Elmore Leonard, best known for countless novels and their film adaptations, such as Get Shorty, Jackie Brown and Out of Sight, was known for this gritty writing style and strong dialogues.
Here are a few of his gems of advice for writers (with my comments in parentheses):
- “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
- “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” (Think: thick paragraphs of prose; boring lists; role calls that seem to be there more to remind the writer who’s in the scene than to entertain the reader.)
- “If proper (grammar) usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.” (This advice should follow the adage, however: First learn the rules; then you’ll know how and when you can break them.)
- “Never open a book with weather. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe snow and ice than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.”
- “I never see my bad guys as simply bad. They want pretty much what you and I want: They want to be happy.”
- “At the time I begin writing a novel, the last thing I want to do is follow a plot outline. To know too much at the start takes the pleasure out of discovering what the book is about.”
- “It doesn’t have to make sense, it just has to sound like it does.”
After a month of daily posts, A to Z plus weekend excursions into “Odd Jobs”, I can say that it was worth it; I’ve enjoyed the challenge of writing to a word limit, which meant that I could really only focus on one aspect of any given topic… that’s not something my brain does by nature, as it’s usually deep into networking ideas and possibilities long before I’ve finished typing the first sentence. Along the way I’ve enjoyed spending more time surfing around cyberspace, discovering other WordPress blogs, reading into what makes others tick. At the same time, I’ve felt the detour of time usually spent in writing manuscripts, editing, researching, and even housework and administration bits and bobs.
Would I do it again? Probably. When? After my next novel is published, and I have more time again! The feedback from my beta readers is starting to come in, and my own read-through has begun with the fresher eye of passed time and distance, so some other things in life will slide onto the back burner once more. Through the challenge, I’ve been reminded of why I only post 1 or 2 blogs per week: Real life is busy!
I hope you enjoyed the challenges along with me, and the breathing room once again afforded by my resumed “schedule”!
There’s just something about abandoned places that speaks to me; each one has a unique history, and an ending that seems somehow premature. Whether it be a shopping mall in Thailand now occupied by goldfish; cities within range of the radioactivity of Chernobyl; an island that was once inhabited but now forlorn; an underground station or even an entire train station in the middle of an inhabited city, or an abandoned house, they each have a story to tell. If their walls could speak, what would they say? What have they seen? What would they have liked to see but were prematurely cut off from the habitation or transient experiences of humanity?
Overtoun House. Image Credit: Stephanie Huesler
I once lived in a manor house in Scotland, called Overtoun House; it was often my home over the years that I lived in the UK; once we moved away it fell into disrepair, ransacked by vandals and left to rot by the town council that was charged with its maintenance. Several years ago I went back to visit and actually cried at the state it had fallen into – it was literally like finding a good friend face down in the gutter. Finally, a few years ago an organisation moved in to restore the building to its former glory, and it will be used to house women in distressed circumstances. My husband and I met there in 1991, and this past summer we went back for a visit; it was comforting to see her in good hands once more.
If you google “abandoned places”, you’ll find thousands of photos and stories just begging to be told: Salton City, former Olympic venues, World War Two installations, train stations, castles, theme parks, homes, libraries (abandoning books is just wrong), subway / underground stations, shipwrecks, asylums, private homes, and even (most tragic of all) the abandoned dead in the “death zone” of Mount Everest. Each one with a history and a reason they were abandoned, yet also an inspiration for writers to dig below the superficial surface to create an untold tale.
If those walls could speak to your inner writer, what would you hear? Write it!
I was recently talking with someone, and the topic of the psychology of colours came up in connection with health care; it got me thinking about how it could be applied to practical applications, as well as writing fiction. My particular practical application is crocheting hats to donate to the local cancer patient clinics, and I wanted to know which colours would be more appropriate.
In writing fiction, colours play an important part as well; they help set the scene: Is it a dark and gloomy scene? Don’t choose pink or pastels – unless you want to make it a creepy-gloomy scene. The colour of the sky, the grass, the sand, living room walls, a person’s eyes – they all help set the stage, or paint the backdrop of your fictional character’s life, situations, or the overall tone of the book; it can also help establish your character’s personality: Are they a compassionate, stable person? Perhaps beige combined with a bit of pink. Is your character blind, (figuratively or literally)? Red is the easiest colour for a visually impaired person to see, so accent their home in red. You get the idea! Advertisers have been using the psychology of colours to manipulate consumers for decades; the more we understand the application of colour, the more we can see through the tactic and at the same time apply it to our writing. Here are a few images to consider as you think into this topic and apply it to your own fictional characters.
Once in a while, we need to get our creative juices flowing; here are some ideas to spark your imagination! Pick one, get a pen and paper, and start writing! See where it leads!
20 Writing Sparks
1. What is it that you are absolutely sure you will never forget?
2. doorbell rings
3. perfect family
4. zombie packing list
5. flight vs. invisibility
6. two animals into one hybrid
7. Describe each day of the week as if it was a person.
8. you fly but you lose a minute every time
9. design and describe the perfect bedroom
10. library, museum, zoo
11. which friend will become the most famous?
12. you give a personal concert
13. complain about kids these days
14. glow in the dark tattoo
15. magical mailbox
16. I deserve a day off school
17. average of five people
18. celebrity, famous person, character as sibling
19. describe daily life in 2045
20. honesty room
One of the most challenging things as a writer is to remain succinct; “every word counts” needs to be printed on the back of my hands whether I’m working on a book manuscript, writing to a friend, or answering grammar questions on a forum I lead. Occasional ramblings are far more acceptable than chronic ones; everyone has a friend, acquaintance or family member who rambles (or – you know who you are!): I have a neighbour near our building who can turn the reply to a simple, “How are you?” into a 45-minute explanation of how her cousin’s frog’s nephew’s classmate’s teacher’s son’s uncle came by with a blue – or was it green? You know the kind of green that looks like wilting grass, no, that’s too yellow… by the time she takes a breath she’s gone down so many detours I have NO idea what she’s talking about, or even what the original question was. Needless to say, when I’m on a deadline I politely avoid that side of the house.
I’ve come across a website that would be a literal impossibility for that neighbour, and would even be a challenge for many of us who consider ourselves to personify the phrase, “brevity is the soul of wit”: Click on the image below to see “One Sentence – True Stories Told in One Sentence”. Take the challenge – can you write a story in one sentence? And take inspiration from the site as well; there are some great starter-sentences there that could be expanded upon to make a short story, or even a novel.
Note: Since this was originally posted, the site at the link below has gone offline. Instead, just go to Google and search for “one-sentence stories“, and you’ll come across several great options.