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break Elmore's rules
January 28, 2012 11:51 AM   Subscribe

CBC Radio's Day 6 is holding a contest to break, in one sentence, all of Elmore Leonard's 10 writing rules.
posted by anothermug (50 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
"If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it" is either profound or total bullshit. I'm not sure which.
posted by Renoroc at 11:54 AM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Think of what you skip reading a novel

So that's now these people read a book a day and shit. They cheat!
posted by cmoj at 12:04 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


"'twas rainin' 'fore our story begin!" plaintively stated the pale, sullen-faced and cavernous-cheeked man before, suddenly, all hell broke loose in the gray, dismal port city of Fredericksburg (founded in 1756 by Stan Frederickson.)
posted by griphus at 12:23 PM on January 28, 2012 [17 favorites]


Really cold winter, 1889, approximately 26 degrees (fahrenheit) with winds pretty much out of the southwest: "Suddenly," she had said quietly, "they just really understood that they had done absolutely wrong and they finally knowed it, and I looked at the deer closely with its sad, brown, slightly oval like an acorn or whatever lifeless eyes, just stretched out like a dadgum bear carpet or rug or whatever you want to call it, and the I knowed it clearly too!"
posted by deanklear at 12:39 PM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I forgot the extra "!"! I can't even write poorly well.
posted by deanklear at 12:40 PM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Fiddy yeahs before awl dis hell suddenly done broke loose," TWH ejaculated profusely over the sound of the driving rain falling on the rusty, after-market sheet-metal roof that hadn't been serviced since it was installed by a team of five immigrants who were mostly ambivalent about joining the union because they liked the idea of having a union but didn't like the idea of paying dues, "yo' daddy used to wear a ratty ol' green homburg hat on that shiny bald head a his what fo to cover up his bald spot he got back when he was combin' his hair too much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
posted by The White Hat at 12:45 PM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Before this story begins, you should know that Frank was fleeing criminal associates he had left behind, about whom he had not spoken in decades, so now that you're up to speed…. Suddenly! all hail broke loose and crashed upon the 4.2 acre, manicured hexagonal Victorian garden at Crustworthy's estate and upon the square, scarred and crew-cut head of its gruff but lovable, pale and muscular 5 foot 6 gardener Frank, causing him to endearingly grumble " 'At wis a helluva dunt ah goat 'en mi heid!!!! Hauld up!!!"
posted by msalt at 12:54 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


What does writing sound like? Does it depend on whether you're reading aloud at the time? How about if it was written by hand or keyboard?
posted by LogicalDash at 12:56 PM on January 28, 2012


What does writing sound like?

Anything that is naturally read in that simultaneously faux-naive and haughty voice of people reading their fiction on an afternoon NPR show.
posted by griphus at 12:58 PM on January 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


With a crack of thunder, rain suddenly began to fall hard on this old medieval city, where the streets themselves ran like runnels of water, puddling here and there to form the quaint church squares—of which there were five now, but six before the demolition of St Hybald's which had been been effected so viciously during the war exposing the tomb of Roger of Glastonbury the vicar who had ignited an almost Pelagian controversy regarding fate during the reign of Henry III that it took a Saint Germanus in the form of Hubert Escaliter to correct him—that had been the scene of so much protest in the lead up the said war as the FCA rebels threatened to swarm down from their wild fastnesses unless the Prime Minister conceded some to some of their demands, which were overwhelming popular in this part of the country unlike the south where public opinion still lay with the Clubhouse faction of the ruling party, but now stood empty except for a tall gaunt ghost of a man in a faded burgundy jacket, riddled with holes where his medals had hung heavily over man years, and his companion, and young man of almost singular unremarkableness except his very genericness itself, engaged in conversation which nobody could have failed to hear had they been present, as the old man said stentorianly, "Listen 'ere lad we 'a'n't time fer any o' yer nonsense today!", and after catching the continued impudence of his interlocuter's face, further inveighed, "Tha'rt a fool fer thinkin' tha knows owt better than mesen about the war!"
posted by Jehan at 12:59 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


