by K.M. Zahrt
This is the legend of the writer who debunked Elmore Leonard’s famous “10 Rules for Good Writing.” Let me give you some context, just some brief background information to set the stage. The characters in this story were married at a young age and lived in an area of the country that was typically cold and rainy all year. The writer once had a promising writing career – that is, he promised his wife he would write for a career. He kept that promise throughout the passing years. Now, the writer’s wife’s family money was dwindling, and they were no longer young.
It was a cold and rainy day. The writer was in his studio working while listening to the pitter-patter of the water droplets landing on the roof overhead. The writer’s wife snuck into his studio, peeked over his shoulder, and read the title of the piece he was working on.
“Hmm,” she grunted gutturally.
“What is it, dear?” asked the writer.
The writer continued to write. The wife hemmed and hawed.
The writer suddenly stopped. “What’s on your mind, dear?”
“Oh, it’s nothing…” She paced away, then returned. “It’s just… And, keep in mind, I haven’t read it yet, but… Shouldn’t the title be ‘The Writer Who Wrote Unreadable Writing’?”
“I don’t think so,” said the writer. He returned to his scribbling.
“But what, dear?”
“The way you’re using ‘unreadably’ here – it’s describing the act of writing, not the product, the writing itself.”
“I’m just asking, how can someone’s act of writing be unreadable? And, I’m not sure ‘unreadably’ is a word.”
“I don’t need to ‘read’ you to see that you’re acting like you’re writing. That’s all.”
“That’s all I’m saying.”
The writer set down his pen. “What is it exactly that you’re saying, exactly?”
The wife sighed and left the studio.
A moment later she returned with a writer’s manual. “It says here you shouldn’t use the same word twice in one paragraph, let alone one sentence.”
“I won’t, dear.”
“You just did.”
The writer looked over his work. “No, I haven’t.”
The wife sighed.
“Dear, I’m trying to write right now.”
“If you’re in the mood to help, isn’t there something else you can do? Did you review the story I wrote last week?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Well, to start, the dialect is strange.”
“I’m afraid readers won’t understand what the characters are saying.”
“Alright, I’ll look at it.”
“And, it’s not very compelling.”
“What are you talking about? It’s loaded with tension.”
“Conflict, honey. The manual calls it ‘conflict.’”
“Fine, dear. Conflict. Anything else?”
“There’s too much needless description of characters, objects, and locations. It says you want to draw a vivid picture, but leave room for the reader’s imagination.”
The writer looked at her over his round-rimmed glasses that were perched on the end of his nose.
“Some of the descriptions are a bit lengthy,” she added.
The wife flipped to a different page in the writer’s manual. “It says here you want to leave out parts that readers might be inclined to skip.”
“You think readers might want to skip some of my descriptions.”
“Well, when you described where the characters were, you began with a description of the Big Bang.”
“It’s important to the story arc. I don’t think you understand the point.”
“Okay. Maybe that’s true.”
“Just one last, little thing.” She turned to another page. “It says here you want to avoid cliché.”
“And, what about my story is cliché?”
“To start, in describing the Big Bang, you wrote, ‘All hell broke loose.’”
“It did, yes. That’s accurate.”
“That’s a cliché. And, what does that even mean, for all hell to break loose?”
The writer stood up suddenly and knocked the manual out of her hands. “Your father wasn’t a glass maker!”
The wife’s jaw hit the floor. “You’ve got some nerve.”
“You haven’t seen anything yet!”
She rose to the occasion. “You better tread lightly.”
“You make better writer’s block than…”
“Oh. That makes sense.” She rolled her eyes.
“Than an editor.”
“Oh. That’s good.” She cackled.
“Than a wife!”
“Your goose is cooked!” She turned and stomped out of the studio.
“That’s right. And don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out!”
“Stunningly original,” she yelled hysterically from the hallway. “That’s what they’ll put on your dust jacket!”
“Oh, you can take that to the bank.”
She popped her head back in the doorway. “The dusty jacket you’re wearing is the only one you’ll ever have, and the only place that should go is in the dumpster.”
“You’ll eat your words!”
“I may have to. Are you ever going to make a living?”
“That’s it. That’s exactly it!”
The writer’s tone changed from rage to excitement.
“That’s the point of my story.” He began pacing the room. “We’re living on a dying planet, orbiting a dwindling star, in a Universe that will ultimately dissolve, so what’s the point of ‘making a living.’ We’re dead to rights any way you slice it.”
The wife’s faced turned ghostly. “Was that the point of your story?”
“Yes. Of course.”
“Oh, ha! I get it now. That’s actually pretty good.”
“So, you liked it then?”
“No. It still needs work. It’s unreadably boring.”
Note: If you find an instance in which one of Elmore Leonard’s famous “10 Rules for Good Writing” was broken, list the rule number and the instance below. According to the legend, if we find all 10, magical pots of gold will appear on all of our desks. This is said to be a share of the writer’s living wages.