Elmore Leonard describes these rules as those he’s “picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story.” I’m a firm believer that some stories simply need the writer to get out of the way, so I’m a big fan of Elmore’s rules. They have helped me a great deal in my most recent manuscript revisions.
- Never open a book with weather.
- Avoid prologues.*
- Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
- Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.”
- Keep your exclamation points under control.
- Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
- Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. (Elmore cites Annie Proulx’s book of short stories “Close Range” as a good reference; see how she captures the flavor of Wyoming voices.)
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
- Don’t go into great detail describing places and things. (“… you don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.”)
- Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
Elmore says his most important rules is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
*For my fellow non-fiction and memoir writers, Elmore is targeting novels: “A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.”
For more detail and the “why” behind these rules, read his New York Times article "Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle."