If it sounds like writing

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

That was Elmore Leonard’s overarching rule of writing, but he explained 10 others in a 2001 essay for the New York Times. The author behind “3:10 to Yuma,” “Justified,” “Jackie Brown” and “Get Shorty” died Tuesday at 87.

You can read Leonard’s full explanation for the “why and how” of his rules in the Times essay. But if you want to just get on with it, in true Leonard style, here they are:

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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