Alphablog

A list of influences and inspirations.

By Paul McDonagh on 20/11/14 | Category - Comment

Of the oceans of writing tips that are out there, Elmore Leonard'€™s ten rules are amongst the most famous. After publishing my debut novel Groundwork and making a start on my second, I thought I'€™d see whether I was sticking to the rules.

Rule 1. Never open a book with weather.

Groundwork opens with some stargazing, quickly followed by a mysterious death. No sign of any weather. Book 2 does not start with weather.

Rule 2. Avoid prologues.

My first failure. Groundwork starts with a prologue. But a lot of people have said it starts with a bang, so I'€™m happy with it. Rules are there to be broken. However, Book 2 will not have a prologue.

Rule 3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.

I nearly succeeded here. There are one or two 'asks€.' They might be acceptable.

Rule 4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said," he admonished gravely.

I'm fairly confident I stuck to this one.

Rule 5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

I didn't use any exclamation points in Groundwork, I tend to keep them for social media. Seeing as I'm allowed, I might throw a couple into Book 2. 

Rule 6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."

There is one 'suddenly'€™ in Groundwork. It's too late to change it now. Thankfully, hell never broke loose.

Rule 7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

I try to use regional dialect sparingly. It'€™s something I work at. Using regional words and expressions without disrupting the flow of the story.

Rule 8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

I think I've been okay here. I don't think there are physical descriptions of anyone in Groundwork.

Rule 9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.

There are descriptions of the scenery in Connemara and the estates of Peckham. I do try to keep them short though.

Rule 10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

I suppose this is the hard part. It is essential to keep the story moving. Leonard's solution was to use lots of dialogue.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

I tried to write Groundwork like Gerry was talking to someone. Like he was answering the question asked of Hal Incandenza in Infinite Jest, 'So yo then man what's your story?'

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