Writing Tip: Advice on Finding the Start of Your Story from Elmore Leonard

by Matilda Butler on June 28, 2010

catnav-alchemy-activePost #15 – Memoir and Fiction, Writing Alchemy – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

Writing TipsIt’s Monday morning and Writing in Five time. Today’s video comes in at a record 2 minutes and 33 seconds. If you’d like to know the story behind my record breaking briefness, here’s the link to a post on Story Circle Network’s blog, Telling HerStory.

My topic for the video is taken from Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. In his final rule, Leonard tells us how to find the start of our story. As someone who never met a word she didn’t like, I value Leonard’s advice. Let’s get straight to the video and then I’ll share with you one of my favorite authors who had a hard time finding the start of his stories, at least for some of us.


Music: Enigma by Kevin MacLeod

My own penchant for lengthly writing just might have been influenced by James Michener. While in high school, I read Hawaii and became an instant fan. I suppose it is an exaggeration to say I was an instant fan since the book is 960 pages. Although I haven’t read all of his works, I have read many of his epic sagas — The Source (928 pages), Centennial (928 pages), Chesapeake (865 pages), The Covenant (879 pages), Texas (1096 pages — well the state is outsized in degree if not in land size), Alaska (868 pages), and Caribbean (a mere 672 pages).

For the first two novels, I read every word. Finally, I decided I could do without some of the history as I was eager to get on with the plot. I developed a rule of thumb–skip the first 200 pages and then start reading. Since then I’ve found others who read Michener’s books the same way. Confessing my shortcut to Kendra recently produced the news of one more person who did the same thing — her mother. I knew there was valuable information in the early part of these novels, but I still skipped to page 201.

Now you can see why I found Elmore Leonard’s advice so intriguing.

Of course, not all of Michener’s novels are physically heavy. His first novel, Tales of the South Pacific, published in 1947, was a mere 384 pages. He won the Pulitzer Prize for this story written while he was serving as a lieutenant stationed in the Pacific during World War II. His second novel, The Fire of Spring was 495 pages, adding another 100 plus pages. But it was the success of Hawaii, published in 1959 (also a Pulitzer Prize winner), that caused his publisher to urge him to put aside some of his shorter works and focus on his multigenerational epics. So, I guess I can’t blame him.

He eventually published a number of shorter novels including one (Journey, 1989, 224 pages) that was a short story cut from his novel Alaska.

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This blog has a two part message. First, I’m interested, as always, to find out if the writing tip is helpful. Does the video give you something new to think about?

Second, I’d like to know if this quite brief video still conveys enough information.

I invite your comments below.

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