Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules for good writing

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Leonard

In 2001, the great Elmore Leonard wrote a piece for The New York Times in which he laid out his 10 rules for good writing. As he noted in the article’s lede: “These are 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. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.” Even though Elmore Leonard is no longer with us, his wonderful writing lives on–and so do his rules:

Never open a book with weather.

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

Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” … he admonished gravely.

Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

I really like that last one.

You can read the Times piece in its entirety here.

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