Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Ten Rules for Writing by Elmore Leonard

I was just about to come on here and share Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules for writing when I saw this posted by a friend on Facebook: "Elmore Leonard, Master of Crime Fiction, Dies at 87."  He was a great writer, and will be missed.

Anyway, I read a book called Behind the Mystery: Top Mystery Writers interviewed by Stuart Kaminsky a while back and I came across some quotes and these ten rules for writing that I copied down into one of my notebooks.  The Ten Rules for Writing was found on pages 25-26 in the book.

Ten Rules for Writing
By Elmore Leonard

  1. Never open a book with weather.
If it’s only to create an atmosphere and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long.  The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people.  There are expectations.  If you happen to be Barry Lopez who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

  1. Avoid prologues.
They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword.  But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction.  A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it anywhere you want.

There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, but it’s okay because a character in the book makes a point of what my rules are all about.  He says, ‘I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy who’s talking looks like.  I want to figure out what he looks like by the way he talks…figure out what the guy’s thinking from what he says.  I like some description, but not too much of that…Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle…spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language.  That’s nice, but I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it.  I don’t want hooptedoodle mixed up with the story.’

  1. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
          The line of dialogue belongs to the character, the verb is the writer sticking his nose in.  But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, and lied.  I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with ‘she asserted’ and had to stop reading to get a dictionary.

  1. 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.  I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write the historical romances “filled with rape and adverbs.”

  1. Keep exclamation points under control.
You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.  If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers like Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

  1. Never use “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
This rule doesn’t require an explanation.  I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

  1. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
One you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the pages with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop.  Notice the way Anne Piroux captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.

  1. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
Which Steinbeck covered in Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants: what do the “American and the girl with him” look like?  “She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.”  That’s the only reference to physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice with not one adverb in sight.

  1. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
Unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison.  But even if you’re good at it, you don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

  1. Try to leave out parts that readers tend to skip.
A rule that comes to mind in 1983.  Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see too many words in them.  What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpretrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.

My most important rule is one that sums up 10:

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite.

Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go.  I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.  It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing.  (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)  If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character—the one whose view best brings the scene to life—I’m able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what’s going on and I’m nowhere in sight.

I found some of the rules to be rather comical, and I realized I'm guilty of breaking rule #2, and #6 already in my own novel.  That just means I have something to work on when I get to the editing stage.

I also like seeing how other authors deal with writer's block because everyone deals with it differently.  I took the following quote from page 61 of Behind the Mystery.  It is Faye Kellerman’s answer to a question about writer’s block:

“I have situations where writing comes easier and situations when it comes harder, but I force myself to write something.  The most important thing is not to freeze when it’s not perfect.  Nothing is ever perfect.  Don’t be a baby, and say ‘It’s not coming.’  Work on it.”

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Is That a New Post I See?

Yes, it is!  You are not imagining things.  I finally found the time to update my readers on my life since my last post.

1.  I have bridged the gap I was working on in "The Shepherdess Princess," so now I can continue on with the rest of the story.

2.  I've decided to add a bibliography to the back of the manuscript to show my readers what resources I used in bringing the story together.  I've been working on that for the past few hours at the local library because some of the information I printed out from online resources didn't have website information and such.

I'm mostly done with the bibliography now except for the several documents I printed out that has the website information.  I have mostly Wikipedia articles to add to the bibliography now, and then I'll be done with that.

3.  I have started compiling a list of possible publishers I can send my manuscript to when it's done.  Yes, I am that close to being done with the book!  ;)  If I hunker down and write, I'm planning on being finished by October 8th, 2013.  Halloween at the latest!


For being such a patient group of followers, here is another teaser from "The Shepherdess Princess" for your reading pleasure:

            As Jazelle and Philippe were walking out of the woods, side-by-side, Jazelle couldn’t help bringing up a subject that was still nagging at her.  “Philippe,” she began, anxious to think what the outcome might be, “Can I ask you to clarify something for me?”
            “Of course,” Philippe croaked out, wondering if he’d live to regret what came next.
            “Back there you said that you were withholding information to protect those you know and love,” Jazelle said, heart racing, “Does that include me?”
            Jazelle’s words caused Philippe to stop in his tracks, and face her.  What should I say? He thought, Should I finally come out with how I truly feel about her?  Would she reject me, or accept me without knowing everything about me?  “Of course, I love you,” Philippe admitted, “You’re my best friend, my only friend, that I’m really close to around here.”
            “I love you, too,” Jazelle’s face beamed as she threw her arms around his neck, and their lips met in a steamy kiss.
            “Whoa,” Philippe said once he was able to push her away before the kiss deepened anymore than it already had, “I didn’t mean it that way!” He lied.
            “Oh, I’m so embarrassed,” Jazelle replied, covering her face with her hands.
            “Don’t be,” Philippe said in an attempt to console her, “I liked it!”
            “Pig,” Jazelle said before pushing him aside as she stormed off.
            All Philippe could do was stand there and chuckle as  he watched her from behind.  “You know, you’re kind of cute when you’re pretending to be angry,” he called out to her.
            Jazelle stopped, turned around, and went charging back to him.  SMACK! Her right hand slapped his cheek so hard it began throbbing instantly.  He dropped the bread he carried onto the ground as his hand flew up to caress the red mark now forming there.  She hurt her hand, too, but was too pissed off to care about the pain as she left him again.

I hope I've left people salivating again.  Maybe the book will actually be distributed to the masses by the next time I have to share another teaser.