Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing

March 16th, 2012

Elmore Leonard

By Elmore Leanoard

Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle

from the New York Times, Writers on Writing Series.

These are rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.

1. Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

Read the other nine rules on the Elmore Leonard Literary Arts and Film Festival site.

Study Human Nature

February 28th, 2012

by John Bowers

My author bio says I was raised in a fundamentalist religious cult. One of the things I was taught growing up was that human nature is evil and must be overcome. I’m not sure how one is supposed to “overcome” the fight or flight instinct, the need to eat, the instinct for procreation, or the desire for self-expression. Since escaping the cult I have concluded that human nature also has many positive advantages, such as wanting to protect your children, keeping food on the table, and wanting a better life for your family.

Human nature definitely has a downside as well, as pointed out in my latest novel, Starport:

Garcio had been around some, had visited a number of worlds, but one thing never changed—people everywhere were handicapped by human nature.

Human nature causes people to do all kinds of weird and crazy things. In addition to its positive side, human nature has many negative effects—jealousy, envy, lust, and greed, to name a few. Read the rest of this entry »

Three ways to prove you’re not ready to be published

December 12th, 2011


By Al Kalar

There are hundreds of ways to get your manuscript rejected. Here are three:

1. Use lots of unneeded dialog tags

John stood up. “Why do we need to do that?” he asked.

Dump Your Dialog Tags and Write Like a Pro

September 6th, 2011


By Al Kalar
I know I’ve harped on this before, but here’s a solid example so you can see how it’s done.

Anne McCaffrey is one of the top-selling authors in the Science Fiction and Fantasy arena. She’s a master of her craft.

I was re-reading a book of short stories (Get off the Unicorn, Ballantine/Del Ray 1977), when I ran across this short story. A sequel to her novel, The Ship Who Sang.

Background: Helva is a “shell person”, someone who can only live in a bio-shell, with special life-support. Her nerves and other functions have been merged with a spaceship (with her permission) so that she is the ship. Most “Brain Ships” are teamed with a “brawn”, a normal person who acts as a partner to do the things the ship’s “brain” (shell person) can’t do to complete an assignment.

Now, I want you to notice two things about these two pages:

  1. She uses ONE dialog tag only (”said”). In spite of that, you never have any doubt as to who’s talking.
  2. She keeps her “actors” in constant motion (okay, Helva can’t move, but she has verbal quirks to keep her “alive”). They are not two “talking heads”, but real-live people who move, gesticulate, scratch, etc. while carrying on a conversation.

These are two of the IMPORTANT things that make the difference between a “good” writer and a “great” author.

Here are the first two pages of the story:

Honeymoon by Anne McCaffrey from "Get off the Unicorn", Del Rey 1977

Honeymoon by Anne McCaffrey from "Get off the Unicorn", Del Rey 1977

Edit As You Go

August 9th, 2011

by John Bowers

In a previous article I talked about writer’s block, and how to keep writing something, anything, just to stay sharp, even if it has nothing to do with your project. There is something else you can do at times like that, and it may even help dissolve the block and get you going again.

First Draft

Almost every writer who gives advice to other writers agrees that a first draft is never the final product, that the work, once finished, must be edited before being submitted to a publisher or agent. Good novels are never written, they are rewritten.

But for some, once that first draft is finished, the job of editing may seem overwhelming. You’ve just poured weeks or months, perhaps even years, into your project, and you’re all wrung out. Then you start reading from page one, you start finding mistakes, and it gets depressing.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

From time to time, no matter how prolific you are, you are going to sit down at that keyboard and stare at a blank page and you simply don’t know what to do. Writer’s block. This may be a good time to do a little ‘editing as you go’.

As a general practice, every day when I sit down to write, the first thing I do is to review what I wrote the day before. I set bookmarks every day when I start, and I can return to those bookmarks the next day to see what I created. As I read through, I invariably find typos, missing words, poor punctuation, you name it. In the heat of writing my mind will think one thing and my fingers will type something else (for example, in this very sentence my fingers typed “thing one thing” instead of “think one thing”) and those are much easier to fix on a daily basis than waiting until the book is finished. And when the first draft is finished, the rewrite will go much faster.

Use the BlockPicture courtesy of chrysaora4

Writer’s block is frustrating, no question about it, but you can use that block to your advantage. In addition to editing what you wrote yesterday, writer’s block can sometimes be beneficial if you take the opportunity to go back and read the entire work from the beginning, or from some other significant starting point. In some cases I’ve found that I’m so far into a story that I forgot something that happened earlier, maybe a minor character I wanted to use, or something someone said that needs to be tied into the plot down the road…or deleted entirely. Taking the time to read before you finish will refresh the story in your mind and help you identify loose ends.

Taking advantage of writer’s block to do a read-through can not only help you identify problems, it sometimes gets you going again. By reading the story from page one you can often get a better feel for where the story is going, and new ideas may come to you. You may finish reading what went before and immediately start typing that next page. It happens.

Even if you don’t have writer’s block, a read-through before you finish is a good idea. You may find a major conflict in your story that will stop a reader cold, or you may need to insert a plot device to shore up something later in the novel. Such things are much easier to fix before you finish than later, when you’ve sweated out your last drop of blood and simply don’t have the energy to change a single word.

Give It Time

While we’re on the subject of rewrites, one thing is very important-once you write that last page and close the file for the last time, and the first draft is done, set it aside. Do not look at it for at least a month. I’m serious. Mark it on your calendar and then go do something else. Start another book. Take a vacation. Learn to speak Mandarin. Anything.

