Elmore Leonard on Words and Writing

On Tuesday January 24, 2012, I had the great pleasure of seeing Elmore Leonard speak at the Center for Fiction here in New York City. These are some of Leonard's words of wisdom from one of the most extraordinary careers in writing.

"I don't write seriously. I always write having fun."

"[My style is] simple, declarative sentences telling a story ... I think."

"I write three pages to get one. I revise continually as I go."

"I don't want to appear smart. I want to tell a story."

On dialog: "Don't you hear people talking in your head? That's all it is. Use it."

"I never introduce or inject myself into the story. I'm nowhere to be found. I never use a word my characters wouldn't use."

"I don't like to write about weather."

"Verbs other than 'said' call attention to themselves. You're mucking it up with your 'ly' words."

"When I get to the last page, it is done."

"After 45 books I'm excited about the next one."


  1. Cullen, thanks for sharing these quotes from Elmore Leonard. Did you get to meet him? I have read his "10 Rules of Writing" and one of the rules that caught my attention was the importance he gave to dialogue as opposed to description of people and places.

  2. I used to use Leonard's Ten Rules to teach undergraduate journalism students. If you write your story around quotes from the people you interview, it's hard to go wrong . . .When I write dialog myself, I approach it like a reporter: what would the people say (and how), what questions would I ask them. . .


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