To spare people having to click through to NYT article, the rules are these. (There's a paragraph or so of elaboration on each at the NYT article link from the CBC link.)
1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than ''said'' to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ''said''
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
6. Never use the words ''suddenly'' or ''all hell broke loose.''
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:00 PM on January 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ack, too many speeling mistaeks.
posted by Jehan at 1:01 PM on January 28, 2012


For reference, a link from the guardian, an expansion of the 10 rules:

1 Never open a book with weather. If it's only to create atmosphere,
and not a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go
on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for
people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has
more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic
Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2 Avoid prologues: they can be annoying, especially a prologue
following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are
ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory,
and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John
Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday, but it's OK because a character in the
book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: "I like
a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what
the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks
like from the way he talks."

3 Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. The line of
dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his
nose in. But "said" is far less intrusive than "grumbled", "gasped",
"cautioned", "lied". I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of
dialogue with "she asseverated" and had to stop reading and go to the
dictionary.

4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" ... he admonished
gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal
sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that
distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a
character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical
romances "full of rape and adverbs".

5 Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more
than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of
playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in
by the handful.

6 Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". This rule
doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use
"suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of
exclamation points.

7 Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling
words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos!trophes,
you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the
flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.

8 Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck
covered. In Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants", what do
the "American and the girl with him" look like? "She had taken off
her hat and put it on the table." That's the only reference to a
physical description in the story.

9 Don't go into great detail describing places and things, unless
you're and can paint scenes with language. You don't want descriptions
that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what
you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have
too many words in them.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like
writing, I rewrite it.
posted by supercoiled at 1:06 PM on January 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


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

This one sounds awfully specific, compared to the rest.
posted by sour cream at 1:07 PM on January 28, 2012


"Whut a purdy day t'day is!!!" Derpy (a graceful, stormcloud gray pegasus pony whose cutie mark was seven silver bubbles) exclaimed suddenly as she flew low over the Pie family rock farm of Ponyville, where the gray and brown sedimentary and igneous stones slowly accreted, down in the grotto below the sprawling town behind a tall, proud sign that happily said, "Perfection is Our Quarry!"

(Bonus points: fanfic! Hee!)
posted by SPrintF at 1:11 PM on January 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sounds like the key to winning this contest is channeling Tom Robbins.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:12 PM on January 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


In a startingly sparing way, as efficacious as a mooncalf, Jim MacDonanld, of the large MacDonald clan that infested Sarnia like a plaque on this, the first snow-dewed day of September, turned to his deeply-bosomed but slim American wife, Randy, and said plaintively, "Gimme a can of that pop, eh," though he really wanted (or thought he wanted) a shot of good Scotch whisky.
posted by willF at 1:23 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a Peanuts strip where Snoopy starts a story with "It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, it all happened." Upon someone (Sally?) telling him it needs to be more exciting, he adds "Suddenly, it all happened again."
posted by danb at 1:37 PM on January 28, 2012 [13 favorites]


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

This one sounds awfully specific, compared to the rest.


I think the point is not to use catch-all idioms when should actually be showing the action.

No: "All hell broke loose."
Yes: "The .44 Magnum erupted once, and it seemed like the blast pushed all the air in the room against the walls."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:37 PM on January 28, 2012


The sun stubbornly piercing the crisp January air, the dark European style cafe's stillness was suddenly disrupted when Mr. Snowman, whose lanky white frame clad in an ironic threadless t-shirt and dark blue old navy skinny jeans, gleefully commented to his computer "Metafilter! Y U no favorite my "in your base" style lulz?!"
posted by midmarch snowman at 1:40 PM on January 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sounds like the key to winning this contest is channeling Tom Robbins.

You read my mind.

