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Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules of good writing

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Elmore Leonard Elmore Leonard

He was one of the most popular and prolific writers of our time. He started out writing westerns, then turned his talents to crime fiction.


Leonard, who died on Tuesday at the age of 87, wrote 45 novels – most of them best sellers,such as Glitz, Get Shorty, Maximum Bob, and Rum Punch – was renowned for his terse, no nonsense style and sparse use of dialogue.

Over half of his novels were adapted for television or movies including; Hombre, 3.10 to Yuma, Get Shorty and Rum Punch which was directed by Quentin Tarantino under the title of ‘JackieBrown.’


In 2001 he wrote ten rules for good writing for the New York Times. You can read the entire rules with explanations over at the Times' site – here they’re laid out very simply:


  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.
My most important rule is one that sums up the 10,

he said

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
Last modified on Monday, 26 August 2013 12:24
James Hurford

James Hurford

James Hurford | Copywriter | Trainer | Coach | Owner of Passion – the copywriting company.
At Passion we specialise in copywriting in plain language for the financial services sector. With over 25 years of experience working for top international companies, we bring a vast amount of knowledge and copywriting expertise to every client we work with.



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