Tuesday, September 3, 2013

So Long, Farewell

August 2013 was a rough month in the book world with the passing of Elizabeth Peters on August 8 and Elmore Leonard on August 20. While they aren't necessarily household names for high school library patrons, I guarantee you they are for many adult readers and writers of all levels.

I've spent the past twenty-four years reading Elizabeth Peters' books. Her Amelia Peabody mystery series is my favorite of all. Set in the late 1880's, the books follow the hijinks of the Emerson family who are Victorian Egyptologists. The books combined my love of historical fiction, Egypt and memorable characters. I'm actually not a big mystery fan, believe it or not, I just like to show up to see what crazy shenanigans will occur.(I am never disappointed on this front.)

All writers are avid readers themselves. There are times when I read for fun and times when I read for the study of craft, but any time I read I pay attention to how drawn I feel to the characters. There's nothing better than when books feel like friends. Series books, so popular in Young Adult fiction now, are the best at evoking that level of intimacy.

Speaking of drawing in readers, everyone who has taken a creative writing class in the last twenty years has read Elmore Leonard's famous 10 Rules for Writing. Writers like to joke that there aren't any rules for writing, but Leonard knew differently. His tips are the ones I most often see quoted and referenced by writers of all genres. They are-

  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.

I've never read Leonard's crime fiction, but his words influence me as a writer. I suspect that many YA authors whose work sits on the shelves were likewise mentored by Leonard.

The way we're reading is changing, but the end product, the words on the page, is still the same. Only the right words will keep us engaged.

That's the power of great writing- words never die.

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