Leonard Elmore

Leonard Elmore, a popular and prolific western and crime fiction writer, died recently. A friend of mine sent me his ten rules for good writing, which have been around for some time (guessed I missed them):

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.

At first, I thought how could I take umbrage at any of them? After all, he is a famous writer, beloved and admired by everyone who’s read his books. I’m never going to be famous or idolized as he is; I’m just an amateur writer. Who do I think I am to criticize? Still, I’m not sure you can reduce good writing to 10 rules. Are these are a result of his economical style of writing?

I’ve opened some of my stories with some weather to set the scene. Not “It was a dark and stormy night” type of scene-setting, but I guess I need to work on that.

My first book has a prologue, as does the one I am working on. I used the prologues to describe action that led to the opening of the book. Should I forget about prologues?

I can’t imagine only using the word ‘said” in conversations, especially where you have three or more people and you have to identify them. That and never using an adverb to modify a verb would make any conversation unbelievably monotonous. However, having read some of Elmore’s writing, he doesn’t indulge in a lot of conversation. Maybe I should try to be more economical with my conversations?

Avoid detailed descriptions of characters? I guess it would depend on what Elmore meant by ‘detailed.’ He nevertheless does a good job of describing his characters, and I sort of agree with him because something should be left to the imagination of the reader. Same with greatly detailed descriptions of places and things; you can overkill to the point of deadly dullness.

As for leaving out the part that readers tend to skip, if you write something and in the rereading find it tedious, leave it out. He’s right!

What do you think of these rules?



15 thoughts on “Leonard Elmore”

  1. Like any rules, they only summarize. I think if they were to be extended and debated, we’d have some asterisks here and there, noting certain exceptions. I agree with the exclamation marks rule, and the opening with weather — it’s been done ad nauseum. Also, same with ‘if it sounds like writing, rewrite.’ On the other hand, I like descriptions and internal thought, and when done well, I do not skip them. I’m perfectly fine with prologues if they need to be there, as in your book.

  2. I’ve shard these rules with my creative writing students for several years. As with any rule, we use them when it works for us. I’m with you on the weather one- weather can be exciting! 🙂 I have a difficult time with the adverb one, since I LOVE adverbs (too much), so I do try to use them minimally (whoops – adverb). xo

  3. I like to avoid words like never and always when it comes to rules, Noelle. In general, as a guideline, I agree with Elmore’s list. BTW – I have a review of Death by Pumpkin on my blog today. If you get a chance, stop by to say hi. 😀

    1. Hi Diana:
      I’m just back from our three weeks in Europe. Saw your review the other day and intend to post it on mine if you don’t mind! THANKS! We are exhausted and dealing with a very sick and old pet – sort of a let down, but the trip was pretty challenging. Stuff for a number of upcoming blogs!

      1. Feel free to post, Noelle, of course! So sorry to hear about your sick pet – not what you want to come home to. Rest up and take care. I’m looking forward to your posts. 😀

  4. Writing rules are for nervous nellies who hate fun. Y’know, in my opinion. Also, ‘all hell broke loose’ is awesome and cannot possibly be used often enough. ymmv!

    1. I guess my main complaint is that I wouldn’t want to write like LE – his is not my style and my voice would be changed. But there are some kernals of truth in there.

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