Crime Writer Elmore Leonard Provides 13 Writing Tips for Aspiring Writers

Note: Elmore Leonard, the crime writer who gave us Get Shorty, Freaky Deaky, and Glitzdied at his home in Bloom­field Vil­lage, Michi­gan. He was 87. If you nev­er had a chance to read Leonard, you can start with “Ice Man,” a 2012 sto­ry that appeared in The Atlantic. It’s free online. You can also get a feel for his writ­ing by revis­it­ing a post writ­ten here by Mike Springer last year. It gives an overview of Leonard’s tips for aspir­ing writ­ers. And, in so doing, it pro­vides valu­able insight into how Leonard approached his craft. Elmore Leonard’s Ulti­mate Guide for Would-Be Writ­ers is reprint­ed in full below.

“If it sounds like writ­ing,” says Elmore Leonard, “I rewrite it.”

Leonard’s writ­ing sounds the way peo­ple talk. It rings true. In nov­els like Get ShortyRum Punch and Out of Sight, Leonard has estab­lished him­self as a mas­ter styl­ist, and while his char­ac­ters may be lowlifes, his books are received and admired in the high­est cir­cles. In 1998 Mar­tin Amis recalled vis­it­ing Saul Bel­low and see­ing Leonard’s books on the old man’s shelves. “Bel­low and I agreed,” said Amis, “that for an absolute­ly reli­able and unstint­ing infu­sion of nar­ra­tive plea­sure in a prose mirac­u­lous­ly purged of all false qual­i­ties, there was no one quite like Elmore Leonard.”

In 2006 Leonard appeared on BBC Two’s The Cul­ture Show to talk about the craft of writ­ing and give some advice to aspir­ing authors. In the pro­gram, shown above, Leonard talks about his deep appre­ci­a­tion of Ernest Hem­ing­way’s work in gen­er­al, and about his par­tic­u­lar debt to the 1970 crime nov­el The Friends of Eddie Coyle, by George V. Hig­gins. While explain­ing his approach, Leonard jots down three tips:

  • “You have to lis­ten to your char­ac­ters.”
  • “Don’t wor­ry about what your moth­er thinks of your lan­guage.”
  • “Try to get a rhythm.”

“I always refer to style as sound,” says Leonard. “The sound of the writ­ing.” Some of Leonard’s sug­ges­tions appeared in a 2001 New York Times arti­cle that became the basis of his 2007 book, Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writ­ing. Here are those rules in out­line form:


You can read more from Leonard on his rules in the 2001 Times arti­cle. And you can read his new short sto­ry, “Ice Man,” in The Atlantic.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.