Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Feed The Birds

Evenin' squires,

Waaaay back in the dim and distant past, last February, that splendid fellow Piers set up a new screenwriting forum, to serve as a sort of UK version of The Artful Writer and Wordplay.

He called it Feed the Birds (no idea, ask him), and many of us twittering, blogging, screeching screenwriters signed up straight away and got electronic-chin-wagging. It was all very exciting.

Since then it's gotten a little quiet, so we thought we'd have a bit of a promotion and try and draw in some fresh blood.

As The Webmaster has said over at his gaff, it's a great place to ask questions, share knowledge and discuss writing (or not writing) with a community of like minded folk. Or to lark about when you should be getting on with some real work. You could even use it to make contacts and promote your work.

Why not check it out? I hope to see you there.

Feed The Birds

Monday, May 16, 2011

Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing

Came across this article the other day. It's ten years old now but may be worth revisiting. Much wisdom from one of America's most prolific, and most adapted, writers of fiction...


Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle


These are rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.

1. Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2. Avoid prologues.

They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s “Sweet Thursday,” but it’s O.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy’s thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.”

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

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

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

. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs.”

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

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

This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories “Close Range.”

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” what do the “American and the girl with him” look like? “She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.

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

Unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you’re good at it, you don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

And finally:

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

A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Or, if proper 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. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)

If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character—the one whose view best brings the scene to life—I’m able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what’s going on, and I’m nowhere in sight.

What Steinbeck did in “Sweet Thursday” was title his chapters as an indication, though obscure, of what they cover. “Whom the Gods Love They Drive Nuts” is one, “Lousy Wednesday” another. The third chapter is titled “Hooptedoodle 1” and the 38th chapter “Hooptedoodle 2” as warnings to the reader, as if Steinbeck is saying: “Here’s where you’ll see me taking flights of fancy with my writing, and it won’t get in the way of the story. Skip them if you want.”

“Sweet Thursday” came out in 1954, when I was just beginning to be published, and I’ve never forgotten that prologue.

Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters? Every word.

Friday, May 13, 2011


In 2002, the military captured and imprisoned a supernatural entity.

Directed by Dan Turner
Written by Jason Arnopp

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011

So I'm writing a novel.

Not yet. In November. Don't ask me what it will be about, or for any details other than how long it will be and when it will be finished. It will be at least fifty thousand words and it will be finished by November 30th.

I have, like many others before me, decided to take advantage of NaNoWriMo, the annual event where thousands of people set out to write a novel in thirty days.

I've started to write a novel twice before (see left for my first effort, circa '92 (I still may go back to this one day (this will never happen))), but that was in the old days, before I knew about structure, and planning, and... writing a novel.

Having focused exclusively on scriptwriting for a good five years now I've been feeling like trying something different. I love the extra motivation provided by i)having an external deadline, ii) having a community of people on hand who are all trying to meet the same deadline, and iii) having quacked on to anyone who'll listen (or not) that you're going to have written a novel by the end of November.

My head is spinning with the possibilities as far as picking an actual story go. I have had an idea for a novel knocking around for some years, but I fear it may now seem a bit like a British Dexter, and I never know whether an association like that works for or against you. Could adapt one of my script ideas, but not every story wants to be a novel. Plus it would certainly be more fun to come up with something brand new just for this exercise. New is always better, after all.

Anyway, if you fancy a challenge or have nothing planned for November why not check out the NaNoWriMo website, you might decide to churn out a novel of your own. Otherwise please do feel free to bother, cajole or even support me as I produce my magnificent octopus. You can find my NaNoWriMo profile here, but there's not much going on just yet.

In the meantime, I'd better get planning, there's only one hundred and seventy-three days and four and a half hours to go till the starting gun.



EDIT - This post restored from Scribomatic folowing the great Blogger outage of 12th May 2011.