10 Rules for Writing from Elmore Leonard

Posted by Arthur Gutch
Published On May 7, 2018

Elmore Leonard, the prolific detective fiction series author, was never shy about telling other authors what he thought of the writing profession. Here are some of his to-the-point tips for writing great novels. elmore_leonard_writing_tips_rewrite.jpg

Avoid Prologues

A prologue in a novel is backstory; you can drop that anywhere you want. Prologues in the beginning of the book can be annoying to readers.

Opening Your Book

Never open a book by talking about the weather. If you use it to create atmosphere, and not to show a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long about it. The reader is apt to skip ahead, just looking for the people in your story.


Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. Lines of dialogue belong to the character that said them. Verbs are the writer sticking their nose in. "Said" is far less intrusive than "grumbled," "gasped," or "lied".


Never use an adverb to modify the word "said". To use an adverb this way is a mortal sin. The writer is using a word that distracts and can pull the reader out of the story.

Exclamation Points

Keep the exclamation points under control. Never use more than two or three for every 100,000 words of prose you write.


Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". This rule needs no explanation. Leonard claims that authors who use the word "suddenly" invariably are those who don't have enough control in the use of exclamation points.


Use patois or regional dialect very sparingly. Once you start to spell words phonetically and filling the page with apostrophes, you won't be able to stop. It gets out of control and difficult to read very quickly.


Avoid long, detailed descriptions of characters. Sometimes a single action, like taking off a hat, is the only description a character needs. Leave the rest to the reader's imagination.


Leonard says that, unless you're Margaret Atwood and can paint scenery with language, don't go overboard describing the environment around your characters. Avoid long descriptions that bring the flow of action to a standstill.

Don't Bore Them

Try to leave out the parts of your book that readers will tend to skip. What sections do you you pass up when reading a book?  Usually, it's thick chunks of prose in endless, blocky paragraphs.

Finally, Leonard sums up all his advice into one, most important statement: If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.

Keep the Faith and May the Force be with You!

Tell Us About Your Book