Ten Rules is as Ten Rules Does

Get Shorty (film)

I was planning on putting a piece of poetry on this post today but somehow my folder is missing. I spent way too much time looking so I am in the position of having to repeat I post I did last year. I think I had about three or four readers at the time, so maybe it won’t be a problem.  The subject today is Elmore Leonard. He is one of my most favorite authors. It may be because I once took a class where he was one of the guest lecturers. This was back in early ninety’s when his stories were becoming hugely popular. He had launched the book Get Shorty in 1990 and gave each student a pair of Ray Ban knock-offs with Get Shorty printed on the ear piece. The movie was released in 1995 and what is pictured is the promo poster.  He gave us his rules of writing then and I think they are very current today. Here is the post: 

Elmore Leonard is a prolific writer who got his start in the pulp western genre.  His books have spanned the years from 1953 to today.  Twenty six of his books have been adapted to motion pictures which gives testimony to his popularity.  Elmore is also known for his ten rules of writing;

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.

His most important rule is one that sums up the Ten

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it

17 comments

  1. This list is great! Some I kind of disagree with, but I get the reasons for. Such as using words other than “said”… I think the rule of thumb is just use adverbs as sparingly as possible in general (or so I have heard). Didn’t know that about exclamation points, that is interesting.

    1. Yeah. Elmore has a bias. It is interesting that Stephen King has some of the same rules. A little different but generally around “don’t overwrite the scene.”

  2. well, suddenly I saw your update and all hell broke loose when I tried to post it… Not really, but I think rules are made to be broken, (especially ones made by other people , mine own I keep to ….usually!!!! 😉 ) x

    1. You are so right. We need to be true to our own rules. The ones set up by others may be flexible

  3. Great tips from a prolific writer. Thanks for sharing John.

    1. Thanks for the comment and visit

  4. Hey John: I used to read Elmore Leonard many years ago when he first published the “Get Shorty” books, but I don’t anymore. I read so much, I can’t remember the titles and being 60 doesn’t help!!!!! I know I love the Jacqueline Winspear books with the character, Maisie Dobbs and I”ve read all 10. I learned a lot about WWI with the first book and I just love all the characters. Her books are written with a lot of heart. Right now I’m reading an Indian writer I’ve read before, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and the title is “Oleander Girl” and I’m enjoying it. For non fiction and for a great time, did you ever read Marlo Thomas’s memoir, “Growing Up Laughing?” You really do laugh at loud as you’re reading it. My mom just read the memoir “Growing Up Amish” by Ira Wagler and I’m going to read that next. The public library is my 2nd home and I order all my books through them!!! Happy Reading!!!!!

    1. Age and little time does that. Thanks for the comment

  5. Absolutely, he is an excellent author!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Oops with the exclamations)

    1. I agree!!!!!!!!! ( “It is like a plague,” the boy exclaimed while he put two more glasses on ice in the cooler.

  6. Great post. I will need to work on a couple of things in my writing. I love describing places in great detail…not sure I will be able to change that. I use way too many!!!!!!!

    1. Thank you for the nomination. I will try to live up to it.

  7. “What nonsense!” she remarked suddenly!

    Thanks for the tips. 🙂

    1. You are welcome. Of course they are Elmore’s but I’ll take the thanks

    2. LOL!!!!! ” Whoops,” he exclaimed as he dropped hot coffee on the white couch which was a new piece of furniture in the new house of his uncle.

  8. […] John got nominated for the Best Moment Award, and shared with us an amazing acceptance speech, you gotta check it out here! – He also shared Elmore Leonard’s ten rules of writing, out of which I found some very interesting and useful. Make sure you check it out too here! […]

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