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Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing

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"These are the 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."—Elmore Leonard

For aspiring writers and lovers of the written word, this concise guide breaks down the writing process with simplicity and clarity. From adjectives and exclamation points to dialect and hoopetedoodle, Elmore Leonard explains what to avoid, what to aspire to, and what to do when it sounds like "writing" (rewrite).

Beautifully designed, filled with free-flowing, elegant illustrations and specially priced, Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing is the perfect writer's—and reader's—gift.

96 pages, Hardcover

First published October 30, 2006

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About the author

Elmore Leonard

297 books3,038 followers
Elmore John Leonard lived in Dallas, Oklahoma City and Memphis before settling in Detroit in 1935. After serving in the navy, he studied English literature at the University of Detroit where he entered a short story competition. His earliest published novels in the 1950s were westerns, but Leonard went on to specialize in crime fiction and suspense thrillers, many of which have been adapted into motion pictures.

Father of Peter Leonard.

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5 stars
655 (33%)
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610 (31%)
3 stars
501 (25%)
2 stars
157 (7%)
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44 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 326 reviews
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.5k followers
March 21, 2020

This illustrated version of Elmore Leonard's famous rules of writing is an excellent gift for any writer or would-be writer, and a valuable addition to any writer's shelf--particularly if he writes too much or too fancy, like I do.

It contains each of the eleven rules (the ten commandments plus one great commandment), approximately 50-200 words of clarification and reflection on each of them by the master himself, and some whimsical and accurate cartoon drawings of Leonard--and a few other famous writers like Conrad, Steinbeck and Hemingway whom he mentions in the course his remarks--performing actions that illustrate those rules.

Oh . . . and if you don't know the rules themselves, here they are, straight from the Goodreads Elmore Leonard quotations page:

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”…he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points 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.
9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
Profile Image for Brandon.
902 reviews233 followers
February 25, 2015
A nifty little book with invaluable advice but it's not exactly essential. The entirety of the book's contents are available here when it originally appeared as an article in the New York Times:


Although it's fleshed out with neat author caricatures upon thick pages, it feels like a cash grab. Do yourself a favour, read the article but skip the book.
Profile Image for Randy.
113 reviews11 followers
March 22, 2012
There's short & sweet advice here, but many might feel robbed if they're not aware of how short these 10 Rules are (a guess is less than 2,000 words total). It's sort of a picture book for 10 writing rules, and it's probably best to check this out from a library if one's on a tight budget.
Profile Image for Mike.
8 reviews19 followers
February 10, 2011
Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing has been expanded from the original short magazine piece to, well, an admittedly short book. But it's a book that should be on every writer's shelves, whether you're a crime writer like Leonard or not.

As a writer myself I do find myself thinking of some of the rules when I'm struggling with a passage of writing. They're so simple yet so true that they're easy to bring to mind:

'If it sounds like writing I rewrite it.'

'Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.'

'Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.'

The rules are funny and simple but they're also so true. I'm reading a book by a friend right now and I'll be gently telling him to consider that last rule there about dialogue.

This is one of those books which, like Stephen King's 'On Writing' and Robert McKee's 'Story', every writer should not only have on their shelves but take off the shelves and re-read at regular intervals.

Profile Image for Nicole.
Author 6 books38 followers
April 17, 2016
A gift from a friend.
I'm not exactly a fan of Leonard's work--I've read one of his novels, which I thought was so-so, and I've seen three movies based on his work, which I mostly liked. But I did rather like this. The advice is brief and to the point. The illustrations add to the text in a quirky way. I like how Leonard points to writers he likes who break the rules and how he doesn't say his rules are absolute gospel. Most of the rules seem sensible to me. I'm now going to be hunting down the "suddenlys" in my own stories, hoping I don't find many, since I don't think I overdo it with exclamation points (and according to him, they tend to go together).
Profile Image for Jason Lilly.
229 reviews45 followers
January 18, 2012
First of all, this is nothing against Elmore Leonard. Mr. Leonard is one of my favorite writers of all time, the master of writing dialogue. He lives up to the tips he offers in this book and has proven himself a dedicated writer who takes the craft very seriously. It is because of Mr. Leonard that this book is receiving 2 stars instead of 1. Nor do I mean any disrespect toward Joe Ciardiello and his clever illustrations.

