Update to those finding me via ElmoreLeonard.com: it should be noted that my comment of E.L. being “some genre writer” should have been in quote, or clarified in some way to explain that I was referring to the previous paragraph where I mentioned John Gardner’s elitist view on genre. Just to be clear, Leonard is a freakin’ brilliant writer, period. I guess I didn’t make that clear, someone misread me and suddenly, all hell broke loose. ~ de
Well, I sent along my second packet of writing and am now in the limbo seat waiting for my advisor to confirm some of my fears. I think the story is straight but I bogged myself down a bit in “world building” (just short of “the green lampshade effect”) and I’m probably going to have a messy revision down the road as a result.
One of the gals I set for myself was to read one book on the craft of writing each month. So far ‘ve done duty with L. Rust Hills’ Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular and John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. These aren’t the only craft books I’ve ever read so the amount of new insights they contained for me was limited. Hill’s examination of the short story, in the classic sense of the literary short story, was very thorough, dense but very readable.
Gardner pissed me off from the beginning by trying to place writing within the context of fine art and music, and in doing so showed an incredible ignorance of those arts to the extent that it was hard to take him seriously. His definition of what constitutes “trash” in all those arts was meant to bolster a distinction between literary fiction and lower-class genre fiction. By doing so there was the implication that while genre has its place and aspirations it is still a lesser fiction. Had he lived longer I have no doubt he would have seen the growth of YA as another genre, making no distinctions in quality between The Gossip Girls and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation.
Yeah, no love lost for Gardner here.
So yesterday I was at the library and happened to see this book on the craft of writing by some genre writer named Elmore Leonard. Yes, yes, I know who he is. I also know that he can write. Leonard writes with precision and clarity and he can make dialog crack so hard you’ll give yourself whiplash if you aren’t careful. How good is he? He can take all the things Gardner is trying to communicate in his book and say it in 1/1000th the number of words. His book, Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, was exactly the tonic I needed this week. I didn’t need any more explanation of character arcs, or analysis on POV, I needed someone who assumes he’s talking to a fellow human being, writer to writer, with short little reminders about what works, what doesn’t, and why.
Turns out this book was originally an essay. Published almost 7 years ago. Where the hell have I been that I didn’t know about this before now? A quick search among the Tubes and Wires of the Internet revealed many who have reposted his list. I’m not going to do that. If you’d like to check it out, here is the original post.
So that’s it for this month, that’s my book on the craft of writing. I read it out loud to my 11 year old on our way to her basketball practice last night and she thought it all made perfect sense. I could see she was amused by the references, even though she has yet to read Steinbeck or Hemingway or Atwood, and I could even see little gears turning in her head concerning her own writing. I still think Strunk & White’s Elements of Style and Darrell Huff’s How To Lie With Statistics are two books every high school student should be given on their first day, to own (I assume everyone also has a copy of the U.S. Constitution), but if Leonard’s essay were included as supplementary material I wouldn’t be upset.