10 Rules For Writing By Elmore Leonard

"My most important rule is one that sums up the 10. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it." The legendary author passed away today at the age of 87. The following is from Leonard's New York Times piece "Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle."

Posted on

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.

They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied.

. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange.

You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use ''suddenly'' tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won't be able to stop.

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.

Even if you're good at it, you don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them... I'll bet you don't skip dialogue.

Contact Ali Vingiano at alison.vingiano@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.