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How to Write Fiction, by Actual Fiction Writers

Hey, aspiring fiction writers: Watch your adverbs closely and lay off the exclamation points! Those are just two how-to tips (or maybe how-not-to tips) from crime writer Elmore Leonard’s “10 Rules of Writing,” which, as the title suggests, offers handy guidelines for would-be authors. The Guardian rounded up some other notable scribes and asked them to add to Leonard’s lineup with their own lists. –KA

Elmore Leonard in The Guardian:

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.

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