RARA-AVIS: RE: Elmore Leonard's rules

From: Dick Lochte ( dlock@ix.netcom.com)
Date: 21 Jul 2001

I've heard Elmore Leonard talk about his rules before, but, because rules have never helped creativity and because his own work seems remarkably free of them, I'd assumed he was being playful in a "Never eat at a dive called Mom's" way. But the New York Times piece (which probably shouldn't be reproduced in total, by the way, especially with the Times currently being hit for not compensating writers for Internet use of their work) suggests that he may be serious. Too bad.

Even worse, his rules contain bad advice. The weather thing is plain silly. Writers begin their books or stories the way they want to. Sometimes they begin with the weather. Someone already mentioned "Red Wind," but you can also check out James Lee Burke, Ross Macdonald, and a dozen others. Try writing a book based in Chicago in the winter or New Orleans in the summer without addressing the weather up front. If you need a rule: don't begin a story with a dull description of the weather, or a dull description of anything.

I'm also weary of the "said" thing. The fact is "said" doesn't always work. The reason some writers give for sticking to "said" is its invisibility. The reader's eye supposedly skips over it. That's true in most cases. But it becomes glaringly visible when it's misused. "Why do you think he said that?" he said.



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