“If it sounds like writing, rewrite it”

September 4, 2013
worship writers

Wrapping paper I saw in London

Authors collectively, that’s what a Worship of Writers is. When I saw that wrapping paper I had to follow the alphabet all the way to the end to find out what we writers were called.  I wasn’t sure how I would use the photo I took. Then I ran across some of the very best writing tips ever. Since so many writers and bloggers read this blog, I thought I’d share.

The (now) late Elmore Leonard collected his 10 rules for writing in a New York Times piece in 2001, then turned it into a book. They are such perfection that I’ll share them here.

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 “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

7. Use regional dialect 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.

Oh, and If it sounds like writing, rewrite it, is also his.

If I had a nickel for every exclamation point I’ve edited out of someone’s writing, I’d be a rich woman, indeed. Or the number of times I’ve advised a writer not to use verbs like “stated” or “exclaimed”.  The verb describing someone speaking needs to almost disappear in writing, be unnoticed, and “said” serves that function.  “Stated” stops readers dead.  And…ok, I’ll stop.

These really are 10 of the best rules for writing. To me. Leonard died in August after a long, successful writing career.

And oh yes, you probably want to read his descriptions under each rule. You should, and HERE they are. 10 Rules of Writing by Elmore Leonard is available for under $10 in all the usual places. But really, the article I linked to has everything you need to know. And it’s FREE.


5 comments on ““If it sounds like writing, rewrite it”
  1. Like most of Mr. Leonard’s rules, but I have to say that I’m in favor of “asked” as an alternative. “Said” after a question always stops me dead. Looks like an annoying affectation after a while.

  2. Alice says:

    I love rule number 3, because exactly the opposite was taught when you were a child, but it’s true. Any other dialogue tags are distracting, and I can’t focus on what the character is actually saying or how they are feeling because I’m too busy trying to understand how they said it. Good point!


  3. Thank you for this! I’ve read this somewhere before, but it’s worth re-reading over and over.

  4. Susan Cooper says:

    I agree with using regional dialect sparingly. Sometime when reading something it can be so confusing switching back and forth between dialect. 🙂

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