Elmore Leonard: 10 Rules for Good Writing

When you want to learn to write well you see what those who are recognised as great writers have done. Model the best.

Elmore Leonard is an acknowledged literary legend.

Best known for his crime fiction he was a prodigious talent with some 45 novels, 26 of which have been adapted for the screen.

In his early career Leonard would wake around 5am and write at least one page before getting coffee and heading off to work.

For inspiration he would read For Whom The Bell Tolls which he credits for teaching him how to write.  See?   Model the best.

His only work of non-fiction, 10 Rules of Writing (2007) has been acclaimed as a seminal work on efficient and effective writing.

These are his rules in succinct form.

  1. Never open a book with the 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.