Three Rules of Writing from Distinguished Crime Novelist, Elmore Leonard (and how I broke them)

Elmore LeonardWe lost another bestselling author last week. Elmore Leonard, acclaimed crime novelist died. He was 87. Perhaps best known for the 1990 novel “Get Shorty” which was later made into a 1995 Hollywood film starring John Travolta, Leonard defined the crime fiction genre.

An Associated Press article released last week said Leonard “helped achieve for crime writing what King did for horror and Ray Bradbury for science fiction. He made it hip, and he made it respectable.”

Truthfully, I didn’t read much of Leonard because I don’t follow this genre, but I did know he was a giant in the writing game and he occasionally offered words of wisdom for all of us writers on how to master our craft. (In fact, I previously blogged about one of his famous rules. Type “writing worthy” in the search bar at right.)

What can we learn from him? The New York Times convinced him to share his “10 Simple Rules for Writing.” I wish I knew them before I wrote my first novel.

When I discovered this list the other day I couldn’t help but test myself. You know, see if I broke any of his rules. What do you think happened?

Rule #1:  Never open a book with “weather.” Yep, I broke Rule #1 on the first page of my first novel. I didn’t exactly dwell on weather but I did mention it. OK, maybe I elaborated on it just a bit. Why did Leonard say this? “The reader is likely to ‘leaf ahead looking for people.”

Rule #2:  Avoid prologues. When I had trouble getting an agent interested in my novel I later gave it just what it needed, a prologue. Thankfully, computers have a delete button.

Rule #3: Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. Yep, broke this rule too. I think most of us break this one. Perhaps it’s because we can’t stand the redundancy of “he said, she said.” Leonard believes since “dialogue belongs to the character” anything else is simply “the writer sticking his nose in.”

So yes, I broke at least the first three of Leonard’s 10 Simple Rules of Writing before finishing the first chapter. I didn’t feel very good about putting my work to the test. But then, this is why Leonard is a bestselling author.

We lost an acclaimed writer last week. A writer that left us with 45 books, timeless writing rules and this parting truth that underscores the secret to writing success:  “If you want to be a writer all I can do is wish you luck. The rest is up to you.”

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Wow…didn’t know “Get Shorty” was a novel. I’ve seen the movie, now I’ll have to read the book.

  2. Reblogged this on Cindy D ~ EDITOR.

  3. Every time I read these rules I shake my head. They are excellent guidelines of what not to overdo. However, my favorite authors break all those rules.


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