Elmore Leonard was a prolific writer. He wrote westerns and crime dramas, most of which were turned into movies. Invariably, Leonard, like most writers, was asked about tips are for aspiring writers. Two of his tips are revealing of his style. He says, “Avoid detailed descriptions of characters,” and “Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.” He is clearly not into detail. I think he is saying don’t overwrite, keep it simple.
His most important rule, he said, summed up all ten of his rules. “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” I will let that ferment in your mind, but I think it gets back to keeping it simple, tell the story, don’t write it.
Of his ten rules, one is striking for there is no explanation given as to why. He said, “Never open a book with weather.” This was the first rule he listed and on the surface it seems funny, but when you write about weather you are being descriptive and as any writer or reader knows, you start with something happening to catch the readers interest. Unless you are brilliant like Charles Dickens “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. . .” then avoid weather and get to the heart of the matter.
Kurt Vonnegut had eight rules. One I especially like. “Every sentence must do one of two things-reveal character or advance the action.” That is good advice when editing and rewriting. In a way it gets back to Leonard’s advice about avoiding detail.
One rule is long, but intriguing. “Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.” That seems to go against the grain of the common admonition that says keep your readers turning the pages with tension and suspense. In short, give them a reason to keep turning the pages by withholding information.
Vonnegut also said, “Start as close to the end as possible.” I appreciate advice from published writers who have achieved success, but I wish that rule had amplification. One rule he has I understand with clarity is, “Write to please one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” You can’t please everyone.
My rule is rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.