Three weeks in

elmore leonard (2)

We’ve shared our book lists, the ones we gave to Kirsty and the ones we received in return. These lists  have pointed up how much great literature there is to read. Like Jo says in her post, we have to accept that we can’t read everything. What I am now doing is selecting what I read more carefully and reading with more attention.

When  a book on someone else’s reading list appears that I know well I’ve been made nostalgic, recalling not just the book but when I read it, the world it introduced to me and the reading that followed. It’s also made me question the list I sent in. How could I have forgotten to include Elmore Leonard?

Elmore Leonard made me read every word and left me open mouthed at how much he could pack in to a paragraph,, almost as if by sleight of hand making his characters fully formed in one sentence.

These are his rules for 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.

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

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

These are his rules, not yours, not mine but there’s much that is solid and good here; and in the end it’s that last line that really matters. However beautiful that metaphor or simile is, if it takes you away from the voice, from the point of your piece, if it breaks your reader’s attention then really should it be there?
To follow this rule I try and think of the writing I delete as not something lost but instead put in storage for future use.
With the work we are doing in class and at home, on voice, on point of view, on rhythm and place and ‘gorgeousness’ I am recognising the many failings in my work, identifying those times when I’ve allowed the affection I have for a phrase to take over, the story where the voice is wrong , my habit of keeping secrets from the reader when they are things they need to know.
I’m going to complete a five point exercise today around a scene I need to plan for my writing to see if it can reveal something that should be visible on the surface, not buried under a lot of short sentences. The dialogue will be ‘said’ , adverbs will be banned and place will be revealed by touch, by smell and by the way my characters travel through it.

So thank you very much Elmore Leonard for the rules and for the fabulous reading. You really have been an “inspiration.”