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?