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Literary Shop Talk > Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules for Writers -- Agree or Disagree?

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message 2: by Carol (new)

Carol | 10390 comments No hoopdedoodle there. Excellent article from a reader's point of view. Okay all you writers what do you say? By tne way love the word hoopdedoodle. When less will suffice, skip the gobbledegoop, another favorite word of mine.


message 3: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18313 comments Mod
"If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."

Interesting line. So much for writer's writers! My problem is that I love description as a writer. Guess that would be the part readers skip, eh?


message 4: by Carol (new)

Carol | 10390 comments Depends on what you are describing. That's why I like Hem and Steiny, straight to the story. I must confess I skip forwards, prologues and other falderol.


message 5: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18313 comments Mod
I loathe prologues too. It's bad enough fighting through slow starts (the early chapters of most books).


message 6: by Anthony (new)

Anthony Buckley (anthonydbuckley) | 112 comments In this passage, he scarcely once follows his own advice. It's still good.


message 7: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18313 comments Mod
Ha-ha. Sounds like me. And every parent in the world. "Do as I say, not as I do!"


message 8: by Siobhan (new)

Siobhan (totalwordjunkie) | 1 comments I appreciate the said rule in the sense that it avoids confusion, but for me, writing said repeatedly in dialogue is a little soul destroying. I will do anything to avoid that word in my writing, so that part of his ten rules is a bittersweet rule for me.

Although I completely agree that you shouldn't substitute say, shouting for 'said in a loud voice' which was the following rule, more or less. That drove me crazy in the Harry Potter books, as much as I love J K Rowling


message 9: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18313 comments Mod
See, I actually agree with Elmore about the "said" thing. Some teachers in my school have posters with 100 different ways to say "said" and encourage young writers to use them -- early and often. It isn't pretty, is all I'll say.

Even if the author uses "said" only for dialogue throughout, I stop noticing it. It certainly doesn't bother me. Writing "retorted," "replied," or, as one recent author I read kept doing, "snapped," gets my (negative) attention in a hurry....


message 10: by Tura (new)

Tura | 12 comments When 'said' is replied by 'laughed', I snap. I know, this isn't common - it is used a lot in women's mags in Finnish for some reason - but when I laugh, it goes "Hahahahaha", not words. It could equally be 'giggled' or 'chuckled', example '"You are such a gadfly," Joanna giggled.' NO!! Similarly, sniffing and huffing do not in my mind form words.

Retorted is a horrible word too, no problem using it once or twice but the more odd a word is, the weirder it is repeated over and over. I would see that as a strong word, not a replacement for "replied" or "answered". Like, "your mom is fat", "So she is" I replied, but "Yeah? Your mom is a murderer!" I retorted.
I'm not against using weird and wonderful words, but they are like spice, a little and varied makes fantastic food, too much of one pungent spice will spoil the dish.
While it has nothing to do with 'said', some writer described everything yellow as "amber", and I started soon to involuntarily count "ambers". I would not have noticed yellows.


message 11: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18313 comments Mod
"You speak Finnish?" he inquired. "Some of my best friends are Finnish."


message 12: by Portia (new)

Portia Newengland wrote: ""If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."

Interesting line. So much for writer's writers! My problem is that I love description as a writer. Guess that would be the part readers skip, eh?"


Readers of Hemingway, p'raps?


message 13: by Portia (new)

Portia Newengland wrote: "See, I actually agree with Elmore about the "said" thing. Some teachers in my school have posters with 100 different ways to say "said" and encourage young writers to use them -- early and often. I..."

Oh, gosh. Spouse was a great fan of The Hardy Boys in his youth. He still laughs at the fact that the boys "ejaculated" so often.

Tee dee hee hee hee :-)


message 14: by Joanne (new)

Joanne (bonfiggi) I consider the word "preternatural" enough to cast a book aside.

