So you can read my books

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Thanks to Les Edgerton:

I learned that a legend has died: ELMORE LEONARD

Hollywood never got his novels right, turning black comedy into slapstick.

His first novel, “The Big Bounce,” was filmed twice, in 1969 and 2004. After seeing the first version, he declared it to be “at least the second-worst movie ever made.”

In a much-told anecdote, he said that once he saw the remake, he knew what the worst one was.

Amused and possibly a bit exasperated by frequent requests to expound on his writing techniques, Mr. Leonard drew up “Ten Rules of Writing,” published in The New York Times in 2001.

“Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip,” “If it sounds like writing, rewrite it” and other gems spoke to Mr. Leonard’s puckish wit.

But put into practice, his “rules” do indeed capture the essence of his own spare style.

Take Rule # 3: "Never use a verb other than 'said' to carry dialogue."

Good writing is not about the writer (and the way he sounds or the size of her vocabulary) but about the story.

The writer must remain invisible.

Leonard explains Rule 3:

"The line of dialogue belongs to the character. The verb is the writer sticking his nose in; ... 'Said' is far less intrusive than 'grumbled,' 'gasped,' or 'cautioned.' "

Ditto for asseverated, a word that once sent him in search of a dictionary, thus breaking the spell of the story he was reading.

Rule 10 may raise hackles:

"Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip."

This means "thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them."

Says he: "I'll bet you don't skip dialogue."

Acknowledging his approval of “Justified” was a major concession for Mr. Leonard,

who was candidly and comically disdainful of the treatment his books generally received from Hollywood, even commercially successful films like “Get Shorty.”

Mr. Leonard had an ear, and his main objective was to let his chatty characters have their say.

“I always write from a character’s point of view,” he said,

adding that he couldn’t even begin writing a scene until he had decided which character would be assigned the narrative voice.

In person and in private, he was very much like his hero in “Split Images”: “one of those quiet guys who looked at you and seemed to know things.”


  1. Sucky news on a sucky day. What a legacy, though.

  2. A great writer gone.
    I'm much better about sticking to said. Even more so at forgoing any dialogue tags. And long stretches of prose? I wouldn't even know how to write that!

  3. Joshua:
    Is it stormy where you are, too? It is sad news. The world is diminished by his death and the sparkle his dialogue gave the day will only be echoes now.

  4. Alex:
    Those are my vices I'm afraid. Me and Mark Twain!

  5. I read 'Road Dogs', a 2009 novel by Elmore Leonard, very masculine and gritty. His writing is quick to read and the stories interesting. His characters were not always likeable.

    Hubs just told me that he had died, and then I saw the title of our post! He certainly made his contribution to writing and how to write. RIP, Elmore Leonard.

  6. D.G.:
    No, his characters weren't always likeable ... which is why I didn't read a lot of his books, although I always enjoyed his way with dialogue!

    So you're taking part credit for my posts? Brave of you! :-)

  7. Rebecca:
    Yes, sad. But we were fortunate to have him for as long as we did. Best of luck with your OUT OF THE DARKNESS suicide awareness walk today. :-)

  8. Roland, I didn't know Leonard didn't like what they did to Get Shorty, but that's been my favorite example of how Hollywood doesn't get him. Just couldn't get my brain around Travolta being a bad guy in the Leonard mold--I still see him as Vinnie or the singing "hood" in Grease. Even after Pulp Fiction, he's still... Vinnie... Curse of being too old, I guess. And, that's the one I always think of when I say Hollywood takes brilliant black comedy and makes it broad or slapstick comedy. They're either idiots or they're aiming their products at 12-year-old boys... who are mostly idiots. Same result, either way. Thanks for the videos--wasn't aware of them, either!

  9. Aloha Roland,

    Legends always seem to die too early, don't they?

    My first editor must have been a Leonard fan because he instilled the importance of Rule No. 3 and I've stuck to it ever since.

    (Now, I must go check the other nine :)

  10. Lovely tribute post and I really enjoyed the video interview. Imagine, writing the entire novel by hand, and he resisted buying an electric typewriter! And, loved what he said about the characters driving the story. They're in control. I hear their voices...

  11. Les:
    Yes, Hollywood tends to sink to the lowest common denominator. John is a little boy inside trying to be bad. Alan Ladd was like that. Humphrey Bogart was the real thing. Glad you liked the videos.

    You'll like all 10 of Leonard's rules! :-)

    Wasn't that video interview fascinating? To write an entire novel by hand. I did that only once. Ouch!! And characters do drive the story to me. :-)

  12. Another of my crime writing idols falls this month. Thank you for the lovely tribute, Roland. Leonard didn't mince words, either in his his work or in his counsel. There is no more important advice than, 'If it sounds like writing, rewrite it,' and
    'Skip the boring parts.'

    RIP Mr. Leonard, you will be missed. We will treasure your legacy.

    VR Barkowski

  13. VR:
    Yes, it seems just like yesterday that Robert B. Parker died. Odd that I never met either writer, yet I feel a deep loss.

    Neither writer minced words but were wise in the ways of people. Both wrote dialogue that sparkled with wit.

    They both will be missed. Thanks for missing them with me.