Well, it seems that many people are getting involved in NaNoWriMo which is great, but also a huge challenge.

I thought it would be a good time to get some advice on the art of writing. And who better to give that advice than the amazing Elmore Leonard. So, please find the great man’s (RIP) top ten tips below. Please also find a link to a post from  The Guardian that has Elmore’s top Ten tips for writing, as well as loads of other famous writers. I hope it gives you all some inspiration. And just think, if we all follow Elmore’s rules then we will write like him, which is no bad thing!

Rule 1: Never open a book with weather – If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long.

Rule 2: Avoid prologues – They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreward. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop in anywhere you want. John Steinbeck says in Sweet Thursday “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks…”

Rule 3: Never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue – The line of dialogue belongs to the character, the verb is the writer sticking his nose in.

Rule 4: Never use an adverb to modify the verb ‘said’ – …he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange.

Rule 5: Keep your exclamation points under control – You are allowed no more than three per 100,000 words of prose.

Rule 6: Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose” – This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

Rule 7: Use regional dialect sparingly – Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you wont be able to stop.

Rule 8: Avoid detailed descriptions of characters – See what Steinbeck said in rule 2.

Rule 9: Don’t go into great detail describing places and things – Unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you’re good at it you don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

Rule 10: Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip – A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think about what you skip when reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone inside the characters head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care.

And the most important rule of all – If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.




About thomasjford

I like Movies and Music and most things popular culture.


  1. rtimmorris

    These are incredible tips! I’ve broken a few of these rules before, but will try to keep them in mind in the future.
    BTW: When are we going to see some of your own writing on here?

    • thomasjford

      They are good eh Tim, Elmore sure was a legend! As for my writing, I guess I could put some of my scripts on here if anyone was interested? I am attempting to write a novel for NaNoWriMo but I doubt I will find time to get a lot done!

  2. Some excellent points here. Though I do have a reservation about #10: a reader shouldn’t be skipping a paragraph just because it looks long.

    • thomasjford

      Hi Jasper, I tend to agree. I never skip any part of a book, or stop a movie that’s already started. I always see it through to the end. That’s just polite!

      But, I guess a lot of people don’t. Funnily enough, Leonard is right in what he says if you apply it to screenplays (of which there are many for his works) because readers like to see a fair bit of white space on the page!

  3. Pingback: Tighten Up Your Writing | SoshiTech

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