Rules for Writing (1)


I found a great article in The Guardian some time ago, where famous writers gave their ten rules about writing. Should we children’s authors follow the same rules? Isn’t there’s too much else going on inside the crazy place that we call, for the sake of argument, our heads?

Elmore Leonard:
King of fart jokes

The first sage and important grown-up author on the list: Elmore Leonard, American king of westerns and thrillers. Kids love both. Bodes well. So how will he score in the face of the merciless forensic analysis that is phraseandfable?

1. Never open a book with weather.

Personally, I love it when a book cracks you right into a custard rainstorm, or a howling wind so cold that the nearest iceberg is reaching for a bobble hat and a warming mug of Horlicks.

2. Avoid prologues.

Try breaking this to the prologues. What have they ever done to you? Children’s writing is about inclusivity, man! Prologues all the way in this house!

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

When I write young fiction, I think about this question a great deal. Shouldn’t I be introducing a few more exciting words to enhance my young readers’ vocabulary? Joked, groaned, bellowed? Prognosticated? Please, can I use prognosticated?

“And… FIRE”

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”.

I admit to a fear of adverbs, especially the hairy ones with too many legs. I should take heart from JK Rowling. There’s a writer who wasn’t scared. Armies of adverbs advance through her books, left, right and hopefully. As with most things, moderation is the key.

5. Keep your exclamation points ­under control.

Good lord, Leonard, you fool! These are children we’re talking about! CHILDREN!! They LOVE ‘EM!!!

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”.

… except when hell suddenly breaks loose, which happens a lot around Darren Shan and David Gatward. Just saying.

“Wha gwaan?”

7. Use regional dialect – patois – sparingly.

To which I shall merely reply: Rastamouse.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

What about when the character has six heads and green teeth? Or is a witch in fabulous stripy socks? When it’s VERY IMPORTANT INDEED that you know the character you’re reading about is a weird vegetarian vampire about to bite your neck and turn you into a beetroot? Please.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

Crikey, Len. First people, now places. Don’t you describe anything at all? Description can be GOOD. Pirate ships with window boxes and pants drying in the rigging. Cute koala cubs with ears like cheerleaders’ pompoms. Odd planets where everything’s just deliciously wrong. The precise squidginess of chocolate cake.

SCARLET SILVER: swimming with description

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

At last! Totally with you on this one. If you’ve got stuff readers tend to skip, then you’ve got no business being a children’s writer. Or indeed, any sort of writer at all.

And finally:

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Best advice of the lot. Read over what you’ve written. Then read it again. Then fix it. But leave the bit about the dinosaur drooling on the teacher’s handbag. I love that bit.

* * * * *

So there you go, all those friends and weirdos still hanging in there as I ramble away. Elmore Leonard scores 2½ out of 11 as a children’s writer. Disappointing. No Working Partners commissions for him any time soon. 

5 responses »

  1. Pingback: Rules for Writing (2) « Phrase and Fable

  2. The rain having suddenly started, I’m back indoors, wearing a blue shirt and black corsairs. My electric hair is springing out, reaching the chandelier and snaking green locks around its wrought iron curlicues. If I disappear, you’ll know why!!! Anyway, prognosticated – I vote yes, emphatically.

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