With the passing of Elmore Leonard this week, his “Ten Rules of Writing” circled the internet. Maybe you came across it, too, on Buzzfeed or some other site using the meme to memorialize him.
As journalists we don’t deal in fiction, but writing is part of the craft and we shouldalways be fine-tuning. I think most of us would be wise to consider his as we write more content online that isn’t attached to hard news.
Take rule No. 5, about keeping your exclamation points in check. Personally, I’ve always avoided these like the plague, but on social media and even professional communication, I see them popping up more often. It’s always awkward when a senior editor at a respectable publication closes with one or, gasp!, two. If you’re excited about something, use your words.
Then again, there are some of his rules that beg to broken in journalism. Like rule No.10, about leaving out the parts that readers want to skip. That’s sort of our job, to fill in the blanks. If you find yourself with too much prologue (rule No. 2) or a good ‘character’ that can’t fit into the main story (rule No. 8), that’s a chance to expand the story with more media — a video, an interactive map, whatever you can think of. Your editor may love you for it.
One rule interests me as a journalist. Does it ever make sense to quote people in regional dialect or patois? And is it ethical?
What are some of your favorite rules for writing? Can you defend the exclamation point?
Image c/o snoopy.com