My problem is yet again with another publisher's choice to slap a high price tag on a product simply because of the name on the cover. Oh, sure, they could go on about the quality of the book (hard, velvety cover, leather binding, and card-stock pages) but we all know that is not the issue. Because the cover says "Elmore Leonard" we can justify charging $17 for a book that takes a mere 20 minutes to read.

If you are a collector of Elmore Leonard books, this could be an excellent gift for yourself or someone else who is a fan.

But if you're a writer, seeking advice from a master of the craft, you can read and/or print the article for free here: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/16/art...
You would be better off printing and laminating the article as opposed to shelling out $17 for 20 minutes worth of useful writing advice. You could also check the book out at the library (as I did) to save some money. Libraries need more support anyway. The e-book edition may also be more affordable.

As writing advice, Leonard's words are golden. As a book, overpriced and not worth the extra money.
7 reviews
December 19, 2007
I love books that are short. There are so few long books that are worth the space they take up. Financial books are especially bad in this respect.

Leonard's book is short and very useful for writers. It takes about 20 minutes to read from cover to cover. Some pages have only a single sentence. There are lots of funky illustrations of Leonard and other stuff. He makes good points about not leading with the weather, not using adverbs and exclamation points and leaving out the parts the reader tends to skip.

He also says don't use the words, "suddenly," or "all hell broke loose."

It's similar to Stephen King's book, On Writing. King constantly hammers on the idea of sticking to the story. Both King and Leonard recognize the value of a good digression.

The one thing about Leonard's book I noticed is that much of the advice will lead a writer to filling books up with dialogue. Leonard says not to spend much time describing the appearance of people, places and things. He says to avoid adverbs. All those things can be easily conveyed on the screen, of course. This guy has written his share of novels that became movies, so that's understandable. He's trying to teach writers how to do that. There are other ways to skin a cat, but his advice will generally tend to keep novice writers from filling pages with skippable fluff.

It's definitely worth the few minutes it takes to read. I keep it on my desk, right near my copy of Strunk & White.
Profile Image for Michael Wilson.
69 reviews9 followers
March 9, 2011
Really William Morrow? You take a one page article from Elmore Leonard and stretch it, and I really mean S—T—R—E—T—C—H it into an 89 page book. Even so less than half of these pages have text on them, and on the pages that do have text on them might consist of a sentence or maybe a short paragraph illustrating one of the 10 rules. At a $14.95 cover price I can’t recommend this for any writer. It is obviously intended to be a gift book for writers (and probably then only writers who are huge Elmore Leonard fans). The thick, smooth card-stock pages with whimsical cartoons scattered throughout it can only be appreciated by those people struggling to find a last minute gift idea for a writer friend, not a serious writer looking for some good writing advice from one of popular crime fiction’s masters.
Profile Image for Rebecca Eve.
Author 3 books25 followers
March 19, 2012
I'm not entirely sure how to rate this book.

I checked this out of the library without looking at it too closely. It's sort of a board book for adults.

Really it's just this essay, originally published in the New York times. The essay has been expanded with each page getting no more than a sentence and some illustrations stuck in between.

The essay is good, you should read it. The book is fun, and, I suppose, a kind of cheeky commentary on all the lengthy writing books out there. However, I can't really recommend buying it when you could just print the essay (unless you're looking for a gift for an Elmore Leonard fan).
Profile Image for Hákon Gunnarsson.
Author 29 books131 followers
May 30, 2016
Disclaimer: I was way too frugal to buy this book, so I read the article online at nytimes.com.

