The first rule of good writing is that there are no rules. If Elmore Leonard had written Ulysses, or Metamorphosis, or Remembrance of Things Past, or Death on the Installment Plan, or other of the modernist classics I don’t know if college freshmen would be studying them today.
They’d probably be pretty good reading though. Leonard knows how to stay out of his story’s way, and I think writers should at least be aware of his techniques before deciding on their own paths. In case you haven’t seen them before, here are his commandments:
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 verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7. Use regional dialect, 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 that readers tend to skip.
My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
Celine would have found no. 5 difficult. He would go for chapters with ellipses and exclamation points as his only punctuation. And where would Zola be without no. 8? And what about Perec or Robbe-Grillet and no. 9?
But that doesn’t make it bad advice, especially in today’s conservative marketplace.