March 20, 2006

It's hard

Elmore Leonard's got a blog now, though it mostly seems to be reviews and news clips posted by an assistant. But "again by popular demand" on March 14 was Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing. We've featured this list before, especially his Third and Fourth Rules: "Avoiding Rape and Adverbs"; "Self-exposure at the NY Times"; "The Sins of Dialogue Attribution"; "Overpermissive Quotatives: Grammar Change or Thesaurusizing?"; "What can you Bret Easton Ellis to that?"; "Love, adverbially".

Leonard's "most important rule, one that sums up the 10", is

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Or, if 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. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)

There's a quote from Stick that illustrates this instead of explaining it. At the beginning of chapter 23, Ernest Stickley Jr., 42 years old, born in Norman OK, raised in Detroit, sits down to write the plot summary for a movie. This is part of a scam designed to pry loose some money that's morally owed to him by a drug dealer, but the plot function doesn't really matter.

Stick wrote on tablet paper: Although Buck and Charlie are famous and experienced trafficers dealers, they are able to get be believed to be government agents, because of all the confusion there is among the different state and U.S. law enforcement groups that are falling all over each other and or not telling each other what they are doing in their work of trying to stop the trafficing dealing in controlled substances and apprehend the alleged . . .


It was hard.

Why didn't he just say: Since none of the feds know what the fuck they are doing, they believe that Buck and Charlie are . . .

Cornell came out of his bedroom, sleep in his eyes.

"You doing, writing to your mama?"

Posted by Mark Liberman at March 20, 2006 04:49 PM