Elmore Leonard: 10 Rules

Elmore Leonard: 10 Rules for Writing…what do you think? Thank you Brian Marggraf!

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Elmore Leonard: 10 Rules

Among all the lists of writing rules and advice, this one ranks high, in my opinion. Simple, yet so important.

  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.

 * Excerpted from the New York Times article, “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle”


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6 thoughts on “Elmore Leonard: 10 Rules

      • There are several writers in my family – past and present – so books and writing were a very large part of my childhood. We often discussed good and bad writing. Using verbs other than ‘said’, especially with qualifiers, was over-egging the pudding, they told me, and unnecessary. If the context is clear, there’s no need for ‘she expostulated’ or ‘she muttered angrily’. There are many occasions when I don’t adhere to this ‘rule’ but I do find a constant stream of different verbs for ‘said’ very irritating. In many instances, nothing at all is required as the writing should be clear enough to show who’s speaking. The worst examples are when people turn a word like laughing into a talking verb, for example ‘I love acting,’ she laughed’. Hate it!

  1. Thanks for that explanation….makes sense…however an excellent writer can break every rule and get away with it. I think of Picasso, who mastered the rules then broke them…he got away with it because he was a genius of course.

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