Famous writers will sometimes share the “How To” of writing. Authors-in-waiting, myself included, devour these hints as if they were pronounced from Olympus. It should be obvious some rules are common sense. The writer in question has developed others because they work for them. The late Elmore Leonard, one of the written word’s finest craftsmen, followed guidelines as plainspoken as he was. Several are worth remembering. Among them: Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. It’s a good rule to follow. Leonard would certainly know given the memorable denizens populating his stories. Architect Mies van der Rohe preached, “Less is more.” He might well have been thinking of Leonard’s character descriptions or those of John Sandford, one of America’s most successful fiction writers. Sandford crafts crime stories by painting his characters with lightning-fast strokes. I remember one novel in which he described a female public defender as “Wearing a purple dress and a frown.” The short sentence caught my eye. A good exercise is to describe someone by using as many words as you want; then begin peeling away adjectives, one after another until just a few are left. Or try this: As a reader, pause at a particularly well-written character description and read it again—if you pictured the person in your mind the first time, based on the author’s words—then the author nailed it perfectly. Leonard was right.

Avoid detailed descriptions of characters ELMORE LEONARD

Avoid prologues. These are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

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