Sunday, 25 August 2013

RIP Elmore Leonard

Writer Elmore John Leonard passed away last Tuesday 20th August 2013. He died surrounded by his family after suffering a stroke at the age of 87. His funeral was held in the author's home town of Birmingham, Michigan, on Saturday. Elmore was an American novelist and screenwriter whose earliest novels, published in the 1950s, were Westerns. However he went on to specialize in crime fiction and suspense thrillers, many of which have been adapted into motion pictures. Remember Maximum Bob, Out of Sight and Get Shorty?

Elmore was renowned for his terse, no-nonsense style and sparse use of dialogue, his works inspired numerous screen adaptations. The author of 45 novels, Elmore had been in the process of writing his 46th. In an interview with Radio 4's Broadcasting House that was aired on Sunday, presenter Paddy O'Connell asked Elmore's son, Peter Leonard, whether he would finish the book.
"I would, I think so," he replied. "It's been discussed among family members and I've talked to Greg Sutter, Elmore's longtime researcher. "At the funeral, another son, Bill, told mourners, "Everyone knows that Elmore was a great writer. But only a few of us know that he was a great father - funny, patient and incredibly generous."

Following the service, Leonard, who served as a Navy seaman during World War II, was given military honours, which included the playing of taps and a flag-folding ceremony. As well as the order of service, attendees were given a small card listing Leonard's famous 10 Rules of Writing. Here are the 10 Rules.

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

Notice how he immediately gets the focus where it belongs: on character. We read not to learn that it’s a glorious day but to understand how a character feels when the day of her lover’s funeral is the kind of sultry day they loved best.

2. Avoid prologues.

Here, Mr. Leonard immediately breaks his own rule, citing a prologue that serves a purpose: “There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, but it’s okay because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about.”

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.

*note to self* Go and edit your dialogue Angela!

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.

*note to self* Go to confession!

5. Keep your exclamation marks under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

*note to self* Eeek!!!!!

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

7. Use regional dialect or patois sparingly.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

In Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants, what do the “American and the girl with him” look like? “She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Elmore Leonard concluded his rules by citing his most important rule – the one that sums up all of the rules:

If it sounds like writing, I re-write it.

Rest In Peace Elmore Leonard.


  1. A lovely tribute, Ange - and thanks for posting those rules as I hadn't taken a note of them before.

  2. Thank you Rosemary, neither had I - although several are obvious! x

  3. I loved Elmore Leonard's crime fiction. His passing is a true loss to the world of fiction. Thanks for posting his writing tips; loved them.