While the world mourns the loss of crime fiction writing legend (and Justified executive producer) Elmore Leonard (Get Shorty, Up in Honey’s Room), we thought to celebrate his many gifts to writers with the republication of his famous “10 Rules for Writing,” first published in The New York Times in 2001.
“These are rules I’ve picked up along the way,” Leonard wrote at the time. Adding that they are intended “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.”
The master was and remained the master for many reasons. More than 10. Still, there’s a reason this particular 10 has been republished so often:
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” . . .
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
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.
And while adherence to his rules will make us all stronger writers, I can’t imagine a time when we won’t miss that strong, laconic voice. We bow our heads.