Friday, July 16, 2010

Drive-Thru Book Review: No Hooptedoodle Allowed

Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing
by Elmore Leonard
ISBN: 978-0-06-145146-1

Originally published in the New York Times nine years ago today, I have come across used copies of this book for sale, and finally checked out a copy at the library yesterday as part of my Summer of Book-Learnin'. Despite the heft, this is clearly a gift book, meant to be left out and admired and flicked through, with humorous illustrations of the author or the authors he talks about. I wouldn't pay the $15 this book originally cost, especially when you can just read the essay online for free. Bounce on back to that first link in this paragraph to see it, sans illustrations. Go on. I'll wait.

Back already? Yes, it's a quick read. I zipped through the whole thing over breakfast, and that's before I was fully awake. But that doesn't make the contained advice any less worthwhile. Leonard's rules are simple and b.s.-free, much like his writing, and are a refined distillation of the same advice I've read and re-read over much of this summer. I wish I'd found this last fall, in fact: the advice would surely have spared my draft the many adverbial indignities I heaped upon it, and soothed the nagging doubt I had that you need only say "said" in dialog, and nothing more. I may keep a copy of the essay by the typewriter this November, just in case.

I say: read the essay online and spend the $15 on typewriter ribbons.


deek said...

Good read. After almost finished with "The Writing Life" this list fits very well with the essays and interviews I'm currently reading. And since I've just finished the dialogue chapter in Self-Editing Fiction (same advice: don't use adverbs and only use said), this reinforces it that much more.

One of the biggest pieces of advice I got out of King's writing memoir was to get rid of the adverbs.

Its all good advice!

Monda said...

This article gives excellent advice. I'll go deeper on a few things, though.

- Don't even use "said". Use gesture, action, or nothing at all. Just let your characters talk. If they're strong, those tags simply get in the way.

- Don't use ANY exclamation marks at all except in dialogue. Even then, sparingly and only if it fits situation and character. Exclamation marks are Neanderthal emoticons. Nuff said.

- Don't open a book with anyone getting out of bed, either. Too often it leads to the "it was only a dream" conclusion.

My favorite is number ten. Good writing should never sound like writing. Period.