I'm guessing Leonard makes exceptions, i.e. that Thomas Wolfe reference. I doubt Elmore Leonard has grounds to write off Twain and Proust.
posted by Peevish at 1:47 PM on January 28, 2012


I will meta-win with rule 10:

Preface, The End.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:53 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jason thought back to over 4,000 years ago to the land of Gar'gebleth which would later be called Berlin by the Germanic tribes and the Hohenzoller königs, whereupon under the incessant beating of a furious rain that alternated only with blinding sun, (which would come out suddenly, generally making the proto-Germanic peoples gasp and remove their floppy, black felt semi-rainproof caps to feel the sun on their mostly-bald heads (even the women were bald!)), of the slight, gaunt page jabbering at his king in regal burgundy robes "sire! sire! zee proto-English are to slaughter us all approaching!" and was glad that he was not him.
posted by sixohsix at 1:59 PM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."
posted by ovvl at 2:43 PM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


"11. Screw Robert Jordan, Seriously"' Leonard did not add.
posted by mhoye at 2:46 PM on January 28, 2012


In my mind I often confuse Elmore Leonard with James Ellroy, so I was reading this and thinking "shit, no, don't break his rules, he'll track you down and snap you like a twig."
posted by Artw at 2:49 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


The old mans voice could barely be heard over the zephyr that rolled over the brown Saschatewan plains, he rasped, "'m now 'pon te last oh me breath so let me tell 'boot a dark secret of my middle age, but first let me share with you the premonitions of my grandmother in the days before my miter birthed me out, eh!"
posted by humanfont at 3:02 PM on January 28, 2012


It had been raining for weeks as I wrote the following words, which perhaps explains why -- as all hell broke loose around them in the dank, green-lit, pinging sonar room -- the characters, including the petite ostentatious Scotsman and the ribald redheaded southern doctor, suddenly expostulated angrily with a string of gor-blimey!s and witches-tit!s hot enough to shave the beard off a muskrat.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:07 PM on January 28, 2012


Metafilter: perpetrating hooptedoodle.
posted by Huck500 at 3:23 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


"The wind blew the book open at the prologue!!!" she explained suddenly, and then, och! - the bonnie wee lassie with red hair and blue eyes and pink skin and a magenta t-shirt and cyan jeans from a village 4.73 miles north-north east from Glasgow's central business district picked up the book and read out the ISBN number.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 3:35 PM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


danb, you are misremembering Snoopy's magnum opus, reprinted and discussed here in its entirety:

Part I
It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed.
Suddenly, a pirate ship appeared on the horizon!
While millions of people were starving, the king lived in luxury. Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas, a boy was growing up.

Part II
A light snow was falling, and the little girl with the tattered shawl had not sold a violet all day.
At that very moment, a young intern at City Hospital was making an important discovery. The mysterious patient in Room 213 had finally awakened. She moaned softly.
Could it be that she was the sister of the boy in Kansas who loved the girl with the tattered shawl who was the daughter of the maid who had escaped from the pirates?
The intern frowned.
“Stampede!” the foreman shouted, and forty thousand head of cattle thundered down on the tiny camp. The two men rolled on the ground grappling beneath the murderous hooves. A left and a right. A left. Another left and right. An uppercut to the jaw. The fight was over. And so the ranch was saved.
The young intern sat by himself in one corner of the coffee shop. He had learned about medicine, but more importantly, he had learned something about life.

THE END


Yeah, it's more than one sentence, but it does seem to break all the rules!
posted by Curious Artificer at 3:54 PM on January 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


Dickens:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Leonard:
Same shit, different day.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:10 PM on January 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


He also forgot rule 34.
posted by humanfont at 4:11 PM on January 28, 2012


In as few words as possible.

"Suddenly, the storm broke, y'all!" she said patriotically, grumbling through her full and luscious lips, her accent as Virginian as the mist in the smoky mountains with the tall peaks and purple-headed majesty.

