Re: RARA-AVIS:Elmore Leonard in the NYT

From: Schooley (
Date: 24 Jul 2001

K Montin wrote:

> 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.

One reason Leonard's "rules" sound so familiar is that about half of them provide ways to accomplish the Creative Writing 101 dictum to "show, don't tell." Modifiers are used to tell the reader how characters look and behave. Generally, selecting the right verbs and nouns will show readers, advancing the story and keeping readers engaged.

> 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.

Which illustrates Leonard's point. If the story is moving along, readers pay no attention to the word "said" or even the punctuation. Context and word selection in the dialogue show readers the correct inflection. It's only when the story fails that readers begin to pay attention to the writing style, as in Parker's later books. Calling attention to writing style with unnecessarily fancy attributions will advance the inverse.

And I don't recall Leonard saying descriptions about weather were to be avoided entirely. He said don't start with the weather. First hook the reader into the story and then limit weather reports to the essentials, preferably by showing readers the how weather affects the characters.

These are characteristics of Leonard's skill at creating visual scenes, but I think they're also basic to keeping the action moving, which is important in a genre that generally sees plot as a virtue. Of course, there are exceptions, writers who selectively break the rules in ways that keep readers engaged.


<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<LOOKING FOR FUN>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

The evil that men do lives after them at
Literary events in Ontario's Golden Horseshoe and around the world at
<<<<<<<<<<<IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES>>>>>>>>>>>>

-- # To unsubscribe from the regular list, say "unsubscribe rara-avis" to # This will not work for the digest version. # The web pages for the list are at .

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 23 Jul 2001 EDT