27 January 2012

Elmore’s Tenth Rule

by Christopher Wakling Writing Tips

I came across a series of ten rules Elmore Leonard reckons we should abide by if we are to write as well as him, and very handy – if tongue in cheek – they are, too. The tenth rule is the best.

‘Leave out the parts readers tend to skip.’

Knowing which bits readers, plural, tend to skip may not be obvious, but a serious writer is a serious reader, too, and if you are one you’ll know which bits of other people’s books test your patience. Self-indulgent description is a killer, for me.

I single it out because I’m guilty of the sin myself, especially in early drafts. Those achingly beautiful evocations of washing up pulsing in a greasy sink, or a dog’s liquid-chocolate ears, or the moonlight scissoring in a passing windscreen

We all over-describe from time to time. Spotting where you’ve gone-off-on-one, and cutting it out, is harder than it should be. That’s because most writers share a guilty secret: we love the sound of our own voices, and it’s often most cloyingly obvious – to others – in the look-at-me descriptive passages we write in full flow.

Writers like describing.

Readers like a bit of it, too.

So long as it serves the story.

Keep Elmore on side. Cut all but the best of your descriptive flourishes. Save the reader the trouble of skipping over them in search of what’s-happening-next in your story and you’ll stand a better chance of turning that singular reader into readers, plural.

If you want to know what the other nine rules are, you can find them in Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing.

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