When my grandson was 3 he said "My feet are golden." I said, "Joshua, your feet are brown." Can't nip that in the bud soon enough.


message 15: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18313 comments Mod
I was "brown as a berry." Someone should have nipped clichés in the bud, too.

Pretty funny about the Hardy Boys (har har)!


message 16: by Joanne (new)

Joanne (bonfiggi) I don't mind "brown as a berry," if Emmylou is singing about some old feller ridin' the prairie.


message 17: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 15767 comments Mod
I, for one, have never seen a brown berry. Except perhaps one ready for the garbage pail.


message 18: by Joanne (new)

Joanne (bonfiggi) A wheat berry ? A coffee berry ?


message 19: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18313 comments Mod
Must be the awesome attraction of alliteration.


message 20: by Daniel J. (last edited Aug 23, 2013 03:33PM) (new)

Daniel J. Nickolas (danieljnickolas) Hackberries are usually an orange/red color, but can sometimes look quite brown.

Rules three and four need not be taken too seriously in comedic writing. The occasional well-chosen verb or adverb can be a nice accent to something funny a character has said.

I agree strongly with rule eight. If it happens to come up that’s fine, but unless a character’s physical attributes are symbolic or vital to the overall story, it’s not necessary to force in a description.

As for rule ten, don’t just fill space, but if a section of lengthy prose or a long trip into a character's head adds to the story, then do it. Virginia Woolf did it constantly.


message 21: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18313 comments Mod
Felix wrote: "Hackberries are usually an orange/red color, but can sometimes look quite brown.

Rules three and four need not be taken too seriously in comedic writing. The occasional well-chosen verb or adverb ..."


I think adjectives and adverbs work when they thwart reader expectations and assumptions. Thus, black snow and green apple and fiery ice... that sort of thing. In that case, the adjective is essential and not at all repetitive.

Also, strange word pairings are the bread and margarine of poetry.

I wouldn't use Virginia Woolf to rebut any rule! Then again, I'm afraid of her... (It's a "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" joke, is all.)


message 22: by Tura (last edited Aug 24, 2013 01:56AM) (new)

Tura | 12 comments Portia wrote: Oh, gosh. Spouse was a great fan of The Hardy Boys in his youth. He still laughs at the fact that the boys "ejaculated" so often.--..."

:D QI had once a question on Sherlock Holmes about his ejaculating... turned out only Watson did in the books. Must have been all that cocaine?


message 23: by Tura (new)

Tura | 12 comments Newengland wrote: "Felix wrote: "Hackberries are usually an orange/red color, but can sometimes look quite brown.

Rules three and four need not be taken too seriously in comedic writing. The occasional well-chosen v..."


I have sometimes heard the rule (don't know where) of "go back, mark all the adjectives and remove them" but as with adverbs I don't see how this could be an absolute rule. For instance, if it is important to note if something happened slowly or quickly then surely you can say that? Adverbiosis is a terrible malady, where a person simply cannot use a verb at all without incontinently attaching an adverb, but there is, surely, a middle-ground?

... And don't call be Shirley.


message 24: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18313 comments Mod
I shirley agree with that sentiment. As with most things, there's a middle ground (hmn... did I need to use "middle" there?).


message 25: by Cecily (last edited Aug 29, 2013 12:06AM) (new)

Cecily | 175 comments Stylistic advice that includes so many absolutes (all those "never"s) irritates me, and as for omitting the bits that readers skip: writers who know which those are are, are unlikely to include them in the first place, and the other writers are none the wiser.

