Writing advice from “the Dicken’s of Detroit” aka Elmore Leonard
Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules of Writing
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 than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, 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 non-fiction. 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 OK 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.”
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 and go to 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 flavour 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.
9 Don’t go into great detail describing places and things, unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.
10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.
CBS’s drama The Unit, about the lives of the highly trained members of a top-secret military division, was canceled last year, but a memo to its writing staff from its executive producer David Mamet has just surfaced online. (The source appears to be the online writing collective Ink Canada.) If you think you know where this is heading, you might be wrong:
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I was reading a great article on Flavorwire about “What Does your Bookshelf Say About You?” and included in this article was a link to a great tumblr page entitled (http://shareyourshelf.tumblr.com). If you enjoy looking at other people’s bookshelves give it a looksee. Cheers
E.L. Taylor III, boyz2men,abc, bbd, opp
Art by Aaron Noble
Jungian Super Hero Social Club by Trey Eddantes
The waiting room – a room filled with wonder,hope,fear, joy and despair. He had been in this room numerous times, but it always seemed brand new to him each and every time he came here. This was his therapist waiting room- a safe haven, a place to enter into a gateway of help and understanding. He had been going to Dr. Lorraine Nichols for about a year now for therapy. She was the tour guide through his life’s problems and she little by little had helped him understand his problems. His name was Ray Thomas, he was a patient, he was lost, he was depressed….and….he was a superhero.
You see Ray Thomas was just his cover for his real identity which was the superhero named Victory Man. Ray was left on the doorstep of a nunnery and raised by those wonderful gangster nuns. Yeah , they taught him about discipline, order,love and..martial arts and how to protect others. But who was going to protect Ray when he needed help.
“Ray. I’m ready for you!” Dr. Nichols stated.
“So how have you been doing Ray?”
“Not too bad, had to save an elderly couple the other
night, it was as interesting as my day had ever been”
“I notice you said- had to save, tell me more about
“Well its as if my natural given talents or gifts of
superhero, seem to have become a burden. It’s as if
saving lives has become a job of sorts.”
Ray sighed to himself,”I feel sometimes that I have lost my purpose as a superhero, a person, a human being
-but am I human.”
“Interesting , do you wish you were human?”
“There are days when I want nothing more than to be an
average joe, to really experience life in all its good
and bad qualities.”
“Anonymity can be life’s godsend when it really wants
“It’s what I’ve been wondering and contemplating as the
days go by. But what I can’t get my head around is my
duty or obligation to be a superhero and save lives.”
“That’s interesting that you have a moral code,
especially ironically speaking- when you don’t have
“I know right-the irony of being a life saver , who
doesn’t have to save them, ain’t life grand.”
“I believe that anyone of us in this world could always
live our lives for ourselves, otherwise we could
possibly lose ourselves.”
“Well times up, until next time Mr. Victory Man.”
“Thanks Doc, thanks for listening and thanks for
After Ray left, Dr. Nichols pulled out an old framed
photo in a hidden bookcase. The picture was a self-
portrait of Dr. Nichols in her own super hero outfit.
The photo frame had an inscription that said, “Thanks
for everything (Raven Woman), we will never forget you!