Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing
Rule #9 – Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
Rule #10 – Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
A few months ago, I contributed a post to Scott Bury’s ongoing series on writers’ styles (find it here), and I pointed out these three rules of Mr. Leonard’s as ones I live by. My writing tends to be pretty Spartan, with not a lot of wasted words, but the difficulty with rule #10 is…how do you know what it is that readers tend to skip?
My answer is…I don’t know. All I can do is leave out what I wouldn’t read. For instance, if you pick up my latest books, the Khirro’s Journey epic fantasy trilogy, you will not find page after page describing what my characters had for dinner, nor will you read extended descriptions of the quality, colour and style of their clothing. I know these things are somewhat de rigueur in today’s world of 800+ page epic fantasies that go on for book after book seeming like they may never end, but it just ain’t me. My epic fantasy reads more like an action/adventure, and I know hard-core epic fantasists (is that the right term? Anybody?) might not appreciate it, but what’s a man to do?
There is a particular reason why this subject has come up for me, and it is because of a book I just started reading: Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie. Normally, I spend my time reading other independent authors (solidarity, brothers and sisters!), but my wife recently stole my Kobo, on which all those books are located, so I found myself with nothing to read. I know, you’re going to say I should just take it back…it’s mine after all, right? True, but there are two flaws with that plan: 1. she’s my wife and 2. she stole it so she can read my latest book. Can’t argue with either of those. For anyone who follows me here or on my own blog, you know my reading speed makes your average garden slug resemble Speedy Gonzales, so I’m only 50 pages in, but I have to say, I’m enjoying Mr. Abercrombie’s style more than any author I’ve read since I discovered Mike Carey (and they are both English. Coincidence?). So far, no dinners…no fancy dress…just quick descriptions with poignant or unusual details, then on with the story.
“It was quite a different world beyond the gates, air heavy with lavender, shining green after the grey mountainside. A world of close-clipped lawns, of hedges tortured into wondrous shapes, of fountains throwing up glittering spray. Grim guardsmen, the black cross of Talins stitched into their white surcoats, spoiled the mood at every doorway.”
“The remains of the mean farmhouse peered sadly over the edge of the woods, and she peered sadly back.”
There are others I enjoyed, too, and sixty-odd pages in, I’m expecting to find many more. What I am enjoying about Mr. Abercrombie’s style is that it is both descriptive and tight. So far, not a wasted or poorly chosen word, and each different point of view (all third person) are so distinct, he could leave out the names and you’d still know who it is. Thoroughly enjoyable and I find myself looking forward to getting back to his world…the way a reading experience is meant to be and exactly what I hope to offer my readers.
So it’s your turn now. If you’re a reader, what style most appeals to you? What makes you like a particular writer? If you’re a writer, what’s your style?
Bruce Blake is the author of the action adventure Khirro’s Journey trilogy cleverly disguised as an epic fantasy (or perhaps it’s the other way around), as well as the Icarus Fell urban fantasy series, cleverly disguised as…urban fantasy.