The great crime novelist Elmore Leonard, who died early this morning at the age of 87, had a great impact on the world of movies. Among the many films based on his work: “Get Shorty,” “Out of Sight,” “Jackie Brown,” “Be Cool,” “3:10 to Yuma,” the TV series “Justified,” the not-yet-released “Life of Crime,” and many more. But he was of course best known in the book world, as a prolific writer who began penning Westerns in the 1950s and routinely turned out a book a year. I’ve always loved his “10 Rules for Writing,” published in the New York Times in 2001; you can read the entire piece here, in which he elaborates a bit (but just a bit) on each of these rules, but here it is in short form:
- Never open a book with weather.
- Avoid prologues.
- Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
- Never use an adverb to modify the word “said”
- Keep your exclamation points under control.
- Never use the words “suddenly” or “All hell broke loose.”
- Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
- Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
- Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
Here’s hoping he’s resting easy in crime-thriller heaven, where the prose is always taut.