January 30, 2004



Why don't you give people a link to Leonard's advice, and let them judge for themselves? Don't you believe in a democracy of taste, you elitest you?

Leonard's advice isn't nasty -- it's superb.


I think Dutch's advice works for some people and doesn't for others. Which is kind of like writing advice in general, I suppose.


You're right, Sarah. I just think it's a funny, well-written piece that makes you think a little bit. In contrast to the rest of that rather earnest and endless NYT series.


LOL ... I'm assaulted by friends this morning!!

C'mon - "leave out the parts nobody reads"? Which parts are those.

TLS NB summed up this piece quite nicely a few weeks after it ran. I'll see if I can find it. But you're right - I should have linked. I was being cranky.


OK, here's the TLS item:

NB J.C. 27 July 2001

The fashionable crime writer Elmore Leonard has published his ten rules for writing fiction. Here they are: 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 marks under control. 6. Never use the word "suddenly". 7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. 8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. 9. Ditto, places and things. 10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
The eleventh rule is: If you come across lists such as this, ignore them. The rules may sound sensible enough, but, with the exception of No 5, each could be replaced with its opposite, and still be reasonable advice. Leonard complains that, while reading a book by Mary McCarthy, he had to "stop and get the dictionary" - as if it were a form of pain (William Faulkner, who broke most of these rules whenever he wrote, complained of Hemingway that he "never used a word you had to look up in the dictionary"). And what is meant by "leave out the part that readers tend to skip"? If every writer tried to be as exciting as Leonard, there would be no Brothers Karamazov, no Anna Karenina (remember those exquisitely boring sections on agronomy?), and the shelf reserved for Dickens or Balzac would measure about a foot. Banish patois, and we lose a library of fiction stretching from Huckleberry Finn to Trainspotting. As for dialogue, if Leonard samples Henry James, he will find "remarked", "answered", "interposed", "almost groaned", "wonderingly asked", "said simply", "sagely risked" and many more colourful carriers (these from a page or two of Roderick Hudson). Should they all be ironed out into "said"?

Our rule for the cultivation of good writing is much simpler: stay in, read, and don't limit yourself to American crime fiction.

For what it's worth, Sarah, I always thought the last line was a bit of a cheap shot. But I kinda agree with the rest.


Damn -- I hate it when people use NB against me. He's right on everything but James, who needs a little tightening up.


The opening description of Leonard as "fashionable" is also a shot. What an elitist - or, hey, maybe the writer is being ironic. I mean, the bit about the passage on agronomy. So, what, we agree it's painful and tedious, but it's good for us? Or something. Sort of literary cod liver oil...

The point is, Leonard was asked for his opinion. These are his own rules. He actually indicates that Steinbeck breaks many of those rules but that he (Leonard) finds him totally readable. So he's NOT being didactic.

Regarding the TLS comment. If you don't like American crime fiction... so what? How is one other person's idiosyncrasy relevant to an article in which one author is asked to give their opinion on how they do it?



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