Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
Leonard was a novelist but most of his rules still apply to writing in general. If you want to read the why and the wherefore and his stories that generated these rules, you’ll need to go to Brain Pickings, or even better, buy the book Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing (public library) illustrated by Joe Ciardiello.
If you just want the basic rules, a taste of what he has to say, and some ideas of how they apply to academic writing, read on!
1. Never open a book with weather.
“If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo,” writes Leonard, “you can do all the weather reporting you want.”
2. Avoid prologues.
Found in nonfiction, Leonard writes that “a prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.”
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
Because, Leonard writes, said is “far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.”
In academic writing, “writes” is the standard. However, words like
etc can come in handy to further your own argument.
Be careful of “exclaims.” We Writers tend to be on the quiet side. If we exclaim, we will use an exclamation point and then only rarely (see rule #5).
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”.
“…he admonished gravely,” writes Leonard.Can you show us instead of telling us?
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
(!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) And even more so in academic writing! Really none or maybe one to a paper.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
Leonard advises that “you don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.”
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
That’s where getting readers can help. They can also help you find where you want to develop your paper more!
And yes today in class we will be talking about how to fix up our drafts because the finals are due for my students next Thursday!