Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Passing of Elmore Leonard

David Haglund, writing at, riffs on the death of author Elmore Leonard by noting – with some satisfaction – that Leonard’s famous rules for writing are full of caveats and qualifications that demonstrate, as he puts it, writers shouldn’t break these rules unless that writer is good at breaking them.

That, in a nutshell, is why writing is so much fun, and often why my students find it a frustrating discipline. And it’s why I encourage experimentation. Or as Haglund puts it:
[W]riters who are after their own distinctive voices will have to forge ahead and try some of those things – and probably a few other risky techniques besides.

Sometimes, we’re gonna fail, and fail hard, when we experiment with our writing. Maybe we’ll succeed. But we won’t know what we’re good at and what we’re rotten at unless we try everything. I, for instance, favor sentence fragments and dashes. Maybe they work. Maybe they don’t. But as I seek my own “distinctive voice,” those are the things that keep coming out. I need to find out if they work with my voice, if I can use them to better or greater effect, or if I need to dial back on their use so they stand out more. That’s all part of the experimentation.
That said, I think Leonard’s rules for writing are good rules, caveats included. That, along with the Steinbeck he mentions, is the best writing advice I’ve heard.
The listicle (which does not include the caveats) is here.
The full article is here.
I love especially what he says at the end:
[I]f proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing.

No comments: