Re: RARA-AVIS:Elmore Leonard in the NYT

From: K Montin (
Date: 21 Jul 2001

Some of those principles looked pretty familiar. I seem to remember an interview with Leonard in Writer's Digest a few years ago where he made some of the same observations. He's often quoted as saying he leaves out the parts people won't read.

Looking for the magazine article I was thinking of, I found another one,
"Elmore Leonard: The Best Ear in the Business," (Writer's Digest, June 1977) in which he talks about writing dialogue.

"That [_she concluded_] is a written word, it interrupts the scene, just as adverbs interrupt, especially _-ly_ adverbs that modify said. [...] The line of dialogue should be clear enough, in the voice of the character, in the character's personality, that you don't have to write, 'he said sarcastically." _Sarcastically_ stops the story. It is an intrusion."

I remember when I used to read Robert B. Parker, and I read about ten in a row, I suddenly realized that he only ever used "said" plain, by itself, even with a question, which never even had a question mark. Once I noticed, it started to bother me. On the one hand, it conveys Spenser's flat tough-guy tone pretty well. On the other, it seems to be a very lazy way of doing that. Plus, he uses the same formula for all characters.

Do they teach this rule against adverbs in creative writing? I've heard of trying not to overuse the passive voice, but fortunately no one ever made me eliminate adverbs.

I have to agree with Leonard on prologues. Some good books have them, but I think the information would often be better incorporated into the story itself.

And what do you make of his last line, "I read every word" of the hooptedoodle in Steinbeck? If anyone's going to read it, someone's got to write it. I guess it's just not going to be Elmore Leonard. Don't everyone follow his rules.


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