Remembering Elmore Leonard: Leave Out the Part That Readers Skip

4 years ago

I heard on NPR this morning that Elmore Leonard passed away and immediately thought of his wonderfully funny -- and simply wonderful -- 10 Tips for Writers. What I didn't know until I read it in his obituary in The New York Times is his path as a writer. Bottom line:

His breakthrough novel: #25, Glitz

(Credit Image: © Detroit Free Press/

What he had to say about it: “After writing almost anonymously” for decades, “I am what you call an overnight success.”

This is a short version of his 10 Tips for Writers (actually 11): coffeeandjournal

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.

And lastly, his most important rule -- "one that sums up the 10":

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

The more detailed list of the 10 in "WRITERS ON WRITING; Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle" in the New York Times is well worth reading. - Meg

Meg Waite Clayton is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of four novels, including  The Wednesday Sisters (a writing group novel) and the just released The Wednesday Daughters. She’s written for The Los Angeles Times, Writer's Digest, Runner's World and public radio, and for The New York Times and Forbes online.

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