I observe the passing of a great writer with respect, but I’m sorry, I look at his writing rules with dissatisfaction. In case you missed them, here are the basics. Those rules worked fine for Leonard who wrote action-packed, dialogue-heavy thrillers like Get Shorty. Those same rules do not apply to emotionally-laden romance or women’s fiction or any fiction that uses setting to add tension.
Just to test this theory, I opened the first Mary Stewart book at hand, The Crystal Cave, and read the page it opened to: “The loom clacked again. She was feeding in the green thread, and I could see that she was making a mistake, but it looked pretty, so I said nothing, watching her and staying close, till at length the curtain at the door way was pushed aside, and the two men came in.”
There’s tension in that paragraph, character and historical information, and a great lead-in to the drama that follows. It paints a picture and a feeling at the same time. Why would anyone want to eliminate description?
I will admit that a paragraph describing the Seine at midnight might show off a writer’s ability to write metaphors and be perfectly useless for story purposes, but to lop off all description is ludicrous. Because this is my blog, I get to pull out one of my own scenes as an example. Granted, I usually wrap description around the action and dialogue, but how does one describe a protagonist without including setting?
From Notorious Atherton: “Eleanora Marone Ballwin Adams precisely folded the edges of her linen handkerchief, applied the heated flatiron until a crisp crease formed, then repeated the process with a lengthwise fold. The fresh scent of newly dried linen and crisp starch blended refreshingly with the dash of rose scent she’d added to the wash water.
Adding the square of linen to her meager stack, Nora decided the iron was cool enough, and removed a newssheet clipping from her apron pocket. Laying it out, she pressed it very gently, so it looked crisp and new again.
Princess Elena Marone of Mirenze to visit London read the headline.”
Would you have preferred I just said “Eleanora ironed the newssheet?” If so, why? And if you prefer the description, what did you take away from it? Why do you want this information?
I’ll happily give a free e-book of Notorious Atherton to the best answer.
And while you’re pondering my question above, I’ll take on Leonard’s rule “don’t start a book with the weather.”
“Lightning flashed from the metallic cloud hovering over Miami, and purple rain poured like ink through the gutters.” Would you put that book down? And no, it isn’t a book. I just made it up. Now I guess I need to write it! Try it, it's fun. Write your own weather opening.