I'm good at that. Avoiding exclamation points... not so much.

  5. Alex:
    Ah, details can be my weakness. In the video, Elmore said readers tend to skip descriptions but they never skip dialogue ... so make your dialogue sizzle.

    Also in the video, he said it was important to develop a rhythm to your prose: prose jazz so to speak. The video is really more instructive than his 10 rules.

  6. Perfect tips. This guy is a writer after my own heart.

    Hugs and chocolate,

    Shared the tips.

  7. If it sounds like writing, then perhaps the reader won't read it. Methinks this is something some of us - many of us - writers have to bear in mind. Readers want a good story.

    Yeah...the want a good story to fall into.

  8. The weather, a character in my first book. Oh dear, I've failed again.

    One reader told me the description slowed down her reading, get to the action. I thought to myself, watch a movie!

    And yet the next book draft I sent to my editor, she criticized because it sounded more like a movie script than a book.

    In the end, I say tell your story.

    Look at those books now at the top? Did they follow these rules?

  9. "But I have such trouble with number four," she complained.

    Good rules. Thanks for posting.

  10. Good rules, mostly. One or two don't work for me, but you know how things go. I do love well written characters though :)


  11. Shelly:
    Me, too. I love his dialogue even when I don't love his characters. :-)

    Yes, indeed. We all want a story to "live" as we turn each page.

    Each of us has a "target audience", one which loves the way we approach prose. Not every reader will fall into that category!

    LOL. You made my morning after a night of being exiled from my internet provider!

    No set of rules will work for everyone. Yes, well-written characters are a must for me. Still, Isaac Asimov wrote great situations with cardboard characters. He sold well ... just not to me. :-)