Everyone approaches writing differently, some revel in the use of language whilst others take a more stripped back approach, trying to get out of the way of the world they’re creating and the story they’re telling.
Elmore Leonard was a brilliant and stylish writer; his stated aim was to make himself invisible, but, in doing so, he developed an elegant, apparently simple style that was unmistakeable his own.
In 2001 Elmore wrote a piece for the New York Times in which he laid out, very simply, his ten rules for good 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.’ Elmore Leonard
You can read the rules in full here, but, for now, here are the basic principles. Use them wisely.
- Never open a book with weather.
- Avoid prologues.
- Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
- Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”.
- Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
- Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
- Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
- Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
- Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
Elmore’s most important rule is one that sums up the 10.
“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”