(Yes, I know he elaborates on what he means by "the parts that readers skip", but the trouble is... it's in a part that readers skip!)


message 26: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18313 comments Mod
And not all readers skip the same things! For instance, after a chapter or so, I skipped all of A.S. Byatt's Possession. Apparently, others actually read it.


message 27: by Zadignose (last edited Nov 28, 2013 12:45AM) (new)

Zadignose I was all prepared to disagree strongly with whatever he was going to say, but when I read the article I found it's mostly pretty reasonable as a series of guidelines, not to be taken too seriously, and obviously allowing for exceptions. Most of the time, following these guidelines will turn out well for most writers. But by the time a writer has developed, guidelines like this become fundamentally useless. For novice writers who are very unsure of themselves, and scared to get blown up by novice mistakes, these guidelines might be semi-useful.


message 28: by Angela (new)

Angela | 491 comments I love this list and totally agree... although the word 'suddenly' is a hard one to replace. I'd need a pre-compiled list!


message 29: by Rose (new)

Rose Romano | 28 comments Fanny Burney's characters "cry" nearly everything they say. Okay, we all cry once in a while. "Ouch!" he cried or "What did you say?!" he cried. But what do you think of this: "I daresay you are wondering why I am late. Well, I'll tell you what happened. The phaeton's wheel broke, and then the horse fell, and broke his leg," he cried.
Advice, if based on knowledge and experience, is nearly always good. But I think it should be treated as an opinion that should be taken seriously, and not a set of rules that (nearly) always apply. A lot of times when people write rules for writers, they're writing what works for them. But if it doesn't work for you, it's the fault of the rules, and not your fault.
I once read in a magazine for writers this example of what not to do:
"Shut up!" he explained.
Or maybe it was intended as an example of wit. Now I'm not sure.
And just for the record, although I rarely read introductions, I almost always read the parts that people skip. You never know what you might miss.


message 30: by Sabreen (new)

Sabreen Said should be used most of the time, but not all. A little bit of "cried", of "replied", of "shouted" can spice up the writing...but that should be used very sparingly.


message 31: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 15767 comments Mod
Lilac wrote: "Said should be used most of the time, but not all. A little bit of "cried", of "replied", of "shouted" can spice up the writing...but that should be used very sparingly."

Agree. Said is invisible.


message 32: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18313 comments Mod
Word.


message 33: by Joanne (new)

Joanne (bonfiggi) Up


message 34: by Joanne (new)

Joanne (bonfiggi) Oops, wrong thread.


message 35: by Melinda (last edited May 04, 2014 10:36AM) (new)

Melinda Brasher | 30 comments I don't think "never" should be in any rule about writing. Other than that, I more or less agree. The synonyms for "said" debate: I use some, especially things like "asked" and "whispered" (when appropriate, but not just because I'm tired of "said"). I also don't think there's anything wrong with an occasional adverb attached to said, especially when it conflicts with the actual dialogue. ("I'm so happy for you," she said stiffly.) The thing about "said" is that it's invisible. Few people notice if you do use it. Everyone notices if you don't, and it draws attention away from the dialogue. The worst case I've seen lately:

Scene: John (name changed to protect the innocent) lies dying of bloody wound.
"I'm so tired," John remarked nervously.


message 36: by Yvonne (new)

Yvonne | 3 comments Personally my one rule for writing is that there are no rules, only guidelines. I have seen plenty of adverbs being used in books after the word "said" and they seemed necessary to me. As for only using the word "said" I get rather annoyed when all I see is...

"blah, blah, blah," he said.
"blah, blah, blah," she said.
"blah, blah, blah," they said.

I like to see other words being used now and then.
Writing is very personal, as is reading. What one person likes another doesn't. Some people detest the use of any cliches. Some people think that to avoid them entirely is unrealistic. Some people hate the overuse of the word "that." Some people think you should never ever start a sentence with "and" "but" or "because" yet I have seen that used often in many successful books.


message 37: by Daniel J. (last edited Jan 28, 2014 02:07AM) (new)

Daniel J. Nickolas (danieljnickolas) Melinda wrote: "I don't think "never" should be in any rule about writing. Other than that, I more or less agree. The synonyms for "said" debate: I use some, especially things like "asked" and "whispered" (when..."