This is the first thing I've read by Elmore Leonard, and I think it is an interesting book, or article to understand how he wrote. Still, there are very few writing rules without exceptions, and I think that applies to most of these ten. Writing styles are different. What applies to one genre, may not apply to another, and so on.

I know these rules don't all apply to a lot of my favorite writers, or me for that matter, but I do like the rule that the writer should try to leave out the part that the readers tend to skip. It's a good rule. The problem with this rule is that it can be difficult to know what parts those are.
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,475 reviews372 followers
June 9, 2011
I loved this book.


I read it in the bookstore in 10 minutes.
Then I reread it. Slowly.
That took 15 minutes.

I couldn't bring myself to spend any # of dollars for a clever idea & some good basic points.
Each idea was excellent & I guess you could use them to meditate on. And the book was nicely formatted: nice to hold, a nice book-as-object.

So I want to say get it.
But it's a lot of money for 10 minutes.
Profile Image for Raphael Lysander.
252 reviews79 followers
March 30, 2016
the rules are excellent. The illustrations are wonderful. But, do they deserve a whole book! I mean there are to many blank pages, and those which weren't had only one sentence. Still, the book was nothing more than 90 pages. they could've added more explanations or meditations on writing or a collaboration with other writer's rules.
Profile Image for Carey Calvert.
399 reviews3 followers
July 3, 2021
Kate White, who just released her latest thriller, The Fiancee (published June 29), along with Scribner Books, sponsored a book giveaway for How to Write a Mystery: A Handbook from Mystery Writers of America, edited by Lee Child (Jack Reacher series) (review forthcoming – I’m only in chapter 2).

I am one of many fortunate winners but this book has introduced me to other books, including Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.
I’ve only read one of Leonard’s, who passed in 2013 at the age of 87, books, Rum Punch; ahead of the Tarantino film Jackie Brown, starring Pam Grier and Samuel L. Jackson, on which the film is based.
Yes, it is a travesty I haven’t read more of Leonard’s work and plan to rectify that, having ordered the collection, Four Novels of the 1980s that includes Glitz and Freaky Deaky, from my local library.
Of the ten rules, my favorite is rule 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. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange.”
But Leonard’s most important rule is one that sums up the 10.
“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
Leonard’s goal was to remain invisible; to help show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story.
You don’t have to be a writer or even an aspiring one to enjoy this book. Keeping this particular set of rules in mind will enhance your reading.
“Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.”
“I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.”
Profile Image for Mustakim.
375 reviews35 followers
April 17, 2021
বই - Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing
লেখক - Elmore Leonard
পৃষ্ঠাসংখ্যা - ৯৬
প্রকাশকাল - ৩০ অক্টোবর, ২০০৬

লেখকের লেখালেখির(ফিকশন) মোট ১১ টি(মূল নিয়ম দশটি এবং শেষে একটা বোনাস নিয়ম) নিয়ম নিয়ে সাজানো হয়েছে বইটি।খুব ছোট্ট একটা বই।পৃষ্ঠাসংখ্যা ৯৬ হলেও বইটাকে যদি মাঝে বড় বড় স্পেস না দিয়ে লেখা হতো তাহলে সম্ভবত ১০-১৫ পৃষ্ঠার মধ্যেই জায়গা হয়ে যেত।বইটা পড়তেও ২০-২৫ মিনিটের বেশি সময় লাগার কথা না।
সবগুলোর নিয়মের পাশাপাশি খুব ছোট দুই-তিন বা চার-পাঁচ লাইনের একটা বর্ণনা দেয়া হয়েছে।যদিও বর্ণনা ছাড়াই বোঝা যায় লেখক কি বোঝাতে চাচ্ছেন।পাশাপাশি প্রতিটি নিয়মের সাথে সাথে সেটার উপযোগী করে একটা ইলাস্ট্রেশন দেয়া আছে।
যারা লেখালেখি করেন বা করতে চাচ্ছেন এবং এ বিষয়ে একটু পড়াশোনা করার সময় খুঁজে পাচ্ছেন না বা আমার মতো Fake Busy তারা খুব অল্প সময়ে পড়ে ফেলতে পারেন বইটি।

রেটিং - ৩/৫

~ মোঃ মুস্তাকিম বি.
১৭ এপ্রিল, ২০২১
Profile Image for Emy.
358 reviews20 followers
February 24, 2015
Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing, firstly, is a valuable little book with some solid rules for making writing better.

