Elmore Leonard’s Advice on Writing

Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard

I enjoy reading Elmore Leonard’s stories because they are tight and quick, they get right to the point without tons of filler. I came across these tips for Leonard and found them useful, so I am posting them here for your edification. Enjoy.

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.

Change of Plans

In Thursday’s post, I announced the release of a new Benny Cahill story on September 15. After some thought, I have decided to instead release of collection of three short stories to give readers a better deal. The Benny Cahill trilogy will be released on December 1, with pre-order starting two weeks earlier. I will keep you updated

I would also like to announce the release of another series of mysteries, the Father Benedict Granger series. These stories are based around Fr. Granger, who was a private detective earlier in life before becoming a man of the cloth. The first story will be release for free on September 5. A collection of stories will soon follow.

Please stay tuned to this blog for further updates.

Free Book and Coming Attractions

My ebook Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth is now free on all platforms, except Amazon. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find a way to find a way to make it free on Amazon. If you enjoy hard-boiled mysteries or detective shows from the golden age of radio, check it out. You can find it on Smashwords, Barnes and NobleKobo or iTunes online apotheke viagra. If you like it, feel free to review it.

On another note, I am working on the next installment of the Benny Cahill series. The working title for now is Where There’s a Will. I plan to release it on September 15th. Keep an eye on this blog for more announcements.

My favorite note taking apps

Every writer needs a notebook to keep track of their story ideas and inspiration. While I like a good paper notebook, I love the ability to take notes with my mobile devices and have them available to use without having to type them out. Here are two of my favorites.

Google Keep

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This app is great because it is light and very quick and easy to use. If you have a Google account, you are all ready to go. I put this app first because it automatically syncs with the web version when you connect to the web. You can color code your notes and use it to remember appoinments. This app is available on Android and on the web @ drive.google.com/keep. Give it a try.

Evernote

If you don’t have a Google account, don’t like Google, or need apps that is available on iOS, as well as Android, then this is the app for you. Evernote has a few more features than Google Keep. You can create separate notebooks for different projects and add tags to find similar notes quicker. You can find Evernote here: evernote.com.

Both of these apps are great and I use both. Try them both and see which works best for you. What note taking apps do you use?

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Check out my first ebook

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I would like to annouce my first ebook. It is the first in a series of stories that follow a private eye named Benny Cahill. Right now it is only available on Smashwords, but It will soon be available through Apple, Sony, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and other ebook retailers. I will post a link to those stores when the book becomes available there. For now, please take a look at the sample on Smashwords and buy it if it interests you. After all its only $0.99. Pass the word and help a hopeful writer.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/388954

How to Ruin the Ebook Industry

Recently, I was doing some research on ebook publishing when I came across an article by a man who obviously specializes in get-rich-quick schemes. The article was entitled Make Money Selling Ebooks: How to Create Your Own Ebook Publishing Empire By Writing Just One Ebook Per Month. In this article, the writer says the following:

What if I told you that you could write a dozen ebooks, and turn them into 30 to 50 e-products, all making you money day in and day out? The beautiful thing about ebook publishing and writing is that once the publication is finished, it can earn you money for years to come. And, if you can literally double, triple or quadruple your output, without doubling, tripling or quadrupling your efforts – well, now THAT’S a winning formula. As the author of somewhere around 18 ebooks to date, following is the formula I now “formally” follow…A pullout is simply a chapter or portion of your ebook that you can sell as an individual product. For example, my most recent ebook, How to Write an Ebook in 3 Days, Market It & Start Getting Sales within a Week – Really! has four pullouts. These pullouts will sell anywhere from 99 cents to $9.95. The full ebook will sell for $19.95; the introductory price is $14.95 (for a very limited time)

To me, this is a very underhanded way of doing buisness. I would compare it to a dealership selling a car without the engines or wheels.There only person it benefits is the author. It would make customer distrustful of ebook publishers and it would also breed badle written content for a high price. To be blunt: this is a bad business practise and should be avoided at all costs.