The Power of Simplicity

I’m a big fan of Elmore Leonard’s writing. It represents a kind of brutal simplicity that is the very antithesis of, say, Margaret Atwood. In the tradition of Mark Twain and Robert Fulford, he gets things done with no fluff, ornamentation or “hooptedoodle” as once described by a Steinbeck character.

I read Leonard’s recent 10 Rules of Writing. True to form, its 89 pages of terse advice, punctuated by illustrations, can easily be read in about 10 minutes. Putting it to work, in Leonardian style, no doubt takes considerably longer and involves lots more effort.

In a time when seemingly everyone is finding a literary work of some sort “inside” themselves, meaning there are ever increasing numbers of small books literally screaming to get out from their overly commodious surroundings, Leonard counsels a kind of editorial restraint you’d think wouldn’t put a lot of anything meaty on the page, if not for the proof in his pudding.

The “rules”, which can be summarized on (considerably) less that a page, are probably available just for the Googling, but ultimately come down to the writer not getting in the way of the story. Maybe the pithiest remark he makes is “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it”.

I  wish Leonard’s advice were ubiquitously applied to things far beyond the realm of pulp fiction – political discourse, advertising, operating manuals and even apologies. Oh, and Conrad Black’s political punditry.

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