The reason for this is that you are too close to your story, and if you try to start the edit the day after you finish, you simply won’t be objective. Often I’ve looked at a story right after I finished it and thought it was pretty good, and other times I’ve been convinced it was really bad. But several weeks later, after the emotion has faded and my mind is clear, I can see it for what it is, good or bad.

Giving it time will help you identify problems-bad dialogue, inconsistent characters, logic problems in plotting, etc. While you’re writing it all makes sense, but when you stand back it’s easier to see the forest and not just the trees. No matter how good you are, no matter how famous, you will always make mistakes as you write, and if you don’t find them, your readers will.


Writing is hard work. It’s taxing. But it’s also fun. Writing a book is much like reading a book-you live the story as you write it. You become immersed in the plot and the characters. The only difference is that, as a writer, you are doing the creating, not the observing. When it’s all done and ready to submit, there is no greater sense of satisfaction. You’ve written a novel, told a story, and hopefully it will bring pleasure to others.

Have fun with it. If it isn’t fun, it isn’t worth it.

Sirian Summer, a Nick Walker eBookJohn Bowers is a very prolific author. His first published science fiction novel, A Vow to Sophia, is available at AKW Books in eBook form. The sequel, The Fighter Queen, was originally written as part of Vow but was split off because the resulting book was much too large for publication. Eventually, the series expanded to five books. His most recent book is Sirian Summer, which starts a new Nick Walker series. Another Nick Walker book is in the works, but his next book will be Starport, which is due out this month.

The entire Fighter Queen saga (currently 5 volumes) can be purchased at a discount price.

Dialog Tags that Kill Your Story

June 14th, 2011


By Al Kalar

Get rid of dialog tags

I’m on a crusade to get rid of dialog tags.

“What?” you may be saying. “How can you write dialog without tags?”

Simple. Substitute action. The above sentence could have been written:

“What?” You may have dropped your jaw in shock. “How can you . . .”

Dialog tag gone. Read the rest of this entry »

The R Factor: Should Your Novel Contain Profanity? Part 3

June 7th, 2011

by John Bowers

(NOTE: Some content in this article may offend the sensitive reader. Proceed at your own risk.)

In our workshop discussion, someone pointed out that sex is a natural part of life and there was no reason not to write about it. Someone else pointed out that taking a crap is also a natural part of life, but…well, who wants to read about that?

Good points, both of them. I agree with the second argument, but I lean toward the first. The simple fact is that people do want to read about sex, while only the…well, mentally ill…want to read about defecation. (I should point out that in The Thin Red Line, novelist James Jones did write about a Marine taking a dump on Guadalcanal. While he was thus indisposed he was jumped by a Japanese soldier and, with his Read the rest of this entry »

The R Factor: Should Your Novel Contain Profanity? Part 2

May 31st, 2011

by John Bowers

(NOTE: Some content in this article may offend the sensitive reader. Proceed at your own risk.)

In Part 1 I mentioned the writer’s workshop where my friends and I are in an ongoing debate about whether sex and language are appropriate for the novels we are writing. One camp seems to be opposed to these elements in all their forms, others think there should be no limits of any kind, and probably the majority falls in the middle.

What do you think? When it comes to swearing, profanity, and sex in a novel, where do you fall in the debate?

I have my own view, of course, which I will share, but by no means do I think it’s the “only correct” view. There are good arguments for every side in the debate.


Before we proceed let’s get our definitions straight, so we know what I’m talking about. When I say, “swearing”, I’m not talking about the “F-bomb”-that falls under profanity. Swearing is the simple use of “damn”, “hell”, “son of a bitch”, etc. These are mild forms of swearing; more extreme forms include “goddamn”, “Jesus Christ”, “asshole”, etc. These are words not heard on the more mainstream TV networks, while the milder versions are quite common. Read the rest of this entry »

The R Factor: Should Your Novel Contain Profanity? Part 1

May 24th, 2011

by John Bowers

(NOTE: Some content in this article may offend the sensitive reader. Proceed at your own risk.)

In the science fiction novelist workshop where I grew up there has been a friendly, ongoing discussion of when and whether strong language should be included in a novel. Some feel strongly that it’s unnecessary, that “if you have to resort to profanity to tell your story, your writing skills are weak”, while others take the view that nothing is sacred when it comes to writing fiction.

Where do you stand? Or have you even thought about it?

A  Little Background

Everyone has become accustomed, at the movies and even on TV, to warnings about “content”. It all started back around 1968 with the motion pictures, when they first came out with a rating system. Before the rating system movie censors dictated what could and could not be shown or said in a film, based upon the moral principles of…well-no one was sure. Things got so nitty that a kiss in the movie could not last more than three seconds (whereupon the actors kissed each other for two seconds-repeatedly). Read the rest of this entry »

How to Write a Salable Book or Novel: Part 14 – After the Sale

April 27th, 2011

A Rerun
[The last in the series]


By Al Kalar

Write something every day

You’ve found a publishing house and they’ve agreed to publish your book. The editing/re-writing process is over. All the decisions about cover, dedication, and such have been made. It’s time to celebrate!

Maybe a trip to the Bahamas? A cruise? Why not? You’re gonna get rich off your book. Right?

Weeellllll, maybe. Read the rest of this entry »