Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules

Elmore Leonard (credit: Getty Images)Elmore Leonard was America’s most famous writer of crime novels, noted for his gritty realism and strong dialogue. He died on August 20, 2013, at the age of 87, leaving behind a legacy of dozens of novels and short stories, twenty-six of which were turned into movies and TV shows. Among the best known: Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Hombre, Valdez Is Coming, The Moonshine War, 3:10 to Yuma.

Get Shorty coverI admired Leonard as a master craftsman, although I am not a fan of his blood-and-guts style. Nevertheless, his books and stories have sold gazillions of copies, many more copies than my books have sold. Stephen King has called him “the great American writer.”

Leonard will also be remembered for his famous tips for writers:  “These are rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story,” he wrote. Here are his ten rules for writing, most of which I violated in my first two sci-fi novels:


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.”

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

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.

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