The Republic of Letters

Elmore Leonard’s Rules For Good Writing

800px-Elmore_LeonardIf you haven’t heard already, Elmore Leonard died today at his home in Bloomfield Township, Mich. He was 87. Proving again that fame is a vain pursuit, I’m constantly surprised by the number of people who’re either completely ignorant of him or his work. Probably because of the movie, the work which elicits the most “Oh, yeas.”, though, is his 2005 novel “Get Shorty.” Yea, Leonard wrote that. Anyway, in 2001 he wrote a short piece for the Times explaining his rules for writing. It’s a gem. Read it. Keep it. Use it.

  1.  Never open a book with weather.
  2.  Avoid prologues.
  3.  Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4.  Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” … he admonished gravely.
  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.”
  7.  Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8.  Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9.  Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10.  Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

(HT: Gilbert Cruz/Vulture and image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Come Let Us Reason, Let Us Talk Of Many Things

Renoir14There is no point in denying it. Calling a blog “The Republic of Letters” is pretentious. I’m unmoved by that objection, however. For, I love the name and, even more so, I love what it betokens. Historian Robert Darnton explains:

The eighteenth century imagined the Republic of Letters as a realm with no police, no boundaries, and no inequalities other than those determined by talent. Anyone could join it by exercising the two main attributes of citizenship, writing and reading. Writers formulated ideas, and readers judged them. Thanks to the power of the printed word, the judgments spread in widening circles, and the strongest arguments won. (The Case for Books, p.4)

What’s not to love? A realm where no heed is paid to an argument’s pedigree or any other vain dint of contingency, but what carries the day are arguments which are cogent, sound, logical and sage. Such a realm should be prized and this blog exists to realize this ideal. Argument is relished on this blog, not for it’s own sake nor for the sake of any petite and pointless game of one-ups-man-ship, but–as quaint it may sound–for wisdom. So, as the title of this inaugural post, inspired by the prophet Isaiah, implores: Come let us reason, let us talk of many things.

( “Luncheon of The Boating Party” by Renoir/Wikimedia Commons)