Thursday, October 4, 2012

10 Rules of Writing

I recently read Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing.  It is literally an 89 page book dedicated to  white space, caricature-like drawings and, of course, the ten rules.  They are as follows:

  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”…he admonished gravely.
  5.  Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. 
  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.
  10.  Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
 My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.
 If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

I found the entire book to be a bit on the pretentious side, please visit my personal blog to read my full review.  Concerning these rules, I question whether or not calling them 'rules' makes us less likely to follow them, or if something like this might be more palatable if presented as suggestions.  What are your thoughts on these rules?  Do you follow them?  Do you break them?  Do you think that you have to follow them in order to get any literary credibility?  There are a few that I do agree with and many that I intend to completely disregard.  Are there any here that you would personally follow?  Are there any that you disagree with completely?  

Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora) © 2012


  1. I find most, if not all of these rules very strange. And not rally what I would call rules. They may be Leonard's personal rules, but for other writers, they defy what we have been being taught for years. It seems Leonard would like us all to write research papers or educational prose to describe the workings of a steam engine on mars. By all accounts, if he is describing how to write a literary novel then only rules 3 and 4 even relate to anything I have learned in all my years in writing courses.

    I would have to agree with your claim that this sounds like a pretentious list, and if it works for Leonard, good for him, however, I will not be following these rules. I happen to love reading and writing in-depth character descriptions using both direct and indirect characterization techniques. This is something that we are often preached about in my writing courses, define your character! Make them believable! There are many tricks to do this, and some require that we create an interpretation of that character through little direct cues (such as "her green sweater" in Joe Henry's "Lime Creek"). This is a very simple way to describe a character directly, but it shares something about that character.

    The whole no going into detail describing places and things, that on top of not describing characters... I have to ask, why then are we writing in the first place? What are we trying to show when we cannot show anything? It seems that Leonard enjoys telling rather than showing. I might take the time to read this book, and write a response of my own, thank you for sharing.

    1. You're welcome. Oh and the book literally is just those rules. It's spaced out and only one sentence or one thought is on each page but that's pretty much it. O_O If you get a chance please check out my review of it - it pretty much covers the entire book. It took me ten minutes to read it lol. Maybe less but I kept stopping to go 'excuse me, what?'

  2. Wow. He writes campy noir type stories, and while I can see where he wouldn't want to give away too much through character and scenery because of the "mystery" he is trying to establish, to tell other writers to avoid everything that makes their writing entertaining and informative is asinine.

    Every author I read breaks those rules. They don't make sense to a genre writer, especially science fiction, fantasy, historical, horror - pretty much all writing.

    As Tory said, it is like he wants people to write research papers. As a reader I want to know all about the characters. I want to know if they eat peanut butter out of the jar or have an obsession with lunchboxes. It's the little details that make a book come alive.

    And I think that Snoopy would be ticked off with rule 1. Because all of his stories start with: "It was a dark and stormy night." I think I would go with Snoopy than Leonard.

  3. I can understand discouraging people who aren't going to take writing seriously or have fun with it, love it (Skoora and I touched on this off blog). However, this is just mean. These rules hinder more than they help and don't give people the freedom to play and explore.