If you’ve never read Elmore Leonard’s Rules for Writing, you’re in for a treat.


Justified’s Timothy Olyphant and creators Graham Yost and Elmore Leonard, right, with their Peabody Award at the 70th Annual Peabody Awards Luncheon. Image courtesy Stemoc, Flickr.

Leonard was an American novelist, short story writer, and screenwriter. His earliest novels, published in the 1950s, were Westerns, but he went on to specialize in crime fiction and suspense thrillers, many of which have been adapted into motion pictures.

Among his best-known works are Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Swag, Hombre, Mr. Majestyk, and Rum Punch (adapted for the movie Jackie Brown). Leonard’s writings include short stories that became the films 3:10 to Yuma and The Tall T, as well as the FX television series Justified.

Now, if you’ve never watched Justified, well, you’re in for another treat. This most excellent police show ran for several season, starring Timothy Olyphant. But that, dear Writer, is another post.

Elmore Leonard’s Rules for Writing

  • Don’t write what the reader will skip over anyhow.
  • Never open your book with weather.
  • Never begin with a prologue
  • Never describe the physical look of a character in such great detail it takes away from the reader’s imagination.
  • Use exclamation points sparingly.
  • Never use another verb in place of said.
  • Never let your writing sound like writing.
  • Never use an adverb to modify said.
  • Never use a colon or semicolon in dialogue. The same is true of ellipsis, dash and italics.
  • Tell your editor to tell the copy editor not to mess with your punctuation.
  • Don’t show your manuscript to anyone outside the business until you are satisfied with it.