Thursday, February 02, 2012

Listening to Elmore Leonard

I swam over to the Center for Fiction last week to hear Elmore Leonard in conversation with Jonathan Santlofer.


Jonathan Santlofer was an exceptional moderator. He was concise, conversational, and didn't insert himself into every question. He should be cloned and made to moderate all panels forevermore.


Elmore Leonard told us:

"I spent 10 years writing short stories, or ten years 'getting better'."

"I started out imitating Hemingway till I found out he (Hemingway) had no sense of humor."

"I always write from the point of view of a character, major or minor."

"I never intrude. I never want to be seen telling the story."

"If it sounds like writing, rewrite."

"Outlining means you go with an idea that could be old or outdated as the novel develops"

"Not outlining allows for surprise and something else to happen."


"Verbs other than 'said' for dialogue call attention to themselves."

"Don't muck it up with -ly words"

"I write longhand then use a typewriter. No computer. No email."

"Watch for words that don't belong in the book because they are not natural to the characters"



The event even made NY Magazine's Approval Matrix -- thankfully on the correct side of the grid!

9 comments:

Kitty said...

Elmore Leonard's 10 RULES OF WRITING may be sparse, but it's still the best advice in the least amount of words.

Crystal Licata said...

Great advice. My favorite is "If it sounds like writing, rewrite"...priceless.

Joseph Ramirez said...

Ditto to Crystal Licata. That's a great quote.

Gabrielle Prendergast said...

What incredible wisdom. Daring advice about outlining or not. I'm not sure I'm that brave.

Michael Seese said...

"Not outlining allows for surprise and something else to happen."

I'm all over that. As I've noted in a few of my blog posts, there are times when I sit down to write (usually, dialogue between two characters) with literally one sentence in my head. An hour later, there are 1,200 words staring back at me.

Annalise Green said...

Some great wisdom here, although I'm not on board with him about the outlining. Right now my WIP is completely diverging from the outline, but I don't think I could have gotten to this point without it. Writers have to use whatever works for them.

Steve Ulfelder said...

Leonard shunts attention away from his brilliance with his just-folks demeanor. He hits all his marks less obtrusively - that is, more organically - then any other writer I know. One of his advice bromides is that he doesn't write the stuff he skips over in other people's work. Seems like a mere cute expression - but try doing it sometime. Unless you're Elmore Leonard, you probably can't!

The under-discussed aspect of Leonard's work is that it's grown more innovative in the past 10 years; he does a lot of interesting stuff with POV and time shifts. This gets lost in the shuffle because once a grand master turns 75, he or she tends to get fawning rather than close reads.

Ali Trotta said...

That sounds like an excellent time! Thank you for sharing this. Definitely good advice. :-)

CL Parks said...

Great advice! I find myself thinking I need to use something other than 'said' (as so many authors do), yet I, too, find these words extremely distracting.

Thanks for this post, Janet.