Elmore Lenonard on Writing - NYT article

"Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle"

Aside from "hooptedoodle" being my new favorite word, this article in the New York Times made me double-check for exclamation points and had me nodding at:
  • Never open a book with weather (zzzzzzzzzzzzzz)
  • Avoid detailed descriptions of characters (heck ya, I seriously do not want to read about another woman checking out her "piquant freckles" in the mirror. Really? Piquant?)
  • Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip (well, duh)
  • Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said"
Great advice, anything else you'd like to add?


  1. I love these! I rarely describe my characters at all, and if I do it's just in relation to each other (one's taller than the other, etc). I've had readers tell me they want more physical descriptions, but I don't wanna.

    My only exclamation points are in dialogue, and there aren't that many.

    btw, your header makes me happy.

  2. I'm an excitable sort but I keep the exclamation points on the down low when I write fiction. On FB, all bets are off!!!!!!

    I want to focus more on how the characters interact with their situation instead of what they look like or wearing that day. I grew up reading about "soft blue dresses that mimicked the cornflower blue of her eyes" but now I want to supply that knowledge for myself instead. Will I die if I don't know how his chocolate brown hair teased his collar? Er, no.

    Go grab a free Blogger template for yourself! (<-- see? I can't help myself) The link is at the bottom of my blog. =D

  3. Never scratch your back with a ballpoint pen without checking that the nib is retracted.


  4. Note to self: do not scratch Adam's back --- check!

  5. All great advice, here is another one..

    Never EVER use fruit to help describe a sex scene. :D

  6. I think the most important thing here is "hooptedoodle." What does it *mean*? Dictionary.com it is, then! :]

  7. There was weather outside, but Ethan didn't notice because he was too busy admiring his blazing blue eyes, his piquant freckles, and the way his chocolate brown hair teased his collar.

    "Damn, I look good," he said humbly.

    Thankfully, he was so engrossed in his own reflection that he didn't notice the tornado until it ripped through his house, blasting him out the opposite wall and a hundred feet across the yard. He landed in a disheveled heap, his piquant freckles standing out on his now-pale face, and was about to say something inane when he was crushed to death by his bathtub.

    The End.

  8. Brava!!!

    But... as his raven-haired girlfriend, Freida, with the long legs that stretched on as if for forever and the unibrow knitting her forehead in grief bent over him, her mind was only one thing - zombies.

    "NOOOOO!!!!!!!!!! Ethan!!!!!!!! I dun' love you!!! You'z mine!!!!" she gesticulated fervently as the zombie horde advanced menacingly on her sorrow.

  9. I heard Elmore Leonard on NPR several months back, and thought him pretty interesting. Great bullet points!

    Stacey, I love your new look here. Great background color!

  10. Nick, the leader of the zombie horde, admired Freida's legs as he advanced on the couple. Freida was wearing a lovely blue silk blouse from this season's Vanity R Us catalog which perfectly complemented her ocean blue eyes. With it she wore a skin-tight miniskirt that left nothing to the imagination, and her black hair blew in the wind, obscuring and then revealing her face over and over again until...

    Nick realized he'd stopped advancing and had quite forgotten what he was supposed to be doing. How did he get onto this inventory of the woman's wardrobe, anyway? There was a chorus of grunts and groans from behind him as the natives got restless. The wind blew Freida's hair again, bringing him a whiff of her shampoo, which smelled as delicious as he was sure her brains would.

    Oh yeah. That was it. He started advancing again.

  11. Yanno, come to think of it...my last snippet here will have to make its way into my story somehow. A character stopping dead (ha!) to inventory another's outfit and then forgetting what he was doing to begin with is priceless... ;)

  12. -- Good verbs are worth 10x more than the best nouns.
    The physical description stuff feels like a carryover from romance writing. Zombie romance writing even. Other thoughts I live by:

    -- As always, first rule, as you write every sentence is to ask, "Why am I writing this sentence/using this word? How does it advance story, set scene or move plot?"
    -- Shorter sentences accelerate pace. Longer ones slow it down.
    -- Add human elements to make characters more like us
    -- Write to your market. Describing a satellite for two pages might be fine for a Tom Clancy book, but for Ravenous Romance, I'm guessing FAIL.
    -- Show. Don't tell.
    -- Put characters in exotic locations. Make them courageous, good looking and smart. All of them. Give one of them a very difficult day. Resolve it. :)
    -- Eat more ruffage. Wear clean underwear. Call your mother.

  13. From my best friend and self-described "cranky editor" Aly:

    I disagree with Mr. NYT about adding detailed descriptions of characters. I don’t want overly detailed descriptions (like your piquant comment) but if an author doesn’t build a picture of the character for me, it’s getting sent back with comments to make it so. I want hair color, eye color, skin color, and overall image of frame. One of my authors tried to pull that “I don’t want to put in any descriptions so she can be everywoman and the reader can imagine herself in the book” crap. I want to see who’s shoulder I’m looking over as the story progresses.