I came across this photo/list of Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing on Pinterest. It’s an excerpt from his essay of the same title. I thought it would be interesting to see if you all agree or disagree with these rules.
Here’s my opinion:
1. Personally, I love a story that starts with “It was a dark and stormy night…” (just kidding, unless the author is trying to be ironic).
2. How about the prologue? Is there a bit of the story that just needs to be set off by itself? I’m pretty sure I’ve never had a problem with a prologue.
3. “Said” seems to have no grey area. Writers either demand that “said” be used exclusively or they hate having to stick to “said.” Some say it’s the mark of an inexperienced writer to use words other than “said.” Whatever. Sometimes, words like “whispered,” “murmured,”or “shouted” just need to be used, I think. For example, take these three versions of the same sentence:
“That is a stupid idea,” he said.
“That is a stupid idea,” he whispered.
“That is a stupid idea!” he shouted.
Totally different feeling is conveyed, right? On the other hand, you could get carried away with it. “That is a stupid idea,” he blustered, bemoaned, bellowed, whined, sneered, snapped, ranted, ejaculated…. (yeah, let’s use that one! *snicker*)
4. Here’s another reason to use a word other than “said.” If Elmore doesn’t think you should use an adverb to modify “said” then you can’t say “said quietly.” Which is a perfect argument for using “whisper” instead.
5. Exclamations points?!? Are you kidding me?!? I love exclamation points!!!! And only 2 or 3 in 100,000 words of prose?!?!?!?!?!? Come on!!!!! That’s crazy talk!!!!!!!!! (Obvious sarcasm)
6. I pretty much agree with 6.
7. And 7.
8. Yes, to this too. I think this is a case of “show don’t tell.” You can accurately convey your character’s traits through dialogue and through another character’s thoughts and observations.
9. Hmmm. Maybe not always. One of my favorite books is “My Antonia” by Willa Cather. There is a multitude of descriptive language in this book and quite frankly, it’s beautiful. I think this rule depends on the type of story you’re writing.
10. Yeah, I know what I like to read and what I skim through. For example, Tom Clancy can describe the entire process of a bullet being fired from an assassin’s rifle. While I’m totally impressed that he went to all that research… Yawn. Scan. Next.
Which of these rules do you agree or disagree with?
Header image courtesy: Peanuts; by Charles Schultz