Writing tips from big-time novelists

Elmore Leonard once weighed in with his rules for writing. The Guardian rounded up responses from PT James, Hilary Mantel, Joyce Carol Oates and others. Steal ideas for your own work.

Several years ago the late novelist and screenwriter Elmore Leonard came up with a list of rules for writing.

The piece, offering tips such as “Never open a book with weather,” periodically surfaces, drawing praise from some writers and eliciting spasms of helpless rage from others.

But one of the best things the list did was inspire The Guardian newspaper to publish tips from a host of successful fiction writers.

Leonard’s list tends toward the mechanics—”Never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue”—while the Guardian authors focus on everything from your pencil supply to whether to have children. (Richard Ford, who apparently has never read Tolstoy, says don’t.)

Here are a few of our favorite pointers from the Guardian’s list. And if they sometimes contradict each other, well, never, ever pay attention to a list.

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