Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lean and Mean Writing

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Elmore Leonard, one of my favorite writers, has the cleanest, leanest writing style on the market. Here are his simple rules, which I diligently follow.

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.''

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

6. Never use the words ''suddenly'' or ''all hell broke loose.''

7. Use regional dialect 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.

11. If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.

L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist and editor and is the author of the Detective Jackson mysteries, The Sex Club and Secrets to Die For. She also loves to edit fiction and works with authors to keep her rates affordable.
Contact her at:
Write First, Clean Later


  1. Leonard is one the most successful writers of all time. When he speaks, I listen.

  2. A most useful list. Thanks for posting.

  3. Good advice, but the last was my favorite - "If it sounds like writing, rewrite it." And that's probably most true if it sounds like really good writing.

  4. LOL, the blog was lean and mean, too, but really good advice. Like Helen, I really liked the last point. When I am directing a play I tell the actors if it feels like acting it probably isn't real. Make it real.

  5. Great advice. For #6's "all hell broke loose" comment I'd expand that to encompass all cliches, save those used in occasional dialogue to show character. And I can't stress enough how rarely a prologue is actually necessary. Thanks for posting!



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