Never Open a Book With Weather

August 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

The Detroit News is reporting that famed crime novelist Elmore Leonard has died at the age of 87, of complications from a stroke.

In 2001, Leonard shared his rules for writing with the New York Times. True to his stark crime sensibilities, they are all about getting the author out of the way of his story, and therefore cruelly on spot about our faulty human habits:

1. Never open a book with weather.

If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s ”Hills Like White Elephants” what do the ”American and the girl with him” look like? ”She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.

And then:

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

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

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