Writing Rules: Avoid the Hoopdedoodle

elmoreElmore Leonard, the modern master of the “low life” detective story and mystery, was one of my favorite contemporary writers and when he died a few years ago I felt a personal loss of a very unique, important voice on matters literary.  Most will know him from the great movies made from his books, like “Get Shorty” (John Travolta) and “The 3:10 to Yuma” (Russell Crowe).

The strong points of his books were distinctive unforgettable characters and drop dead dialog. Elmore could do more with dialog than most writers could with their whole bag of tricks.  It’s a gift, but one that can be cultivated if you pay close attention to how people really speak and render that in your fiction accurately.

Anyway, a passing reference to Leonard in a column recently brought to mind how much I truly owe him, for he taught me so much by example and made a huge difference in my own writing.

He had a word for all the extraneous frippery some novice writers load into their books: hoopededoodle. It should be avoided at all costs. It is death to a work of fiction.

At one point in his life not too long ago at the pestering of understudies, he put together his “10 Rules of Writing,” showing how to do this, which I share with you here for your own edification:)

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use 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 of prose.
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.

“My most important rule is one that sums up the 10,” he wrote. “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

Nuff said.

For a more in depth look at the rules of the road a la Leonard, check out this NYT article
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/entertainment/movies/Elmore-Leonards-10-Rules-of-Good-Writing.html#hIatAzrZwYJqmdt8.99

About Margaret Jean Langstaff

A lifelong critical reader with literary tastes, a novelist, short story writer, essayist, book critic, and professional book editor for many years. A consultant to publishers and authors, providing manuscript critiques and a full range of editorial services. A friend and supporter of all other readers and writers. A collector of signed modern first editions. Animal lover and tree hugger.
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10 Responses to Writing Rules: Avoid the Hoopdedoodle

  1. junekearns says:

    A great post! Thank you.
    Those rules are on my wall, and his Western Stories inspired my first book.
    I hadn’t heard hoopdedoodle, though – fabulous!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had an occasion to take a class taught by Elmore. Unfortunately, writers do tend to get wrapped up in some of the dumbest stuff. The biggest is the dialog tags. I have read tags that go on forever and it just makes the work look amateurish. We don’t have to know someone is angry by the tag we have to know it by the words used in the conversation. Show don’t tell.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. sparkyplants says:

    I like this post. The 10 tips are great, succinct and to the point and to think there are whole books on writing that don’t say much more (with the exception of On Writing, and Bird by Bird – my favorites). Thank-you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Anne says:

    Every time I read “He admonished gravely,” I laugh. Every time. It comes back to me when I see it in books and repeated over and over again. Have to say though, it also became a constant weight while I wrote dialogue, and there were times I stopped and obsessed, losing the flow (which annoyed me). I’d forget I could go back and make changes. So, what I do now if the writing is flowing, is to bracket the adverb after “said” if I’m speeding through the scene and wind up using it, and then return later to hammer at the dialogue till I kill the blasted adverb.

    Ah, the things you learn to do as a writer, and why I love being one.

    Thank you for the great post. Just found you via bowmanauthor’s blog and am having a great time reading your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

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