I agree. If you need a word for a story then you should use it; if you don’t need it you shouldn't use it. Do you mean “he said”, or do you mean “he said insignificantly”, or do you mean “he said with infantile insignificance”?, or do you mean "he said"?


message 38: by Longhare (new)

Longhare Content | 15 comments This article has driven writers bonkers since it was published back in 2001. It is full of good advice, which writers should take into consideration as they develop their talents. Leonard, however, is giving us a big hint at the beginning of the essay when he says these guidelines help him "remain invisible." While Leonard's presence in his novels may be transparent, their shape and texture are carefully imposed and controlled by him. Other authors, Dickens for example, are not only present but often even intrusive. On purpose and to great effect. Leonard's novels appeal to Leonard's readers because he writes in a way that is enjoyable for them, skipping what he knows will bore them and relying heavily on dialog to define the characters and roll out the story.
Many writers (and editors) have taken Leonard's admonition to avoid cluttering dialog as fundamental doctrine and strain to make "said" the only allowed, all-purpose tag, to be eliminated if at all possible. The following passage would be condemned:
"Oh, it is not," cried Babbington, springing from his book. "You are cruel, Mowett," he whispered, with seething indignation.
and changed to something like:
"Oh, it is not." Babbington sprang from his book, seething with indignation. "You are cruel, Mowett."
Even the intervening phrase "Babbington sprang..." might be deleted as interrupting the flow of the exchange. But Patrick O'Brien never set out to write an Elmore Leonard novel, and his books, though stuffed to the beams with long descriptive passages and frequently interrupted dialog, are as effective in their shape and texture as Leonard's. The prose suits the subject and the readership.
Note, however, how the passage is weakened when Leonard's advice is completely tossed out.
"Oh, it is not!" cried Babbington sharply, springing from his book and turning to his accuser with a wounded expression. "You are cruel, Mowett," he hissed at his messmate, seething with indignation.
The bulked up exchange simultaneously conveys a greater level of anger and animosity than is actually intended while sapping the scene of energy and slowing its pace. As O'Brien wrote it, this compact bit of dialog does exactly what Leonard would approve--it reveals the sensitive but assertive nature of a young sailor who has been stung by the good-natured teasing of his friend. It is quick, energetic, and like a good walk-on actor, it doesn't try to compete with all the other passages in the book. It does its job with no more or less than is needed to move the story along.


message 39: by Norman (new)

Norman Crane (normancrane) | 1 comments As far as rules for writing, they're not bad rules. Then you read Elmore Leonard and you realize he doesn't always follow them so you add a caveat: general rules, be mindful of exceptions. Then you read authors you like, and you realize they follow the rules even less. By that point you've adapted the rules to: do these things unless it sounds better not to. But that only puts you back where you started because you always wanted to do what sounds best. What the rules are good at is forcing you to consider style. Whether you like adverbs or think they're barnacles doesn't matter. It's having an opinion about them that's good.

I'm also reminded of these passages from Will Gompertz' book about art, What Are You Looking At?: 150 Years of Modern Art in the Blink of an Eye:

For an institution with a global reputation for excellence and quality, the Tate’s headquarters are not what most outsiders would expect. The majority of the staff is housed in an old military hospital in Pimlico, London, that still smells of disinfectant and has an ever – present chill, courtesy of broken windows and the ghosts of long – lost warriors. My office was on the ground floor, along from the old mortuary, and behind the garden where once those with tuberculosis lay breathing in fresh air, hoping to stave off a death rattle. It was not a glamorous location.

Yet whenever I had visitors to my office they would cast their eyes around and then fix on a 2.5-meter-high poster I had on the wall, sometimes even asking if they could photograph it. It was a copy of an artwork called How to Work Better (1991) by the Zurich-based artists Peter Fischli (b. 1952) and David Weiss (b. 1946), known collectively as Fischli/Weiss. It takes the form of the Ten Commandments, listing what one needs to do in order to work better: 1. DO ONE THING AT A TIME, 2. KNOW THE PROBLEM, 3. LEARN TO LISTEN, and on to 10, which simply says, SMILE.

