10 Tricks for Good Writing

On Wednesdays, I share posts, fables, songs, poems, quotations, TEDx Talks, cartoons, and books that have inspired and motivated me on my writing journey. I hope these posts will give writers, artists, and other creatives a mid-week boost.

One of the most popular and prolific writers of our time, Elmore Leonard wrote over two dozen novels, most of them bestsellers, such as Glitz, Get Shorty, Maximum Bob, and Rum Punch. Unlike most genre writers, however, Leonard is taken seriously by the literary crowd.

What’s Leonard’s secret to being both popular and respectable? Perhaps, you’ll find some clues in his ten tricks for good writing:

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” . . . 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.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, 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.

He says, “My most important rule is one that sums up the ten. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

Excerpted from the New York Times article, “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle,” July 16, 2001.