Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules for writing

November 18, 2014 | Writing

Elmore Leonard is one of the most successful detective novelists of all time. Several of his best-selling books — including Get Shorty, Be Cool, and Jackie Brown — were turned into successful Hollywood movies. Mr. Leonard entered immortality in 2013, but he left us with 10 rules for writing that will serve us nicely in any type of writing we do.

Here is a short summary of the principles that made Elmore Leonard such a successful writer — with my own elaboration on several points.

  1. Never open a book with weather. Not to be taken literally, of course, this rule suggests we not be mundane or prosaic at the start of a piece of writing.
  2. Avoid prologs. They tend to be historical or an attempt for foreshadow. In either case, they are apt to feel disconnected from the first few chapters.
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. When writers try to vary attribution with verbs such as explained, observed, commented, remarked, intoned, etc., they draw attention to the attribution, and that detracts from the dialog.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said,” such as “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.” To say “suddenly” indicates that your writing has not made the suddenness of the event obvious. And “all hell broke loose” (like so many other phrases) is a cliché.
  7. Use regional dialect sparingly. If you use it liberally you will stress the reader’s patience.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. A mark of two of distinction is what makes a character. Let the reader fill out the rest. After all, one of the major advantages of books compared with movies is that books give people room to participate in creating characters and scenes through their imagination.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things. People are more interesting than inanimate objects. And, again, detailed description stresses the reader’s patience and leaves less room for their imagination.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Know when your writing is dull and gives the reader an exit ramp.

Then there is the additional rule that serves as a summary of all the others. Elmore Leonard was often quoted saying: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

Mike Consol teaches public speaking, PowerPoint presentation skills and business writing to companies and business professionals in the Oakland-San Francisco-San Jose Bay Area. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 925-449-1040.

Tip number 13 for moderating panel discussions

Liven-up your language by punctuating or emphasizing certain words. Otherwise our delivery will tend to be monotone, as though no word is any more important than another. A monotone voice is a dull voice, and it will eventually it will bore an audience to distraction. The other reason to punctuate our words is to … (click on the headline to continue reading).

Why long writing is more effective than short writing when marketing

November 12, 2014 | Marketing, Writing

Conventional wisdom doesn’t always provide us with sage advice. For example, conventional wisdom tells us that it’s always better to write SHORT rather than LONG. There’s just one problem with this piece of advice, it’s patently false. In many instances it’s clearly more effective to write long copy rather than short, such as for direct-response promotional pieces, sales letters, website pages, or copy for many other marketing purposes. The argument over whether long or short copy sells better was settled long ago, though this piece of unconventional wisdom hasn’t filtered to most business people. Decades of testing have shown again and again that long copy outsells short copy. This video explains why. Click on the headline to continue.

Why long writing is more effective than short writing when marketing

November 12, 2014 | Marketing, Writing

Conventional wisdom doesn’t always provide us with sage advice. For example, conventional wisdom tells us that it’s always better to write SHORT rather than LONG. There’s just one problem with this piece of advice, it’s patently false. In many instances it’s clearly more effective to write long copy rather than short, such as for direct-response promotional pieces, sales letters, website pages, or copy for many other marketing purposes. The argument over whether long or short copy sells better was settled long ago, though this piece of unconventional wisdom hasn’t filtered to most business people. Decades of testing have shown again and again that long copy outsells short copy. This video explains why. Click on the headline to continue.

Why long writing is more effective than short writing when marketing

November 12, 2014 | Marketing, Writing

Conventional wisdom doesn’t always provide us with sage advice. For example, conventional wisdom tells us that it’s always better to write SHORT rather than LONG. There’s just one problem with this piece of advice, it’s patently false. In many instances it’s clearly more effective to write long copy rather than short, such as for direct-response promotional pieces, sales letters, website pages, or copy for many other marketing purposes. The argument over whether long or short copy sells better was settled long ago, though this piece of unconventional wisdom hasn’t filtered to most business people. Decades of testing have shown again and again that long copy outsells short copy. This video explains why. Click on the headline to continue.

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