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Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing

August 26, 2013

Elmore Leonard, one of the greats of the mystery writing community, passed away recently. I didn’t know about him until the obituary showed up, but it turns out he wrote ten tips for writers that I think are damn fine pieces of advice:


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.


I disagree with some of his uses of never, but I agree with the spirit of the list: Stop trying so hard to be writerly and tell the story!

Source of his ten tips: Writers on Writing

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