Wick Communications

If it sounds like writing …

In Writing on 22 Aug 2013 at 1:00 pm


You probably heard that Elmore Leonard up and left us. The crime novelist and screenwriter was 87 when he died. He left behind a hill of books and a mountain of praise. No one did dialogue better than the guy they called “the Dickens of Detroit.” No one.

If you choose to know nothing else about Leonard, you should know the 11 rules of writing he first published in The New York Times in 2001.

As you can see  for yourself, Leonard believed in action. He was not a fan of pretty prose —  “hooptodoodle” he called it. He never met an adverb he liked. He admired Ernest Hemingway precisely because he didn’t waste a lot of typing on description.

Leonard’s rules got a lot of play at the time they were penned and even more this week after news of his death. The two most famous are these:

  • Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip; and
  • If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Writing is hard and we would like to be appreciated for our hard work. In that way we are like every other worker on the planet. Sometimes we embellish to make it look prettier or harder. But take it from Leonard. Don’t go on and on about the quality of the light in the room or the way a woman runs her hand through her hair or … well, you know what I mean.

Leonard thought this stuff was embarrassing. Worse, it knew it turned off his readers. There are so many distractions in this world. Don’t add more with your own prose.

Do yourself a favor. Read Leonard.



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