Re: RARA-AVIS: RE: Elmore Leonard's rules

From: Mario Taboada (
Date: 21 Jul 2001

<<I have to agree with this, as well as with the prohibition against adverbs. I'm surprised that no one has mentioned it yet, but an early example of this particular piece of advice is Hemingway-- certainly not only an admirable writer, but also one who was not the least bit soft-boiled himself. He claimed to write a piece, then go back through it crossing out the adjectives and adverbs. Tony Hillerman also said something to the safe effect at one point--if you're using an adjective, you probably have the wrong noun; if you're using an adverb, you probably have the wrong verb.>>

It's E.B. White's advice, too: "Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs" (Reminder 4). And, on adverbs after "said", see his Reminder 10.

I read Leonard's essay as a summary of what works for him, for the type of fiction he writes. A travel writer or a writer of seafaring stories will not and cannot avoid the weather. In fact, there's no reason to avoid it if it advances the story.

For example, here are the opening paragraphs of Richard Hugo's _Death and the Good Life_:

"I imagine the three men having a good time. I imagine them singing.

We know they'd had beer for breakfast at the Hammer's house, and we know that Lee's sister, Lynn, had served pancakes and ham. By six A.M. they were off to catch the early fishing at Rainbow Lake. It was mid-September, and at our altitude the nights were already cold. Sedge was receding in the lake now that the surface water was cooling, and the big rainbows were coming up. The three men expected to catch fish, and they felt festive."

I wouldn't remove the weather here or anywhere else Hugo mentions it. In this book, it's not hooptedoodle, as it is not in A.B. Guthrie's masterpiece, _The Big Sky_, or in Gabrial Garcí¡ Má²±uez's _Cien Añ¯³ de Soledad_, or in countless other books. The weather can even be the protagonist.

Leonard, who is closer to the modern playwright and screenwriter than he is to most other novelists, knows his territory intimately, but his territory doesn't encompass all possible literature (nor does he claim it does).

Regards, he said expectedly.



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