Elmore Leonard’s rules of writing

Elmore Leonard posited some writing rules in the New York Times way back in July of 2001, when the towers still stood and water boarding was presumed to be an odd reference to surfing. 

I just found his list of rules today.  For the most part, I agree with Leonard’s assertions.  Several even echo Stephen King’s sentiments in his invaluable book ON WRITING.

I thought Leonard’s fifth and sixth rules were especially amusing:

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

“You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.”

6. Never use the words ''suddenly'' or ''all hell broke loose.''

“This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use suddenly tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.”

While amusing, I tend to think that we should not eliminate an entire word like suddenly from our writing vocabulary.  While I can certainly imagine the horrors of its overuse, it seems to me that it is a perfectly reasonable word to use when the occasion calls for it.

That said, I immediately turned to CHCIKEN SHACK to find out how many times I have used the word suddenly in the 55,000 words that I have written.  Eight times.  I eliminated five of them.   

Leonard’s second rule is:

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.”

UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO has a prologue, but it does not serve as backstory.  In fact, the prologue is a flash-forward to a scene that is yet to come.  I opted to use a prologue (my agent’s suggestion, if I remember correctly) in order to give the story a bit of a jump start.  A vision of what is to come.  A promise of great things ahead. 

It seems that my lot in life to write novels that are more in tune with eighteenth century sensibilities.  I prefer a slowly developing, occasionally meandering story while today’s readers expect the novel to hit the ground running.  In SOMETHING MISSING, this meant moving a pivotal chapter (the toothbrush scene) closer to the front of the book.  In UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO, this meant offering the reader a prologue as a guarantee that the story will eventually get roaring down the tracks.  And I think it works well. 

I suspect, however, that Elmore Leonard with disapprove of the use of prologues for this reason as well.