Elmore Leonard: ‘What a guy!’ says Jackie Collins (The Guardian)
Jackie Collins, queen of the sexy thriller, has been hooked on Elmore Leonard ever since she read Get Shorty. But she has never been able to follow the king of crime fiction’s 10 rules for writing …
RIP Elmore Leonard. What a guy – what a teller of wild and wonderful and, most of all, raunchy tales. A storyteller with a crazy imagination mixed in with personal experiences. Many have tried, but nobody has managed to outdo crime fiction‘s master of the thriller.
I discovered the joy of an Elmore Leonard book in the early 1990s when I picked up Get Shorty. What a trip! I was immediately hooked by his colourful language and outrageous characters. I grew up reading Mickey Spillane, and I never thought any writer could beat Spillane for his way of bringing characters to life so that one could actually visualise them. But Elmore Leonard managed to do that – and brilliantly. I devoured every one of his novels, loving his plotlines and the way he weaved such interesting and outlandish stories that kept you up reading all night long. As a page-turner, Elmore Leonard rules. He creates his own world full of unexpected twists and turns.
A lot of people tell me I write like a man. Could it be a little of the Elmore Leonard influence has rubbed off on me? Our styles are very different, but he did show me the way to write whatever you feel like – and I do. Thank you, Elmore! OK, that’s my second exclamation mark, which brings me to Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing – none of which I follow.
1) Never open a book with weather.
Why not? It creates a mood.
2) Avoid prologues.
I love prologues!
3) Never use a verb other than said to carry dialogue.
Hmmm … failed again.
4) Never use an adverb to modify the verb said.
I do that all the time!
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”.
Suddenly is so useful. All hell broke loose – not so much.
7) Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
Finally. I agree!
8) Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
Seems odd, because I always know exactly what his characters look like. To me, creating visual images is imperative.
9) Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
If you can’t convey it in a sentence, don’t bother. So once again, I agree.
And here is my favourite rule of all, which I am in total agreement with …
10) Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
Very astute. I know exactly what he means.
He does have one more rule that sums up the other 10: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” Perfect.
Elmore Leonard started out writing a series of westerns, before switching to crime novels. His titles are always right on, making you want to pick up his latest book and read it on the spot. Titles such as Up in Honey’s Room, Killshot, Freaky Deaky, Pagan Babies, and Rum Punch, are classics. They will be around for many generations to come.
Unlike most commercial fiction novelists, Elmore Leonard is also critically acclaimed. The literary journals love and admire him just as much as his legions of fans. His reviews are always stellar. Cyra McFadden in The New York Times Book Review says: “His ear is the best in the business. No one writes better.” The New Yorker: “High-class instant gratification.” And there are dozens of other accolades, everything from: “It’s impossible not to love Elmore Leonard” to “The master of the quirky character, inventor of some of the most hard-driving street talk.”
Unfortunately I never met Elmore Leonard, although I would have liked to. Apart from his books, he seemed like such an interesting man. I certainly love some of his most famous quotes, great lines such as:
“Psychopaths … people who know the difference between right and wrong, but don’t give a shit. That’s what most of my characters are like.”
“It doesn’t make sense, it just has to sound like it does.”
“I started out with Hemingway when I learned how to write. Until I realised Hemingway doesn’t have a sense of humour.”
“The convicts who write me assume I’ve done time.”
And one of my favourites: “My material looks like a movie. Then when the studio gets into it, they find out it’s not quite as simple as it looks.”
There have been many movies made of his books. Who can forget Get Shorty, a classic movie with a classic cast? The Barry Sonnenfeld-directed film continued the resurrection of John Travolta’s career, though I often wonder how Elmore Leonard handled Hollywood. Being in development on a Hollywood movie is akin to being trapped with a group of woozy pirates on a cruise ship. I’m sure he had plenty of thoughts on how Hollywood handled his books, not all of them pleasant.
So, to sum up the life and times of Elmore Leonard, born in 1925 on 11 October, left us 2013 on 20 August. An original. A man who did it his way. A writer of enormous talent. A family man. A person with values. In some ways a rebel who thought outside the box. A literary icon.
He will be much missed by his legions of readers across the world. But he leaves behind a wonderful legacy of incredible one-of-a-kind characters – and stories that will never grow old.
RIP Elmore Leonard. I am forever a fan.
• Jackie Collins‘s Confessions of a Wild Child is published in September.