Following the announcement of Elmore Leonard's passing, it seems appropriate to re-post this, from 2010. Basically, nothing's changed. I still try to bear his tips in mind, and I still haven't produced a novel.
Many moons ago, I was forever rattling off letters to established writers, asking them for guidance. To be fair to them, most replied with something or other. Even if it was, in extreme cases, ‘sod off and leave me alone’.
I’ve published selected responses in the side bar of this blog. They all hail from the 1980s when, driven by unemployment, I spent eight hour days battering an old Olivetti into near submission. I produced all sorts of garbage by this laborious process. Ideas for play-scripts, children’s stories, articles, sketches and one-liners. A lot fell on stony ground and, in retrospect, that’s where it belonged. Some work found its mark and I actually received cheques in the post. And, if my memory serves me correctly, the Department of Health and Social Security, allowed me to keep four pounds a week. The rest was deducted from an already meagre benefit payment.
Anyway, back to the wisdom of writers. There came a point where the advice was beginning to have a familiar ring to it, and Alan Bleasdale’s ‘10% inspiration and 90% perspiration’ pretty much summed it all up. But, for me, the reality was, in spite of sweating my 90%, the other 10% in the equation was eluding me, probably due to the pressures of being ‘out of work’. For some it might have proved extremely productive. I’d heard plenty of stories about people writing themselves out of poverty and hardship, but I wasn’t about to join their ranks.
These days, I’m much more relaxed about getting the words out, although no less driven. There are still projects I’d like to tackle - a novel would be good – but I’m still enjoying learning the craft. Or is that just a euphemism for ‘task avoidance’? Maybe.
Whatever point I’m at with this labour of love, I can still be inspired by the right people saying the right things. When I caught Elmore Leonard touting his ‘top tips’ for writers, on the Culture Show this week, my ears pricked up.
In brief, some of his rules are as follows:
1. Don’t worry about language upsetting your mother
2. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue
3. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said"
4. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose"
5. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters
6. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip
Ten rules for writing fiction, inspired by Elmore Leonard
Like many writers, I’ve been experimenting with and developing my style for years, and lately I've found myself, somewhat unexpectedly, in the ‘zone’ when working some of my ideas into drafts.
As Leonard talked through some of his rules, it became increasingly obvious that he was describing a method I'm becoming largely familiar with. But the journey hasn't been as instinctive for me. For years, my writing style had been influenced by those authors I admire most. But admiration and emulation usually only works with the help of some heavy compromise. I'm now following my nose and, feeling much more comfortable at the keyboard as a result.
Could it be, that I’m on to something at last?
© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges