“When the Women Come Out to Dance” by Elmore Leonard

“When the Women Come Out to Dance” by Elmore Leonard (2002) – 228 pages

Here, in short form, are Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing from his book by the same name and the New York Times article, “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hoopdedoodle”. You’ve probably seen these before, but I like these rules anyhow.
1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the word ‘said’.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
6. Never use the words ‘suddemly’ or ‘all hell broke loose’.
7. Use regional dialogue patois sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part readers tend to skip.

My most important rule is one that sums up the other 10: If it sounds like writing, re-write it.
 –                   Elmore Leonard

By my count Elmore Leonard  has had at least twenty novels and stories made into movies.

The stories in “When the Women Come Out and Dance” are about people who usually don’t make it into more literary fiction. These include guys who apply for jobs at casinos, ex-strippers, neo-Nazi skinheads who belong to violent militias, part-time insurance investigators, Hollywood stunt doubles.

As you can tell from the above rules, Leonard doesn’t waste his readers’ time with a lot of description. He keeps things moving. My favorite story is probably the title story, “When the Women Come Out to Dance” in which the wife of a doctor in southern Florida hires a young Columbian widow to be her personal maid but has some other business in mind.

I’ve read my Henry James, my Marcel Proust, plenty of Edith Wharton, my Robert Musil, so I doubt I’m the typical Elmore Leonard reader. While listening to these stories, I sometimes ran out of patience with the characters’ limited means of expressing themselves, their shallowness, their uniform baseness. However it is refreshing to re-discover there is a real world out there with authentic people.. I won’t make a steady diet of this kind of gritty, grubby fiction, but once in a while I will indulge.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Kelly S on July 28, 2011 at 6:18 PM

    I enjoyed Leonard’s writing tips. Same type of advice goes for journalistic writing, as well. I didn’t understand the first tip, though — “Never open a book with weather.”? What does that mean?


  2. Hi Kelly.
    ‘Never open a book with weather’ means never start a novel with a description of the weather, because usually a description of the weather is quite mundane. I suppose there could be exceptions like if you are writing the story of how people survived a hurricane or a tornado, but he would say even then start with the people, not the weather.


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