August 20, 2013

"Over the years, we've discussed Elmore Leonard at least as often as any other writer..."

Says Language Log (on the occasion of Leonard's death). What was it about Leonard's writing that caught the linguist's attention? There are a bunch of links to old posts. I clicked on "Elmore's Adverbs":
Yesterday I objected to Terrence Rafferty's description of Elmore Leonard's writing style as "no gassy speeches, just behavior in all its unaccountable variety"; and I even did a tiny stylometric experiment to support my impression that his characters -- the heroes as well as the villains -- are in fact unusually talky....

It turns out that I could instead have simply made an argument ad auctoritatem. Andrew Brown from Helmintholog sent in a link to his post "St. Elmore's Fire" (10/8/2005), in which he quoted this passage from B.R. Myers' review of The Hot Kid in the November 2005 Atlantic ("The Prisoner of Cool"):
Though pioneered a century ago by the English dandy Ronald Firbank, and then popularized by a man whose first name was Evelyn, the technique of letting conversation carry a story is regarded in America as the tough guy’s way to write a novel, and Leonard makes no secret of his pride in it. Unfortunately, it compels him (as it did Firbank and Waugh) to stick to talkative characters. This excludes the true professionals on both sides of the law, leaving us with small-time cops and ex-cons who rarely keep quiet long enough to seem cool. They’re street-smart for sure, but although the recurring interjection “The fuck’m I doing here?” certainly puts Sartre in a nutshell, no one seems to think about anything, at least not anything interesting.

10 comments:

America's Politico said...

There has been no movie so much fun than "Get Shorty". Pity that the sequel, Be Cool, did not follow the book, Be Cool. Read the book and you will see the genius of Elmore Leonard. RIP.

The Godfather said...

Thanks for reminding me of Elmore Leonard. I've read and enjoyed perhaps a dozen of his crime novels (I didn't know he'd written westerns). Now I see from Google that he wrote at least 50 books. This amazes me. I work like a dog to write a 50-page brief, but Leonard turns out good, page turning 250-page novels like a chicken laying eggs. John D. McDonald churned out several novels a year, in various genres, decade after decade. C.S. Forester wrote not only a dozen Horatio Hornblower novels (all of which I've read, and will read again if I live long enough), but a score of others, including The African Queen and The Good Shepherd.

My point is that there is something remarkable (and admirable) about writers who can create a great number of entertaining yarns, page turners.

wildswan said...

I kind of think that really good writing is a mystery - it's just like a lot of other writing if you try to describe it but it's unlike anything else when you read it. Tishomingo Blues.

MadisonMan said...

Even the Onion mentioned it.

Link.

Scott M said...

Struggling through trying to write a novel myself, I was interested to see his list Leonard's rules making the rounds on teh interwebz the past couple of days.

The one I simply cannot get my mind around is his rule about never using any verb other than "said" when attributing dialog. I've not read anything of his (but I will soon), but endless ," said Vickie and ," said Tony, over and over again seems lifeless to me. Why not use verbs creatively to add nuance to the dialog? ," smiled Vickie, or ," laughed Tony ?

In response to that question, I was told by an editor that including such descriptive/emotive verbs like that falls into the region of telling instead of showing. Okay, I get that, but the endless procession of ," said has got to be an equally grave sin, if for no other reason than tedium.

Scott M said...

There has been no movie so much fun than "Get Shorty". Pity that the sequel, Be Cool, did not follow the book, Be Cool. Read the book and you will see the genius of Elmore Leonard. RIP.

Given the hullabaloo over Leonard these past couple of days, I was looking to see which novel(s) I should read. Thanks for the suggestions.

damikesc said...

Not a huge Elmore fan (read a ton of his stuff, but was wowed by little of it). L.A Confidential the movie and whatever the title the book it was based on was were spectacular versions of classic noire.

When he was on, he was quite good. I just didn't think he was on that often.

Cody Wyoming said...

Coincidentally, I finished what may have been his last novel, "Road Dogs" (2009) on the day he died.

Favorite movie is "Jackie Brown" based on his book "Rum Punch."

Also, favorite TV series is "Justified" based on his characters.

Cody Wyoming said...

Coincidentally, I finished what may have been his last novel, "Road Dogs" (2009) on the day he died.

Favorite movie is "Jackie Brown" based on his book "Rum Punch."

Also, favorite TV series is "Justified" based on his characters.

D. Luthor said...

I just got one of his books a few days ago. He has hung around my area a lot. This is the first I have read of his death :(