Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules for Writing

Elmore Leonard died last year at the age of 70. He was a prolific author of crime fiction and many of his novels became American film classics; he was, in some ways, a writer’s writer. As he became the elder statesman, he offered advice to young authors from time to time. This is from his 2001 article in the New York Times titled, “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points, and Especially Hooptedoodle.”

These are rules I've picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I'm writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what's taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.


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 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.

My most important rule is one that sums up the previous ten: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

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