Tristan MacAvery's Reviews > Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing

Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing by Elmore Leonard
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Mar 19, 2010

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bookshelves: books_on_writing
Read in March, 2010

My good friend Russ (known this boy nearly 40 years now, no fault of his own) handed this book to me as an amusement, and I was indeed amused. The book really should be credited under the name of the illustrator, Joe Ciardiello, who provided wonderful drawings to help fill out this (perhaps) 1500 word article made into a book by using one side of each cardstock-thick page. You can pass through the entire book in ten minutes, which in a way is quite refreshing.

Leonard's advice to writers is direct and unflinching, as is his tribute to other writers who use the particular technique(s) that he's offering. However, he tends to laud Ernest Hemmingway and John Steinbeck, both of whom I hold in comparatively low esteem. Hemmingway couldn't write a complex sentence or a fully-devleoped thought if it killed him, and Steinbeck tended to write foreshadowing less with shadows and more with 50-foot flashing-neon billboards. I'll develop these unique theses in other places. My point here is only that Leonard does tend to hold these authors as models to look up to, and I'm not sure I wish to be in such artifically auguste company.

His most important rule of writing, which he says sums up his other ten, is this: "If it sounds like rewriting I rewrite it." (This is a direct quote, including the lack of comma to set off the initial subordinate clause.) He goes on: "Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can't let what we've learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative."

There's a joke to the effect that "vegetarian" is an Indian word meaning "lousy hunter." Until I've read a work by Elmore Leonard, I'll have to hold back my conclusions. Would anyone care to recommend what they would consider to be one of Leonard's best works? Let's see if his work both represents his rules and provides excellent reading. Until that time, I must confess that I would find his advice to be less than fruitful. I'm rather hoping to discover that he'll prove me wrong.
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