The Ten Rules of Writing

Courtesy of Elmore Leonard:

1. Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not create a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long.

The focus should be on character, not places or things.

2. Avoid prologues.

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.

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.

5. Keep your exclamation marks 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. 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.

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

If it sounds like writing (aka hooptedoodle), rewrite it.

 

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