I discovered Elmore Leonard’s famous 10 rules of writing when I was in the throes of writing my first book. As you would expect from a consummate pro like Leonard, the rules are blunt, wise and, well … true.
At first, rules three and four seemed a little constricting and doctrinaire. (Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” … he admonished gravely.) However, once you start applying the principles, all of those saids just seem to drop away like white noise and you find yourself hearing the characters speak without all that distracting authorial nudging.
The downside to Leonard’s rules is that, like most good principles, they are sometimes difficult to apply. With that in mind, I offer my own Ten New Rules for Writing. They may not be true, helpful or wise -- in fact, they may not even be rules. However, I think you’ll find they’re much easier to achieve. I’m a firm believer in setting a low bar.
- Never open a book with the Big Bang (meaning the cosmological event initiating the expansion of the Universe). Not to be confused with opening with a bang, which is sometimes recommended.
- Avoid the sentence, “We are not so very different, you and I.”
- Never use the verb “chortled” to carry dialogue.
- Never use an adverb to modify the verb “chortled” … he chortled asthmatically.
- Keep your use of umlauts under control, and primarily reserved for the names of 80s heavy metal bands. Unless you’re writing Nikki Sixx’s biography, no more than one umlaut per 500,000 words of prose.
- Never use the words “flavor-blasted” or “manimal.”
- Use Elvish and Klingon dialect sparingly.
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters’ freckle and/or mole patterns.
- Don’t go into great detail describing places and things – unless your story happens to involve places and things.
- Write the parts that readers tend to skip – then cut those parts out of your manuscript with scissors, burn them and keep the ashes in an urn on a shelf in the room where you write. Do not open the urn.