Elmore Leonard on Writing

     On August 20, 2013, the famed crime novelist Elmore Leonard died at his home in Bloomfield Village, Michigan. He was 87. In 200l Leonard wrote an article for New York Times entitled, “Writers on Writing: Easy on the Adverbs, Ex…

     On August 20, 2013, the famed crime novelist Elmore Leonard died at his home in Bloomfield Village, Michigan. He was 87. In 200l Leonard wrote an article for New York Times entitled, "Writers on Writing: Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle." In this now classic piece, Leonard set out ten basic rules "that I've picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I'm writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what's taking place in the story..." His ten rules:

1) Never open a book with weather. If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long....

2) Avoid prologues. They can be annoying, especially following an introduction that comes after a foreword....

3) Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue....

4) Never us an adverb to modify the verb "said"...he admonished gravely....

5) Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words....

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

7) Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly....

8) Avoid detailed descriptions of characters....

9) Don't go into great detail describing places and things....

10) Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he's writing, perpetrating hooptdoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character's head, and the reader either knows what the guy's thinking about or doesn't care....

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Truman Capote on True Crime Writing

     In a somewhat critical New Yorker article on the true crime genre (August 19, 1996), Alex Ross, regarding the history of nonfiction crime writing wrote: ” ‘True crime’ is the name that has attached itself to journalistic and li…

     In a somewhat critical New Yorker article on the true crime genre (August 19, 1996), Alex Ross, regarding the history of nonfiction crime writing wrote: " 'True crime' is the name that has attached itself to journalistic and literary accounts of exceptional human ghastliness. The term became a standard publishing category in the 1980s, distinct from long-standing genres of mystery and crime literature....The name is new, the genre is not....Readers have been devouring hastily printed accounts of mayhem and disaster since the invention of the popular press."

     Writing about murder and mayhem--interviewing victims' loved ones and the people who commit these brutal crimes--is not for everyone. Living day to day with violent death and human suffering can take its toll on a writer. Truman Capote, while writing his true crime masterpiece, In Cold Blood, the story of the 1959 murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, said that the subject matter "leaves me increasingly limp and numb and, well, horrified--I have such awful dreams every night. I don't know how I could ever have felt so callous and objective as I did in the beginning." (In Capote: A Biography (1988) by Gerald Clarke)

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Ralph Ellison: A One-Book Author

     Having just published his first novel, Invisible Man, to critical acclaim (it won the National Book Award), Ralph Ellison, in 1952, struggled with his second novel. In a letter that year to his friend and fellow writer, Albert Murra…

     Having just published his first novel, Invisible Man, to critical acclaim (it won the National Book Award), Ralph Ellison, in 1952, struggled with his second novel. In a letter that year to his friend and fellow writer, Albert Murray, the 38-year-old Ellison revealed that having written a successful first novel does not necessarily bring happiness or contentment: "I'm trying to organize my next book. I've been a tired, exhausted son-of-a-bitch since I've finished Invisible Man and I want to feel alive again. It's an awful life. For years now I felt guilty because I was working on a novel for so long a time, and now I feel guilty that I am no longer doing so." (Trading Twelves, 2000, edited by Albert Murray.)

     In 1999, five years after Ellison's death, Random House published Juneteenth, a book-length excerpt from his unfinished second novel.

     

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Book Reviewing

     With so many books being published, and so little space devoted to reviewing them, even a bad review can be considered a badge of honor. As painful as bad reviews are, it is arguably worse to have written a book that is totally igno…

     With so many books being published, and so little space devoted to reviewing them, even a bad review can be considered a badge of honor. As painful as bad reviews are, it is arguably worse to have written a book that is totally ignored. Is literary criticism becoming a lost art?

     In an interview published in Novel Short Story Writer's Market 2002, editor Ann Close appraised the review picture as follows: "The review situation has gotten a lot worse. When newspapers and magazines hit bad times, a lot of them dropped their book reviews. Time and Newsweek used to review three to five books every week. [Now Newsweek itself is gone.] They don't do that anymore. But in a way, the Internet has taken up the slack. You can get an enormous amount of information about a book on the Barnes & Noble and Amazon sites....Many other websites have started doing book reviews. It's hard to tell how much impact they've had. Nobody has been able to measure it exactly." [I think on-line literary criticism has had an enormous impact on the reading public. Prior to the Internet, a handful of critics ruled the literary world. Thankfully, those days are gone forever.] 

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Writing Good Dialogue

     Well-written dialogue does not imitate the way real people speak. Real talk is repetitive, rambling, and redundant. It is boring and often meaningless. Good literary dialogue, therefore has to be carefully crafted. In his book, Stei…

     Well-written dialogue does not imitate the way real people speak. Real talk is repetitive, rambling, and redundant. It is boring and often meaningless. Good literary dialogue, therefore has to be carefully crafted. In his book, Stein on Writing, Sol Stein points out that the majority of published writers write dialogue instinctively with little knowledge of the craft. He defines creative dialogue this way:

     "It is a semblance of speech, an invented language of exchanges that build in tempo or content toward climaxes....Learning the new language of dialogue is as complex as learning any new language....As the writer of fiction masters dialogue, he will be able to deal with characterization and plot simultaneously."

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“Literary” Novels Are Unreadable

     In true crime, biography, and other types of nonfiction, I prefer the narrative form. In other words, I like nonfiction that reads like a well-plotted novel. In my opinion, writers who have succeeded in this form include Tom Wolfe, …

     In true crime, biography, and other types of nonfiction, I prefer the narrative form. In other words, I like nonfiction that reads like a well-plotted novel. In my opinion, writers who have succeeded in this form include Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, and Joseph Wambaugh. In fiction, I like crime writers who know how to plot and tell a good story. In this group I include Jim Thompson, Donald Westlake, Evan Hunter, Lawrence Block and Thomas H. Cook.

     People read out of curiosity and the desire to be told a compelling story. This is probably why critically acclaimed literary novelists, authors who disdain drama and a good story, are not widely read. I don't think they deserve to be.

     A tip to readers: avoid novels that have won literary awards--they almost always stink. And stay away from literary novels bearing glowing cover blurbs from other literary writers.



from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/