Thursday, August 22, 2013

A writer's writer

My connection to Elmore Leonard, though tenuous, goes way back to the late '60s.

He lived near us in Birmingham, Michigan when I was seven or eight.

Later when I was working at Campbell-Ewald advertising, I learned he had been a copywriter there as well. Rumor has it, he penned his first novel behind a closed office door while he was supposed to be writing copy for Chevrolet.

I only really knew him through his writing.

His work is clean, compact, and seemingly effortless. For those reasons, some don't consider him to be a great writer. I consider him to be great precisely for those reasons.

He knew how to grab attention, create characters, write dialogue and craft stories that sucked you in, all without drawing attention to himself.

He told the story, never getting in the way of it.

As someone who writes for a living – albeit at a very different level – I can only admire his work and hope to learn from its craftsmanship.

Over the past two days, I have seen many celebrations of Leonard's work, but this does it best for me. It's a compilation of all the opening lines he's ever written in published novels and short stories.

What can we learn from these? The importance and power of a strong opening.

They're so good, I need to reread those I've read already and get my hands the ones I haven't.

It's a good thing I have a lot of travel time coming up.

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