Key word here: little. This book is only about a hundred pages long, but there is only text on every other page, and only a short paragraph where there is text. For me, this is not a bad thing. It just means that a lot of the waffle you normally get in writing guides is cut out and only the bare bones - the actual rules - are brought to the forefront. I can see why it could be irksome if you had paid a lot of money for the book yourself, but, as I received it for a Christmas present, this aspect did not bother me.

It was a useful little read to refresh on some of the more common sense rules of writing: don't overuse synonyms of said, don't pepper your work with exclamation marks, etc.

But what really made the book for me was Leonard's eleventh rule: 'If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.' I never thought of it that way before, so it is definitely something I will be watching out for with my own writing.

I also enjoyed the illustrations by Joe Ciardiello, which helped to highlight and separate the rules nicely.

I would definitely recommend reading this book if you're any sort of writer, just because it is a good collections of some of the basics of writing. I would probably recommend borrowing it from the library or off a friend, though, because it is very short.

Also, hooptedoodle. :)
Profile Image for Ruth Charchian.
220 reviews
April 10, 2014
I have found Elmore's novel writing difficult to follow although I love "Justify" and was inspired by it to read his novels. The characters and their dialogue are sharp, in focus, often witty, and engaging in "Justify." "10 Rules of Writing" explained the reason I was starving for more context when I read Elmore's writing.

Rule #9: Don't go into great detail describing places and things.

In Elmore's attempt to "be more invisible" when writing a book and showing rather than telling what's taking place, Elmore has strip mined his stories to the point where, I, the reader, has the responsibility to fill in the places and things detail and imagine a large percentage of the context of HIS story. Is that genius or what?

He could have simply told us: "Look, I'm really great at writing dialogue so I'm going to give you the dialogue in this novel. But I am not as great as Margaret Atwood or Jim Harrison at painting landscape scenes so I am leaving that to you, the reader, to figure out on your own while you read this novel."

He doesn't want descriptions to interfere with the flow of the action. If I have to stop reading to "imagine" the context, doesn't that slow me down and isn't Elmore afraid I might make up something different from what he intended? I find he has stripped layers too much of rich top soil out of his stories. I, for one, miss it. But then who am I to critique Elmore Leonard.
Profile Image for Dante.
80 reviews16 followers
May 21, 2013
I'm new to short story writing, and I really found this book helpful!

I love this quote:

"These are the 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."

The light bulb just lit up inside my head, and I say, "Ah, so that's what it means to show rather than to tell: The creative writer should remain invisible throughout the story. He should let the characters talk/interact and live their lives within the story and not interfere or 'stick his nose in.'"

The ten rules are as follows:

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” ...he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points 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.
9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
Profile Image for B.A. Wilson.
2,451 reviews305 followers
September 30, 2014
This is the kind of self-help/how-to book that is perfect for me, because honestly I hate that genre. However, I really do want to read more about what other people think about writing and about how other people write. I just don’t want to trudge through a million chapters of heavy text.

This book is extremely short, simple, and straight to the point. A lot of the 10 are basics that writers already should know, yet somehow, we like to forget them or sometimes even ignore them. Whether you agree or disagree with the 10 tips on writing, this book still gives you something to think about, and when it comes to writing, it is good to consider lots of options then go your own way.

