Elmore Leonard - October 11, 1925 - August 20, 2013
Unfortunately, one of the best modern writers, and one of the few writers who's writing successfully translated to the big and the small screens, passed away today following a recent stroke. Leonard was 87.
Few writers leave behind such a large and influential breadth of work. Most people that consider themselves writers can measure their work in "inches;" that is to say if printed out on standard paper, the work would only stand a few inches high. Leonard's work would stand several feet tall. Stephen King called Leonard "The Great American writer." Commended by critics for his gritty realism and strong dialogue, Leonard sometimes took liberties with grammar in the interest of speeding along the story.
There's been a lot written about Leonard's work over the years, but here are some video snippets where he speaks about writing in his own words.
Elmore Leonard on Writing
"words can get in the way of what you're trying to say"
Leonard's work stretched from writing westerns in the 1950's all the way to "Justified."
1990 – Border Shootout
1997 – Last Stand at Saber River
1967 – Hombre
1970 – The Moonshine War
1971 – Valdez Is Coming
1974 – Mr. Majestyk
1997 TV film
1992 TV movie
1989 – Cat Chaser
1985 – Stick
1988 TV film
1997 film – Touch
2012 – Freaky Deaky
2009 – Killshot
1995 – Get Shorty
1998 TV series
1997 – Jackie Brown
1997 TV film
2010 – TV series Justified
2007 – Academy Awards nominated Live Action Short
2005 – Be Cool
When the Women Come Out to Dance
Anthology (includes Fire in the Hole)
Comfort to the Enemy
Published serially in New York Times
(Chapters can be downloaded at www.elmoreleonard.com)
Leonard influenced a great number of writers and directors in Hollywood, most famously, Quentin Tarantino who would later translate "Rum Punch" into the movie "Jackie Brown."
From The Charlie Rose Show, October 14, 1994
QUENTIN TARANTINO: Oh, I love Elmore Leonard. In fact, to me True Romance is basically like an Elmore Leonard movie-
CHARLIE ROSE: Yeah
QUENTIN TARANTINO: -that he didn’t write, you know. And like, actually, I actually owe a big debt to like kind of figuring out my style from Elmore Leonard because, you know, he was the first writer I’d ever read - and, but also like Charles Willeford did it as well - but he was one of the first writers I had ever read that just let mundane conversations-
CHARLIE ROSE: Yeah.
QUENTIN TARANTINO: -actually inform the characters, you know, and then all of a sudden, ‘Boof!,’ you know, you’re into whatever story you’re telling. But the thing is, though, it’s just a genre I’ve always really liked and always had a lot of appreciation for and liked going to, and I thought I would do a good job with it.
Tarantino full interview on Charlie Rose
Leonard's final successful novel to T.V. translation was his most successful, as Justified enters its fifth season with showrunner Graham Yost at the helm.
Q: Graham, how did you go about assembling the writing staff —
because Elmore’s voice is so distinct and he has so many fans out there —
so they have that same voice?
Graham Yost: You know, it was a lot of guesswork because there
weren’t many writing samples that really showed the mixture of tension
and humor and sudden violence and sort of quirky character that, you
know, I was looking for to try and, you know, keep Elmore’s voice alive
in the show. You know, the first writer I hired was Fred Golan because
I’ve been working with him since “Boomtown” and I know he can do just
about anything. And then there was a writer, Wendy Calhoun, off of
“Raines,” who I also felt could do pretty much anything, had a great
sense of humor and good sense of, you know, odd and interesting
characters that we would like. But the big thing we did is when we
started the writing room, we bought as many of Elmore’s books as we
could find and, you know, divided them up so everyone, well, took a
couple on and read them so they would get into the rhythms and get the
style. You know, one of the great things that I got to do in writing the
pilot was actually retype a lot of Elmore’s style on I can just put it
in the script. I mean, it was interesting. Just the act of retyping it
sort of let me, you know, get into the language a little bit more, what
he leaves out, what he puts in, that kind of thing.
Q: Okay. And Mr. Leonard, how did it feel to see your characters
come to life on a weekly television series? I know a lot of your, you
know, characters have been movies, but how about TV series?
Elmore Leonard: Well, it is the first time it’s been successful,
and it was great. I tune in every Tuesday night. I’ve seen a few of them
before, but… I thought the one last night was terrific (in the
styling)… there was action all the way. Good story and suspense. I’m not
kidding. It’s so – it’s passed me by.
Graham Yost: And I will just say very simply we’ve gotten a
lot of great reviews, but that there is the best review we’ve gotten on
the show. And Elmore has been the most gratifying thing, the fact that
he’s enjoyed this process.
- Never open a book with weather.
- Avoid prologues.
- Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
- Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said” … he admonished gravely.
- Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
- Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
- Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
- Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
- Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
"My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it." He also hinted: "Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip."