It’s the birthday of novelist Elmore Leonard (books by this author), born in New Orleans in 1925. Straight out of college he got a job at an advertising agency, so he would get up and write every morning at 5 a.m. before going into the office. He published some pulp Westerns, and then started writing crime fiction, and went on to write more than 40 books. Many of them have been turned into movies, including his novels Get Shorty (1990), Be Cool (1999), and Rum Punch (1992), which Quentin Tarantino made into the film Jackie Brown.
He gave 10 rules on writing, things like “Never open a book with weather,” “Never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue,” “Avoid detailed descriptions of characters,” and “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” He wrote: “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.”
To get inside the heads of the despicable people he writes about, Leonard said: “I [try] to put myself in [a criminal’s] place. He doesn’t think he’s doing an evil thing. I try to see [him] at another time — when he sneezes, say. I see convicts sitting around talking about a baseball game. I see them as kids. All villains have mothers.”
When asked why he writes about criminals, instead of ordinary people, Leonard said, “I just feel more secure in a situation where I know a gun can go off at any time if things get boring.”