Honestly, I agree with almost all of them, but there are always exceptions to the rule. I took away some great reminders about writing, and I appreciate how little time it took to absorb them. I didn't have to read huge tracts of boring text to remind me how to make my writing interesting. That worked for me. I would even consider reading this again, upon occasion, just as a general reminder of the basics.
Profile Image for Alexander Engel-Hodgkinson.
Author 21 books37 followers
March 8, 2015
I disagreed with one or two things here and there, but I know I'm not an expert writer like Leonard and I disagreed because I liked repeating (constantly) the same mistakes Leonard tells the reader of this book to avoid. This book is a nice, VERY easy, very simple, very quick read. In fact, despite it being 96 pages, it only takes about fifteen minutes or less to read through, mainly because he'll sometimes put only one word on a single page. Because of that, it's a constant page-turner... in more ways than one (LOL). It isn't condescending like some 'advice' books can be read as sometimes, and it is genuinely helpful with its tips and pointers on how to improve your writing skills.

The illustrations are also very cool and surreal. In a way, they remind me of those unique drawings found on the Criterion Collection cover of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I think my only problem with this book is that while it's right-to-the-point, it got everything over with a little too quickly. Maybe I'm just used to those 150-page books that have a paragraph dedicated to every little thing...
Profile Image for Sherrie.
21 reviews
July 26, 2009
This is a very short book. It’s straight forward, very direct and to the point. There’s no long explanation of why he feels how he does, why he feels he’s right over what classroom tells us about how to write or what experts say. If you’re looking for more in depth information on how to write or what the rules are of writing look elsewhere. This book is more like a good friend’s (of course a friend who’s an established writer) opinion, that you might want to reference back to every once in awhile.
The book is ok and I agreed with what he had to say. I just wish it had been a tiny bit more in depth, but it was nice to hear what a seasoned author had to say. I bought this book at the dollar store and paid only a dollar plus tax for it, so for the price it was worth the money. If I had paid more I wouldn’t have been happy.
Profile Image for Farhan Khalid.
405 reviews97 followers
October 27, 2015
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 word "suddenly"

7. Use regional dialect, patios, sparingly

8. Avoid detailed description of characters

9. Don't go into great details describing places and things

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip
12 reviews12 followers
January 7, 2008
Good advice, but spendy by the page. I love Elmore Leonards writing, so I bought the book without even cracking it open. When I got home I thought "Shit, is this it?" If you want great advice on writing, try 'Writing Down the Bones' by Natalie Goldberg. As far as 10 Rules of Writing goes, save your money and just read it at the bookstore. You can do it standing up on your lunch break.
Profile Image for Mike.
Author 7 books37 followers
June 20, 2014
This isn't a book at all. It was originally published as an article in the New York Times, and has here been extended into book form by making it one sentence per page (some 90 pages), interrupted by drawings, and blank pages, and using paper that’s more like cardboard and is irritating to turn over. What he says is okay, but hardly original.
Profile Image for Ruel.
130 reviews15 followers
November 14, 2014
It's exactly as it bills itself: Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing. The rules themselves are five stars, but the presentation here is severely lacking, consisting of a few drawings, excerpts, and an interesting tidbit or two. This is one of those things that you'd never buy for yourself, but would make a nice gift for a writer friend.
Profile Image for Tina Hayes.
Author 12 books54 followers
March 26, 2018
Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing is a short, witty book that cuts the BS and gets straight to the point. It takes less than half an hour to read from cover to cover (and the illustrations are pretty awesome as well) but Leonard's advice is something all writers should keep in mind.

Or else you could suddenly be doomed to write hooptedoodle!! :)
Profile Image for Scott.
103 reviews3 followers
November 19, 2016
I got this today at Dollar Tree and I read it in less than 20 minutes. Pretty skimpy, but not bad for what it is: a short essay padded out to book length with lots of white space, thick pages, and illustrations.
Profile Image for Audra.
Author 1 book24 followers
July 18, 2017
Very short book with cute illustrations and to-the-point advice on how to write books that will keep your reader's reading! And now...I not only can't stop saying "hooptedoodle," but I'm on my way to the library to get John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday! :-)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 326 reviews

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