Elmore Leonard (giving you the V sign above): 10 Rules for Good Writing
- 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”…he admonished gravely.
- Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
- Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
- Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
- Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
- Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
Elmore’s sixth bit of writing advice is to never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”. Well Martina Cole often starts bits of action with both: “suddenly all hell broke loose”. Cole shifts shed-loads, no, container-loads, no, container–ship-loads of books. And who the fxck is Elmore Leonard anyway? The answer is that he sells plenty (he’s dead now, of course), and is respected by critics and other writers. And I like his books. And he wrote the script for the original classic film 3.10 to Yuma. And the book which was made into the film, Jackie Brown. And Pam Grier is one sexy little lady, know what I’m saying? Phew, got carried away there.
The internet bulges at the seams with books with titles such as How to become a millionaire best-selling author overnight. When the best bit of advice to a new writer working in McDonalds and dreaming of being a writer is: “don’t give up your day job, you’ll earn more money”. I read an article a while back which revealed that most traditionally–published professional writers earn less than £14,000 a year. Recently I saw an updated figure – £11,000 – which is round about the minimum wage.
So, assuming you still want to have a go, where to get the best writing advice? I would put forward six books which have helped me:
How Not To Write A Novil by Mittelmark and Newman: all beginner writers should be forced at pistol-point to read this book. You split your sides laughing at the mistakes no-hoper writers make, feeling a bit guilty because it’s all so cruel. Then you realise that you make some of those very mistakes….
Story by Robert McKee: the author used to write Columbo episodes and uses classic films like Star Wars, Casablanca and Chinatown to illustrate his ideas – it is aimed at script-writers but there is much of value for novelists. And it is a damn good read.
Self Printed by Catherine Ryan Howard: excellent manual for the self-publisher.
Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. learn the secrets of LOCK – A Lead, Objective for the lead, Confrontation and Knockout ending.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King: two professional editors reveal the tricks of the trade.
The Elements of Active Prose by Tahlia Newland: an indispensable checklist of good writing by a professional editor and writer.
Hang on, what’s going on downstairs? Sounds like the dog is trying to snaffle the grand-kids’ toast. Suddenly all hell is breaking loose. Got to go.