This week I revisited Elmore Leonard’s Rules for Writing a Novel. I like several of them.
I have been writing in various different fields and forms for years. Recently I have worked on being a better novel writer, and this hardnosed article has been especially helpful. Here are a few of the apropos Elmore Leonard rules that have provided several “Notes To Self.”
ELMORE LEONARD Rule 2. Avoid prologues.
They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.
SB: I “had” a prologue in my adapted Shakespeare novel but have planned to omit the device that novel writing professor Eversz called, a “marketing pitch” or “jacket copy” material. I felt that for quite awhile – but was trying to keep the classic structure of Shakespeare’s play. I have worked so long and hard in a vacuum on my novel, it is good that I am receiving feedback to confirm my thoughts.
The initial goal with my supernatural adaptation of Romeo & Juliet, was to keep 90% of the structure and sequence of Shakespeare’s play which starts with Scene 1.0 PROLOGUE, and that is one of the main reasons I held on to it for so long. My reasoning: Shakespeare is one of the masters of writing classic stories that continue to resonate with new generations, and who am i to chop up The Bard of Avon? I endeavored to adapt this classic story to modern times under supernatural circumstances, but I was not lionhearted (or foolish) enough to mess with the maestro wordsmith’s structure. I was barely brave enough to venture out in a few chapters that don’t correspond with scenes in the play: an intro chapter for Romeus “VAMPYR,” then Juliette “WICCAN,” a chapter of Juliette’s rant “The Ugly Truth About Beauty,” then Romeus’ rave on “The Internet is Bad for the Brain” and some moments in immortal time (ever moment, anti-moment). Nearly every other chapter matches and is parallel with every scene in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, and i have embedded comments referencing the original play text for potential interactive use with intentions to technologize the book before an iPad was known. One of my hopes is that younger readers will be excited to read Shakespeare after they read my novel (or see my film) to figure out how much i have twisted the story and to attract curious 20-80 year old Shakespeare fans, too. Surprisingly, much of the story – tone, conflict, character & story arc, turning points, comedy & pain, ecstasy & angst – has not changed in my adaptation. There are many original lines in my novel and screenplay and I often use actual Romeo & Juliet passages with the character “By Lines” to intro chapters / scenes.
ELMORE LEONARD Rule 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 to get the dictionary.
~ COUPLED WITH ~
ELMORE LEONARD Rule 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.”
SB: I have been writing and rewriting screenplays for so long now and I have not only had my characters kicking, screaming, asseverating and contemplating in the parenthetical line below the character name, but allowed them to “admonish gravely” in the action line. It was a way for me, the writer, to live vicariously as a director and indicate the tone of the scene to the reader, the actor, and even the director. But in a 50,000-80,000 word novel it can become daunting to be so creative and original. I realize now I spent countless extra hours on my novel breaking these two rules. I painstakingly followed a commandment that high school teachers drilled into my head during my Honor Student English classes and one that i’ve taken huge artistic license, liberty and pleasure executing in my screenplays. These two rules alone will make the journey smoother as I write and rewrite my novels now. After I read an article in The Guardian awhile back called “Elmore Leonard’s Rules for Writing” I put on my Big To Do Rewrite notes: “remove all (melodramatic) dialogue tags.”
SB Side note – when novel writing Professor Eversz told to me: John Irving said it best when someone asked him the difference between writing a screenplay and a novel, “When I want to direct, I write a novel.”
I replied to him: when i want to/get to direct, i do a director’s pass/tweak on the screenplay ~ and call it the “director’s shooting script” ~ to insert my vision for the various departments. ;-)
ELMORE LEONARD Note. What Steinbeck did in “Sweet Thursday” was title his chapters as an indication, though obscure, of what they cover. “Whom the Gods Love They Drive Nuts” is one, “Lousy Wednesday” another. The third chapter is titled “Hooptedoodle 1” and the 38th chapter “Hooptedoodle 2” as warnings to the reader, as if Steinbeck is saying: “Here’s where you’ll see me taking flights of fancy with my writing, and it story. Skip them if you want.”
SB: in my novel VAMPYR X WICCAN: The Tragedy of Romeus & Juliette, i titled chapters.
I hoped the headings are thematic and emblematic: MONSTERS AND MAYHEM; THE INTERNET IS BAD FOR THE BRAIN; THE UGLY TRUTH ABOUT BEAUTY; PINING; DIVINING; CHATEAU MARMONT; SEEING RED; EVER-MOMENT; FALLING ANGEL; SELLING SANCTUARY; MONSTER CITY; ANTI-MOMENT; INCANTATIONS & TRIBULATIONS; BITTERSWEET HONEYMOON; NIGHTMARES AND SUNRISES; FORTUNE’S FOOL; WASTELAND; FAREWELL CAPULET; TECHNICAL OBLIVION; WICCAN BOOK OF DEATH; MORTALITAS PERPETUUM; DEATH REQUIEM; KILL THE MESSENGER; GOTH-TRASH; INTERNET VIRUS; MORE DEATH AND MORE DYING; DEATH, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE; PERCHANCE TO DREAM. And i have an EPILOGUE.
Hopefully these chapter titles will tempt more people to read my adaptation and then compare with Shakespeare’s original story ~sb
MORE LINKS TO:
WRITERS ON WRITING
Easy on the Hooptedoodle By ELMORE LEONARD
New York Times July 16, 2001 (Ten Rules for Writing a Novel)
“Ten Rules for Writing Fiction inspired by Elmore Leonard” part one
Get an accountant, abstain from sex and similes, cut, rewrite, then cut and rewrite again – if all else fails, pray.
Inspire by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, we asked authors for their personal dos and don’ts
“Ten Rules for Writing Fiction inspired by Elmore Leonard” part two
Inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, our survey of established authors’ tips for successful authorship continues
The Guardian “Rules for Writers” series