I suspect, on the whole, that my visitors took the artists’ bait, and saw in Fischli/Weiss’s ten-point plan a prophetic solution to how they might maximize their own professional potential. Which would amuse the artists. Because the artwork is ironic, designed to mock the motivational speak espoused by large corporations. They originally presented the list as a giant written mural on the outside of a Zurich office building, and only allowed me to have a copy of it if I agreed to display it in my workplace. The artists have taken the propaganda of business to parody the way businesses try to brainwash employees into thinking success can be achieved by following a simple set of rules: by playing the game.

The American artist John Baldessari (b. 1931) has made similar textual artworks such as Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell (1966–8), which lists three practical suggestions for artists wishing to find a buyer for their work, the first of which is: GENERALLY SPEAKING, PAINTINGS WITH LIGHT COLORS SELL MORE QUICKLY THAN PAINTINGS WITH DARK COLORS.



message 40: by Stephen (new)

Stephen (havan) | 1023 comments Late chiming in here but I think that rules proposed in the article make good sense as a starting point.

Any rule can be violated but the writing is best when one knows the rule and can make a valid argument for violating it.

As an example check out Lincoln's Gettysburg address, often considered one of the best examples of writing there is.

http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Gettysb...

A quick scan will show that there are only two "ly" adverbs in the whole thing and I think that on both occasions their use make for a better speech than omitting them.


message 41: by Darlene (new)

Darlene Deluca (darlenedeluca) | 3 comments Guidelines for sure. Never hurts to glance back through a few tips/tricks/rules when writing. I've used prologues in two of my books, and I think they work to set up the story. I agree that said is best for dialog, but I don't mind a cried, shouted, murmured every once in a while. What I really don't like is this new trend of not using quotation marks.


message 42: by Melinda (new)

Melinda Brasher | 30 comments Darlene wrote: "Guidelines for sure. Never hurts to glance back through a few tips/tricks/rules when writing. I've used prologues in two of my books, and I think they work to set up the story. I agree that said is..."

Agreed about the lack of quotation marks in dialogue. And all I can ask is Whyyyyy? Punctuation is meant to help your reader quickly and seamlessly understand. This leads me to believe that the people who don't use quotation marks don't actually want to be understood.


message 43: by Stephen (last edited May 04, 2014 01:20PM) (new)

Stephen (havan) | 1023 comments As to prologues...

I guess that there's the temptation to put something in a prologue thinking that the rules for a prologue are less restrictive than the rules for the rest of the work.

Personally, I don't think that that's so. However some of the classics use a set frame opening and closing that makes the rest of the story "subject to hearsay rules"

Think of Frankenstein. The opening narrator who just meets a man he rescues crossing the arctic ice. It makes more possible the whole question of whether the tale we're hearing is a confession or just the ramblings of a madman.

Wuthering Heights and The Scarlet Letter also use opening scenes that make the main body of the story "at a remove."

Perhaps some authors see a prologue as a "more modern" version of that.


message 44: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18313 comments Mod
I dislike lack of quotes, but in some cases get used to it without missing a beat. Then again, I read a lot, so I know younger or less experienced readers might get lost with it. Sandra Cisneros, an ace writer, does it in The House on Mango Street. Only in one vignette, where there are four girls chattering, does it get confusing at times.

As for prologues, I often skip them and am none the worse for it. Not sure if that says something bad about prologues or about me, Mr. Supposedly Experienced Reader.


message 45: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 15767 comments Mod
I find it's usually more useful to read any Introduction after I've finished reading the book, rather than before.


message 46: by Cecily (new)

Cecily | 175 comments Ruth wrote: "I find it's usually more useful to read any Introduction after I've finished reading the book, rather than before."

It's the same with <>writing an introduction.
;)


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