That doesn't include a prologue but I think it covers the rest.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:20 PM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


You know, when I heard Dickens was paid by the word his writing made a lot more sense to me.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 4:32 PM on January 28, 2012


I never noticed how often JK Rowling broke Rule #4 until everyone here started ragging on her for it. Then I noticed it 7,000 times in a row.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 4:39 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling
words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos!trophes,
you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the
flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.


Paging David Mitchell.
posted by eugenen at 4:51 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Years ago, on a dew-drenched evening much like this one, a ghastly white pale woman, who looked as if she might have stepped from a 14th Century Polish fairy tale, moles and all, suddenly rapped upon my door, a fine aluminum model with sturdy double bolts and kick guard that would repel any but the most determined invaders, and she asservated, in a windy screetching voice, "HURF DURF BUTTER EATER, MY ASS!".
posted by benzenedream at 5:25 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Annie Proulx's stories in Close Range do not capture any of the true flavor of Wyoming voices. She reflects how readers of the New Yorker would envision people from Wyoming sounding. I mean her gay cowboy/shepherds were living in Riverton. Have you ever been to Riverton? WTF Annie Proulx. Gay meth dealers might live in Riverton, or Gay community college professors, but gay cowboys? That's Dubios or Thermopolis.
posted by humanfont at 5:30 PM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Curious Artificer: Oh, but Snoopy has written many, many stories that start with "It was a dark and stormy night"! It was a running thing.
posted by danb at 10:15 PM on January 28, 2012


Here are McSweeney's rules: SOME REASONS WE MIGHT SEND BACK OR DISLIKE YOUR SUBMISSION
Your submission was of the poetry type.
Your submission was too long.
Your submission included the words “these days” or “nowadays.”
Your submission did not take place in a jungle.
Your submission did not capitalize the first letters of sentences.
Your submission was not credited to a person with a first and last name, and an address and phone number.
Your submission was credited to an obvious pseudonym.
Your submission included clever formatting which rendered it illegible.
Your submission was some kind of list of goofy e-mail names from spam you received or funny text messages you received from your friend that time last week when he was inebriated.
posted by msalt at 11:02 PM on January 28, 2012


A light snow was falling, and the little girl with the tattered shawl had not sold a violet all day
Is it just me, or does anyone else want to read a real story that starts with this line? Hell, I'm tempted to write one.

posted by ArkhanJG at 11:20 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Html + phone + me - edit = fail.
posted by ArkhanJG at 11:21 PM on January 28, 2012


Metafilter: I can't even write poorly well.
posted by hamandcheese at 12:15 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


He was a dark and stormy knight?
posted by Pyrogenesis at 1:04 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Stephen Leacock's Nonsense Novels is spectacular in lots of ways, but my favorite sentence from it is this one : "The apple-pie hat which she wore, surmounted with black willow plumes, concealed from view a face so face-like in its appearance as to be positively facial."
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:39 AM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hey, Dickens did write stilted, and he was better at it than anyone else.

What makes a good novel varies with fashion. What makes a classic novel varies with fashion among classicists.
posted by LogicalDash at 3:47 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Suddenly, they were all run over by a truck. The end.
posted by tommyD at 8:19 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


As hopes plummeted with the cracked but still working brass barometer, found later in the wreckage, the disgraced former Navy captain relying on this one last run for redemption communicated desperately "Not sure we'll make it, the worst storm to hit the Outer Banks in 73 years is a-comin'!!!" and his dash-dash dot-dash dash-dot-dash-dash dash-dot-dot dot-dash dash-dot-dash-dash to the Coast guard was interrupted when southernly, all hail broke loose.

(Yes, it was all for the last five words.)
posted by maryr at 2:34 PM on January 29, 2012


"A light snow was falling, and the little girl with the tattered shawl had not sold a violet all day."

Is it just me, or does anyone else want to read a real story that starts with this line? Hell, I'm tempted to write one.


It's called The Little Matchgirl and it was the most depressing Disney animated short I've ever seen. (Hans Christian Anderson + Russia, what could possibly go wrong?)
posted by maryr at 2:43 PM on January 29, 2012


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