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8/20/13 12:43 PM
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dizz
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Since he passed away today, here are his tips on writing he published in the NY Times 12 years ago:

These are rules I've picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I'm writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what's taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.

1. Never open a book with weather.

If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2. Avoid prologues.

They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's ''Sweet Thursday,'' but it's O.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: ''I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy's thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That's nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don't have to read it. I don't want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.''

3. Never use a verb other than ''said'' to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with ''she asseverated,'' and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ''said'' . . .

. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances ''full of rape and adverbs.''

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

6. Never use the words ''suddenly'' or ''all hell broke loose.''

This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use ''suddenly'' tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories ''Close Range.''

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's ''Hills Like White Elephants'' what do the ''American and the girl with him'' look like? ''She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.'' That's the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.

9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.

Unless you're Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you're good at it, you don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

And finally:

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

A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he's writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character's head, and the reader either knows what the guy's thinking or doesn't care. I'll bet you don't skip dialogue.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can't allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It's my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)

If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character -- the one whose view best brings the scene to life -- I'm able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what's going on, and I'm nowhere in sight.

What Steinbeck did in ''Sweet Thursday'' was title his chapters as an indication, though obscure, of what they cover. ''Whom the Gods Love They Drive Nuts'' is one, ''Lousy Wednesday'' another. The third chapter is titled ''Hooptedoodle 1'' and the 38th chapter ''Hooptedoodle 2'' as warnings to the reader, as if Steinbeck is saying: ''Here's where you'll see me taking flights of fancy with my writing, and it won't get in the way of the story. Skip them if you want.''

''Sweet Thursday'' came out in 1954, when I was just beginning to be published, and I've never forgotten that prologue.

Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters? Every word.
8/20/13 12:48 PM
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Bawls
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Cool Phone Post
8/20/13 1:13 PM
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stickman
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I'm not sure I'd agree with #3. I think describing how the speaker said their words adds a richness to the description. Of course, that's why I'm just a guy on a forum and he's Elmore Leonard :-)
8/20/13 1:18 PM
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IAmAngelaCoreysBottomBitch
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8/20/13 1:18 PM
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dizz
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stickman - I'm not sure I'd agree with #3. I think describing how the speaker said their words adds a richness to the description. Of course, that's why I'm just a guy on a forum and he's Elmore Leonard :-)

You know, #3 stuck out to me. Back in college, I took a creative writing class from a professor who was a fairly accomplished writer, albeit not on Leonard's level, and he had a bunch of "rules" for writing. His biggest one was identical to Leonard's - only use "said" to describe how the speaker spoke. Basically, he said that we are so accustomed to reading "said" that it doesn't even register with us, and all we read is the dialogue. Using "said" basically enables the author to keep a smooth flow of dialogue, whereas the use of any other descriptive verb takes the reader out of the flow of dialogue.
8/20/13 1:42 PM
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Daredevil73
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Great writer, sad to see that he's gone.
8/20/13 2:07 PM
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Zapruder
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People skip paragraphs in books when they read?!
8/20/13 2:12 PM
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soundoff71
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Thanks dizz, VTFU.

What's a good place for a newb to start with Leonard?  Does he have any good short story collections?

8/20/13 2:17 PM
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dizz
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soundoff71 - 

Thanks dizz, VTFU.

What's a good place for a newb to start with Leonard?  Does he have any good short story collections?


He has a short-story compilation of Westerns that was pretty good. I don't recall the name of it though. I think, honestly, with him, just go the store and find any of his novels that look interesting and start there.

He has a pretty unique style and a gift for dialogue so all his novels are breezy and entertaining. I don't think you can really go wrong.
8/20/13 2:21 PM
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MountainMedic
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RIP

one of my favorites Phone Post
8/20/13 2:25 PM
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paw
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RIP

8/20/13 2:26 PM
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Daredevil73
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dizz - 
soundoff71 - 

Thanks dizz, VTFU.

What's a good place for a newb to start with Leonard?  Does he have any good short story collections?


He has a short-story compilation of Westerns that was pretty good. I don't recall the name of it though. I think, honestly, with him, just go the store and find any of his novels that look interesting and start there.

He has a pretty unique style and a gift for dialogue so all his novels are breezy and entertaining. I don't think you can really go wrong.

"When The Women Come Out To Dance," is a short story collection that's mostly crime stories.

Some of them have characters that are in his longer novels.

I don't know the name of the Western one.

Personally, the first Elmore Leonard book I read was "Get Shorty."
8/20/13 2:32 PM
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Aaronrodgers=GOAT
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8/20/13 2:42 PM
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Daredevil73
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Little known fact, Martin Weir, who was played by Danny Devito in the film, "Get Shorty," was based off of Dustin Hoffman.

They were in talks with Hoffman to play the lead in a film adaptation of Leonard's book, "LaBrava," and he viewed the way Hoffman behaved and how others had to deal with him.
8/20/13 2:44 PM
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jessethekid
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8/20/13 3:03 PM
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NomoRomophobia
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He was amazing.
Even the westerns!
RIP Phone Post 3.0
8/20/13 3:13 PM
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edwims
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Really cool

 

8/20/13 3:16 PM
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jettdogg
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Boy Stephen King could could learn from these rules, I love King but he does most of these to the extreme, his 1300 page books would only be 900 if he stuck to some of these.
8/20/13 3:17 PM
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Chris27
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RIP

8/20/13 3:28 PM
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3rdLion
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Not that I want to argue with the man but there are so many exceptions to these tips, some of which he identified himself. A lot of accomplished writers are pedants.
8/20/13 3:39 PM
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soundoff71
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Daredevil73 - 
dizz - 
soundoff71 - 

Thanks dizz, VTFU.

What's a good place for a newb to start with Leonard?  Does he have any good short story collections?


He has a short-story compilation of Westerns that was pretty good. I don't recall the name of it though. I think, honestly, with him, just go the store and find any of his novels that look interesting and start there.

He has a pretty unique style and a gift for dialogue so all his novels are breezy and entertaining. I don't think you can really go wrong.

"When The Women Come Out To Dance," is a short story collection that's mostly crime stories.

Some of them have characters that are in his longer novels.

I don't know the name of the Western one.

Personally, the first Elmore Leonard book I read was "Get Shorty."

Thanks for the heads up Dd73, VTFU, TTT.

8/20/13 3:46 PM
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sawdusk
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he was a true literary treasure for our generation... he stuck with what he was good at and perfected it... he will be missed but I hope his writing will be passed down as it deserves to be...
8/20/13 3:54 PM
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6ULDV8
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Death of an awesome writer to be sure.  

 

His books are so enjoyable because they're so succinct - really fun to read.

 

RIP

8/20/13 3:55 PM
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grizz632
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My favorite writer of all time, RIP. I'll be rereading some of my favorite of his novels this week for sure Phone Post
8/20/13 4:30 PM
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1BL0Wko
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In...case I become a writer. Phone Post 3.0

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