Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Elmore Leonard's ten rules for writing fiction

I have the feeling that a number of bloggers have commented on the Elmore Leonard essay about the rules for writing. But my eye, somehow, kind of slid over the references (which is a comment on other people's writing in itself). However, it was Diane Duane who finally enticed me to go take a look. And, if you're into writing fiction, I advise you to do the same.

Elmore Leonard, who he? Oh, he's just some boring old commercial writer. Writes thrillers and stuff. Kissy kissy bang bang, and not too much of the kissy kissy. Been selling for fifty years, but only to those unspeakably vulgar types who like stories, and couldn't care less about the quality of your metaphors. What does he know, compared with the professors on your MFA course?


David Niall Wilson said...

Successful as Elmore is, some of those rules are pretty suspect. I don't believe you can make generalizations like don't describe setting or characters in detail and make that a "rule" - same goes for never starting with the weather, or writing a prologue. There are some good notes in there, though, and certainly, as a reference, it's good to see what very successful authors look at as their "rules".


Anonymous said...

I have had a look at Elmore Leonard's rules, and I don't think they would be of any use to people like me.

I'm 23 and I just graduated from university in London last year. I had an idea for a novel, and because one of my teachers was always saying "If you fail to plan then you plan to fail," I decided to test the water first, before I started writing. I found out about "The Writers and Artists Yearbook" and I started phoning publishers to see if they might be interested. Hardly anybody would even talk to me except for one that I'll tell you about in a minute. I asked one woman why her firm published books on how to write novels if they didn't want to see anybody's work, adn she said, well you could always try another publisher.

Some of them said get an agent first, so I started phoning them too, with the same result. Some of them said we'll have a look at sample chapters, but I didn't think they were very keen, and some said don't bother anyway.

The woman I mentioned earlier was the one who helped me most, I think. She said I sounded young (cringe) and that she was going to give me the best advice I'd ever get. She said don't even think about writing a novel because nobody will even look at it if they don't already know who you are. You can always pay to have it published, but then they bookshops won't want it so you won't be able to sell it. She told me to read your book "The Truth About Publishing", and that's how I found this blog.

I'm never going to write a novel now, and I'm glad. I'm going to be an engineer.


John Barlow said...

All of what that woman says is true. But on the other hand, if you are lucky enough to get a publisher to publish your novel, you can trump any alpha-male at any party; stock broker, professor, astronaut... there's just nothing like saying 'I'm a novelist'. Having a book is just an ego thing, but it's a really good ego thing.

David Niall Wilson said...


Unless you carry said novel with you and show it to them, no one really believes you "really" wrote one. I wish I had a quarter for every time someone has come into my office, seen one of the "actual books" I have written and had published on the shelf, and said something like...

But....it's a real book....


John Barlow said...

No, they do believe you! You've just got to act in a writerly by drinking a lot and affecting not to want to talk about your work.

Nick said...

Stephen King's 'On Writing' has similar advice although he doesn't set them out as a set of ten. He also hates adverbs and after looking at it for some time I have to concur. Unless you're incredibly polished (Peter Carey for example) better leave them out.

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