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Elmore Leonard: 10 ways to "remain invisible" in your writing

Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle

I feel like I must have linked to this before but, screw it, it's too good not to share again.

Written for the NYT's "Writers on Writing" series, these are Elmore Leonard' 10 tips for "disappearing" from what you're writing.

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.

A few to give you the flavor:

Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary...

Keep your exclamation points under control.

You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful...

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Love that bit about 2-3 exclamation points every 100k words -- treating it like the fire alarm of prose fiction.

Edit 2006-02-14 09:28:37: Kindly note that the author of these tips is no longer a dead bluesman. He is now just a writer. Many thanks, John Schofield! Take a twenty out of petty cash.

TOPICS: Tips, Writing
steven e. streight aka vaspers the grate, blog revolutionist's picture

I have a list of...

I have a list of rules on how to generate creativity in writing at my blog Cosmos Blogmos.

I will now share a few here:

(1) start your story off with an implausible line, then end that first paragraph a million miles from where it began: "When they amputated my head, I thought I'd have trouble meeting women, but, boy, was I wrong!"

(2) use exclamation point (just one) whenever it seems natural to be excited about a statement, but don't use them ever in sales writing, it will seem like hyperbole.

(3) never use the same word (aside from "the", "a", etc.) twice in an essay or story: eat, devour, consume, chow down, sink my teeth into, etc.

(4) keep a dictionary handy and deliberately use strange words no one understands, but use indirect definition, use the context to clarify beyond a shadow of a doubt what that word means.

I have many more guidelines that are very uncommon, but my geek neck is killing me, so go I must.

ta ta dee ay

it's a it dat




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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