Thursday, July 5, 2012

Elmore Leonards' Rules for Writing

Elmore Leonard, author of Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and the small screen's Justified, offers some advice to would-be writers and even though his advice is for budding novelists, a great writer is just a great writer. Take Elmore Leonard's advice when writing your college essays.

Some of Leonard’s suggestions appeared in a 2001 New York Times article that became the basis of his 2007 book, Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. Here are the basics:

1. Never open a book with the weather. If you open an essay with the weather, it better be a paper for a meteorology class. In other words, don't begin with a "It was a dark and stormy night."

2. Avoid prologues. Hmmm, prologues are a wind up to the action. Think of a prologue as your introduction. While an introduction is important you don't want to give too much away (or bore your readers with information that is common knowledge). Tell you reader what your paper is about and then get to it.

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue--if you use dialogue. On the other hand letting signal phrases do the work for you when quoting a text is a good idea because they can convey so much information. For example, disagrees and condemns are stronger than said, but when you are writing a dialogue you want the dialogue to convey disagreement or condemnation and "said" doesn't get in the way.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.” In other words, when you interview someone in a paper, don't use "angrily said"--convey anger with the dialogue.

5. Keep your exclamation points under control! PAHlease!!!!! If it's important an exclamation point doesn't convince anyone, your argument does.

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.” Why and how did something happen? Show your readers, let them feel it.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. It slows down your reader and gets annoying quick. That's why you need to write with standard English. If your professor is trying to wade through your "pop" dialect--well, don't expect an A.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. If you are interviewing someone, or using personal experience--get on with it.

9. Same for places and things. If you are writing a travelogue that's one thing. If you are writing about a treasured object than you will be writing an extended description. If you are writing an argument essay about litter, keep your descriptions succinct to keep your reader moving along and engaged.

10. Leave out the parts readers tend to skip.
Think about what you skip as a reader and then avoid writing those parts.

Good writing is just good writing wherever it is found, from a novel to a memo or an email, respect your audience (and yourself) by making all your writing count. Can you think of other techniques that novelists use that you could adopt and adapt in your academic writing?


  1. I like this Article from Elmore Leonard. His 10 adives for writting an essay are very helpful. I'll try using those for writting my next essay and hope it will lift up my grad for couple points. I totally agree that you shouldn't be using dialect in an essay nor should you use to many exclamination points because readers can understand your eassy in a different way then you actually ment it. You should always read over it and see if there are some unnecessary
    parts in it that you could take it to make it more intresting for your readers. This 10 steps can be very helpful in my future of writting.

  2. This article is very informative for anyone wanting a little advice on some of the dos or donts of essay writing. Everyone has a writing style all their own, so to be able to point out the universal things that might come to mind when you write your essay is especially helpful. These tips are very general so they can be applied to any topic. I'll try to keep these tips in mind when I'm writing my next essay. Rereading is always a good idea, since you might misspelled a word of for got to write something in. Having a general idea of where you're going with what your writing helps a lot to, since you'll be able to see when you're headed off topic.

  3. I like that this article seems to be a list of Elmore Leonard's list of writing pet peeves. Every rule is direct and helpful without sounding like he's harping on those of us who are here to take his advice. A few of the rules surround, him advising the readers to let the readers to make their own observations and draw connections through dialogue or whatever else is available, rather than plainly stating everything. In english classes requiring research, arguments or book reports, we are taught to never assume that the reader knows anything, therefore we always state everything obviously. In the case of a book or story in which Leonard appears to be referring to, you have to naturally convey things without saying them directly so that the reader just gets the sense of it. He also gives us a good idea of what is considered "unnecessary" by making us look at our own point of view when we read a novel or story. The rules are also easy to keep in mind when writing.