Writers’ Room: Elmore Leonard on Writing Well


Elmore Leonard died last week at the age of 87. He wrote dozens of books and innumerable short stories in a variety of genres, but was best remembered for his best-selling crime novels. He was a master of clean prose and a mechanic of plot; so much so that his justly famous “10 Rules of Writing Well” should be checked out by any writer, crime or not.

Here you go:

  1. Never open a book with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than ”said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ”said” . . .
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
  6. Never use the words ”suddenly” or ”all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Always, always follow the last one. Read the original piece here for his explanations of the various rules. (“You are allowed no more than two or three [exclamation marks] 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.”)

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