Everything Books
Writing and reading and books, books, books (and anything that might relate)

August 21, 2013

Elmore Leonard’s Rules for Writing

The great Elmore Leonard, author of forty-five novels and master of the crime thriller, died yesterday morning at home.  He was eighty-seven.  He leaves behind legions of fans and some very wise and brilliant and useful words about writing.  I especially like numbers 3, 4, 5, and 10, although I agree with all of them.  These rules are excerpted from his more detailed 2001 New York Times article.

Writers on Writing:  Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle

Published: July 16, 2001

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.

2. Avoid prologues.

3. Never use a verb other than ”said” to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ”said” . . .

. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin.

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.”

I have noticed that writers who use ”suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

Unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison.

And finally:

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.


September 4, 2012

Literary Snacking

For me, reading, writing and snacking just simply go hand in hand. Here are this weeks sweet and savory snacks to help keep you focused and energised for your next sit down session.

Parmesan Popped Popcorn

½ cup popped popcorn kernels (popped using favorite method)

¼ cup melted butter

2 tbs parmesan cheese

1tbs garlic powder

⅛ tsp black pepper

1. Toss popcorn with melted butter. Add the remaining ingredients and toss until all mixed through.


Brain Booster Smoothie

1 cup apple juice

1 banana

1 ½ cups frozen blueberries

½ cup frozen raspberries (these berries can be substituted for alternate berries)

¼ cup raw walnuts

1. Blend all ingredients together until smooth.

August 31, 2012

A library gift shop. I have gone to heaven.

My recurring fantasy about libraries is that at night, after everyone goes home, , the books come to life and mingle in a fabulous cocktail party. — Neal Wyatt

A perfect Saturday: a trip downtown to the vast and gorgeous Los Angeles Central Library to do book-related research. Before leaving, browse (and shop) their Library Store (more on that in a minute). Then walk a few blocks over to the Grand Central Market, most specifically to market vendor MF Gourmet, for the most decadent grilled cheese you’ve ever eaten. Then skip around the corner to the historic Million Dollar Theater to see a screening of a classic black and white film…

But back to that Library Store.

I’m a writer, of course, and a voracious reader, and so I completely and rather scarily nerd out over anything that has to do with writing and reading. I also love gift shops. LOVE them! And I’m not a girl who generally enjoys shopping just for shopping’s sake. So you can imagine the way my head spins when I merely step inside the Library Store, which is one of the most fun and creative gift shops I’ve ever seen– and it’s in a library! The store has everything from Reading is Sexy mugs and bumper stickers (I’m a longtime fan of the artist, Sarah Utter) to literary coasters to some swanky knee-high bookworm socks to typewriter placemats to a Personal Library Kit, which I would have done just about anything for as a little girl because– it may not surprise anyone– I used to love playing “Library” almost as much as “Charlie’s Angels.” Because I’m an only child, I would make my mother, cats, friends, and, on rare occasion, my father check out my books, which, at the time, were things like Little Bear’s Visit and The World of Christopher Robin. I loved saying, “Those will be due a week from tomorrow.”

January 19, 2012

Behind the Book — What it (Sometimes) Looks Like to Write a Book

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , , — jennifer @ 3:10 pm

To be honest, if I’m going for pure historical accuracy, most days I’m working like twelve dogs pulling the Iditarod, racing against the clock to get everything done. But, even so, there are those other days– the darker ones– when the ideas don’t seem to come no matter how long you sit at your desk. Let’s just say that some writing days are better than others…

What it (Sometimes) Looks Like to Write a Book from Jennifer Niven on Vimeo.

January 14, 2012

Behind the Book — My Modern-Day Quill Pen

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , , — jennifer @ 12:06 pm

When I was finishing up the first draft of the third Velva Jean book, a terrible thing happened: Microsoft Word self-destructed. Right before my eyes, every letter turned into an asterisk, one by one by one, until the entire document was gibberish. (Apparently, more than one person has experienced this problem with Word for Mac.) Needless to say, I freaked out. The document was irretrievable, but luckily I had saved and re-saved multiple versions, so all that was lost was a handful of rewrites on various paragraphs and lines.

That day I switched over to Scrivener. I still use Word, but only for short (and far less important) documents. Scrivener is a program that was created by a writer (Keith Blount) for writers. As he says on their website: “The thing about programs aimed at writers is that no one program is going to suit all writers, because all writers work in different ways.” What he did was create a program for himself, the kind of thing that would help him in his own writing.

When I switched Velva Jean #3 to Scrivener, I didn’t do anything but use it as a regular word processor– a hopefully safe place in which to finish my manuscript. Because my publisher needed the manuscript submitted in Word, I easily imported it there and sent it off.

Now, as I’m in the researching/brainstorming/compiling/outlining phase of the fourth Velva Jean, I thought I’d give Scrivener a go to see exactly what it’s made of. With every book, I’ve organized and outlined the material a little differently from the book before. In the case of Velva Jean Learns to Fly, I wrote a 30-page detailed, scene-by-scene outline on the computer. With the third Velva Jean book, I wrote every scene on index cards, which I filed by month (since most of the action takes place within one calendar year). In this fourth one, I started doing a little outlining on the computer, a little on index cards, but for some reason this feels too scattered now.

Readers and writers are always asking me about my process, about my system for writing a book. What I tell them is that every book is a new experience, new territory, and you have to learn your way along the way. Each story is different, which only makes sense that each will be outlined uniquely and individually.

Here is what the folks at Scrivener say about their program: “Writing a novel, research paper, script or any long-form text involves more than hammering away at the keys until you’re done. Collecting research, ordering fragmented ideas, shuffling index cards in search of that elusive structure—most writing software is fired up only after much of the hard work is done. Enter Scrivener: a word processor and project management tool that stays with you from that first, unformed idea all the way through to the final draft. Outline and structure your ideas, take notes, view research alongside your writing and compose the constituent pieces of your text in isolation or in context. Scrivener won’t tell you how to write – it just makes all the tools you have scattered around your desk available in one application.”

So far I’m liking Scrivener. Like many writers, I love organizing and reorganizing my materials. One of my writer friends, who also shares my love for organizing and reorganizing, has tried Scrivener as well. At first she loved it. For weeks she learned and made use of every single feature and option. But in the end, she had to turn away from it. She said the problem with Scrivener– for any writer who has even an ounce of the procrastination gene– was it was so detailed and so much fun to work in that, before she knew it, she was spending all her time organizing her files and photographs and outlines and digital index cards, that she didn’t have any time for the actual writing. In other words, it’s a great program if you can exercise restraint.

I’ve spent yesterday and today creating character files for everyone, even Velva Jean, who I know almost as well as I know myself. Rather than listing her traits, this is a place for me to brainstorm her journey in this particular story. I also created separate files for the “characters of place” that will figure into the book– everywhere from Hollywood itself to the movie studios to the nightclubs Velva Jean might visit. These files are great because, unlike the physical index cards, I can put anything in them– photos of the people and places; links to websites for more info; maps; blueprints; and, of course, text.

This phase of the writing is always fun, but I have to say that Scrivener (as of this moment) is only making it more fun. Hopefully it will continue to work for me…