Tuesday, March 21, 2006

If it sounds like writing ...

Courtesy the cool folks at Language Log, some rules of writing by Elmore Leonard, who's not half bad. The list, with full explanations, is distinctly worth your time, but note meanwhile how much of his advice applies to news writing (yep, that means to copy editing) as well:

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.

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.

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.”

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop. (Mr.Leonard is too polite to say it, but Your Editor will add: And you'll probably sound like you don't know what you're doing in the bargain.)

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

And finally:
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

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

Somebody wants to translate that into Latin, we can put it above the lions and call it good.


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