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Ten golden rules of writing (from Elmore Leonard)

There are no rules for good writing except those you make for yourself, and you follow them only because they work for you. Everything else is mere opinion, or prejudice.

Elmore Leonard, the recently deceased American author had ten golden rules of writing. Whether they were intended to be serious or were said somewhat tongue in cheek, isn’t known but because he was a successful and respected writer, they are worth considering, but only so long as you remember that they are his rules and not yours. Anyway, here they are, so take a look and see what you think?

  1. “Never open a book with the weather.”

    Weather can be a good way to establish the mood and atmosphere.

  2. “Avoid prologues.”

    Some authors go with a prologue and some don’t. Simply a matter of personal choice.

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

    Personally, I don’t agree with this, remember, your rules should work for you. If your dialogue is solid and easy for the reader to follow, then within reason they should be able to understand where you are going with a character or a conversation, but sometimes, “he shouted/sighed” are relevant to include. Remember, ultimately it’s about whatever works for you and your particular style of writing.

  4. “Never use an adverb to modify the verb ‘said’.”

  5. “Keep your exclamation points under control.”

    I would agree with that. I don’t really see the need for too many of them

  6. “Never use the words ‘suddenly’ or ‘All Hell broke loose’.”

    Maybe this was one of Elmore’s tongue in cheek rules. I can honestly say I’ve never used the phrase, ‘All hell broke loose’, but I have certainly used the word ‘suddenly.’

  7. “Use dialect sparingly.”

    I would agree. Other than saying, “he spoke with a deep Geordie accent.” I then wouldn’t try and write the following dialogue by spelling and pronouncing how a Geordie would actually say the words. The reader will know how a Geordie accent sounds and will read that part of the story with that in mind.

  8. “Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.”

    “Frank guessed the guy was in his early twenties, athletic in build with straw blonde hair and striking blue eyes.” It wouldn’t be natural to describe all of his features in intimate detail. Remember, this isn’t a Police photofit you are filling in after having been mugged; it’s a brief description of one of your characters. Regardless of how much detail you put into describing your character, your readers will have their own images of them in their heads.

  9. “Same for places and things.”

    I believe this is slightly different from the tip above. I think it’s important to create a clear picture when describing a location.

  10. “Leave out the parts readers tend to skip.”

    As I wouldn’t have a clue what bits of a book readers would skip, I’ve absolutely no idea which bits to leave out in the first place.

Hemingway gave three pieces of practical advice.

  1. 'Don't stop when you're stuck; stop when you know what comes next.' Always read over what you have already written (as much as is feasible) before you start writing again.'
  2. Don't think about it when you are not at your desk. 'That way,' he said, 'your unconscious keeps working on it.'

Most writers make their own rules, and only a few of them would be helpful to others; any general rule is absurd.