Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Elmore Leonard School Of Authoring

For all you wannabe asshole “writers” out there, some lessons from a master:

Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing.

All are perfect common sense (something in short supply in modern literature), but I particularly like Number 8: “Avoid detailed descriptions of characters”. There’s nothing I hate more – except for smashing my balls caught in a car door, which has only happened once and anyway was something I did on purpose to impress a girl – than reading a nice little story and then having to suddenly usurp my own imagination by having some fuckwit author go on for seven paragraphs about how some bird has “golden hair” and “a voice like honey”, and some bloke has “deep blue eyes” and “a square jaw”.



At 12:11 AM, Blogger mindlessmunkey said...

My apologies, but I reckon Mr Leonard's "Rules" are a load of excrement. (And yes, I proclaimed that boldly.)

The very notion of a successful author standing on a soapbox and saying, "This is how I write! Therefore it's the only way! And everyone else must write that way, or they are crap!" annoys the shit out of me. (Note the use of exclamation marks!)

But more to the point, he doesn't even stand by his own rules. Don't describe the weather - unless you're Barry Lopez. Don't have a prologue - unless you're Ernest Hemmingway. Don't use exclamation marks - unless you're Tom Wolfe. Don't describe setting - unless you're Margaret Atwood.

So basically what they all boil down to is: Don't do (X), unless you DO IT WELL.

In conclusion, Mr Leonard's "Rules" could be thrown out and replaced by one piece of advice: Find your own style by utilising your writing strengths and avoiding your writing weaknesses. Thanks Elmore, but I don't think we needed you to tell us that.

At 8:12 AM, Blogger JPW said...


In all honesty, I agree with you, but I also agree with Leonard. I am sick and tired of reading books where the writing takes precedence over the story and characters (just as in a George Lucas film, the bleeps and bloops and flashing lights take precedence over everything else). I've just had enough of it, and you might call me pedestrian or the writing "uninspired", but the trick is, if I want fine writing I already know where to go (namely, William Hazlitt). If I want a story or, at least, an atmosphere, I don't want to have to wade through pages of poety, ornamental prose to get at it. That's why I've all but given up on fiction with the exception of sci-fi, which, by its very nature, *has* to tell a story.

At 8:18 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Surely Leonard's point is that by following a set of simple rules you can improve (or at least clean up) your writing, but that if your talent/muse/whatever leads you to contravene one or more of those rules then that's ok too. It's like Strunk and White - full of handy rules of thumb, but ultimately the individual knows what effects he wants to create, and therefore what rules he might prefer to break.

(I really ought to have responded to this earlier, when I was less drunk.)

At 9:21 AM, Blogger TimT said...

Not fond of these rules. 'Never talk about the weather', for instance: why not? You shouldn't talk excessively about the weather - or rely on it because it is a cliche - but I think it has its place. I actually like books where the author mentions the weather; it can set the atmosphere perfectly.

Or 'always use the word said'. Why? What about remarked, stated, gurgled, groaned, gasped - each of which help to convey something else about the situation in which the characters find themselves? Use the word 'said' too many times and you risk monotony of prose.

It's good for writing to be simple, but it should be versatile as well. The two don't necessarily have to be in conflict.

At 10:07 AM, Blogger Ben.H said...

Of course, Laurence Sterne had the right idea when it came to character description: leave a blank space for the reader to write in their own.



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