Thursday, 22 August 2013

Get shirty!


Is it me, or is it hot in here?

Unless you live in an igloo or on a desert island, without WiFi, a LAN connection, TV reception or a newspaper, you'll know that the prolific and celebrated author Elmore Leonard died this week.

Alongside his frankly phenomenal creative output, he is also well known for his ten rules of writing, which I will repeat for you here with additional comments:

1. Never open a book with weather, even if it is a dark and stormy night.

2. Avoid prologues, which knackers every novel I've ever written - bar one.

3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. But what about my whispering, gasping and growling, he muttered.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said” … he admonished gravely. Erm, well said?

5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. Do interrobangs count? Or should that be

6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose." All of a sudden I have a sinking feeling that all hell will be let loose in my next edit.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Damn straight.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. Finally, one I've often adhered to, only to find that readers feel they can't picture my characters clearly.

9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things. Which leaves descriptions of...?

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. You mean they skip parts of a book? That's just terrible.


Okay, those are EL's rules and here are some of mine.

1. Stand by your writing. That means owning it, even the sucky stuff. Everything you've ever written has made you the writer you are now.

2. Never justify your words  - and avoid explaining them, if you can. Once you start defending  something you've written - which is, after all, a collection of structured squiggles and lines, you've missed the point.

3. If an idea for a piece of writing takes you to a dark place or makes you feel something, go there.

4. Don't spend time trying to be everybody's friend. Firstly, it's not possible. And secondly, you're not writing for everybody - not unless you're writing a dictionary.

5. Just give it a go. Try, draft, edit and maybe even bin. But don't sit and wonder what you could have achieved. That way lies sadness. 

Anyhow, that's enough of me and my made-up-on-the-spot rules, what writing rules do you have?


10 comments:

AJ Ponder said...

I liked your rules best :)although many of his made sense (under most circumstances) they were the sorts of rules that make you want to go out and break them immediately...

Chloe said...

I've read so many rules of writing this week I'm now convinced that my writing is terrible and immature! I think I'm going to have a rule break for the rest of the time it takes me to write this novel draft!

But to contribute to your list... I did a blog post once about how my rule of writing is "Never reference Rick Astley", unless you want 'Never going to give you up' playing in your head for weeks!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

I like your list as much as Elmore Leonard's list. Maybe even more! Enjoyed your post.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

I liked your list as much as Elmore Leonard's. Even more. Thanks for a good post.

Derek Thompson said...

Thanks all for our comments. My list is certainly easier to achieve for me. In the end, much as I commented on the Made by the Potter blog recently, it comes down to context and authenticity. You have to write in a way that's meaningful to you and not contrived, while engaging the reader.

As regards Rick Astley, it would take a strong, strong man to get that tune out of your head. And that's Whenever You Need Somebody.

Gillian McDade said...

Brilliant! The dictionary bit made me chuckle!

Wendy's Writing said...

A new rule: check for the word 'that' and get rid of it... you'll find loads! (oops, I hadn't written enough words for that exclamation mark).

Derek Thompson said...

The word 'that' is one of my weaknesses.

Debs Riccio said...

Brilliant - all of 'em :)

Mary j said...

I like it.Many thanks Mary