Fancy following in the footsteps of award winning novelist Hilary Mantel winner of the 2012 Man Booker Prize (making her the first woman and first Briton to win twice!) and carving out a career writing fiction? Then look no further than American writer Elmore Leonard who has also seen phenomenal success over his life-time, publishing his first fictional short-story Trail of the Apache in 1951 aged just 26. His first novel, The Bounty Hunters, followed 3 years later in 1954 to good reviews from the critics, buoyed by this and the success of follow-up books Leonard - or "Dutch," as he is sometimes called – gave up his job as an Ad Man in 1961 to write full time, going on to publish more than 30 Westerns, including Hollywood favourites 3:10 to Yuma, The Captives and Hombre which all later got the film treatment.
When demand for Westerns fell off in the 60s, Leonard moved his attentions to Crime Fiction and has amassed a group (some might say cult) of dedicated readers and movie-goers ever since. Set against the gritty background of his hometown of Detroit, the sparse dialogue, flawed characters and intriguing plots make them perfect for readers and viewers alike and many of Leonard's novels have been adapted into movies, including huge hits like Get Shorty and Jackie Brown.
And he still hasn’t stopped writing, publishing his 49th novel Ryland in January 2012. That’s one book every 1.2 years! And throughout this time he has also produced a number of screenplays – the man is a writing legend!
So what is it that makes Leonard one of our most successful and long-standing writers? Being the affable chap he is he’s even written that down for us…
“Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing
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.
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
There we have it then – all you struggling writers out there, take heed and you could end up emulating the enormous success of Elmore John Leonard Jr and possibly go on to write the next sequel to take the prize giving world by storm.