Breaking Elmore Leonard’s Rule #3
“Rule #3—Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue,” he said.
“Well, how boring is that?” she said.
“Unobtrusive,” he said.
“Tedious,” she said.
“Concise,” he said. “Invisible.”
“Ha!” she said.
“Did you just use an exclamation point?” he said.
“Should I have exclaimed?” she said.
“Please don’t,” he said.
“Shouldn’t my last “said” be an “ask”?” she said, wondering about placement of internal quote marks.
“Just drop the tag,” he said. “Why ask at all?”
“What about rhythm?”
“You know,” she said, “all the words together form a rhythm.”
“Ummm,” he said.
“And tags can be used to vary rhythm,” she said.
“Ummm,” he said again.
“How annoying!” she said, wishing he’d just repeat himself. “What about whispering? What about demanding? Cajoling? Yelling and yelping?”
“Tone and emotion should all be clear from context,” he said.
“Ha!” she said.
“That’s two. You get three every 100,000 words. Rule #5,” he said.
“You missed 4,” she said.
“Adverbs.” He shuddered visibly.
She could see that if he shuddered, it would probably be visibly. Refusing to be distracted, she stuck to her guns, though using a cliché might break rule #6. “Scolding? Reproving? Admonishing?”
“Only Victorians admonish,” he said.
“So you say,” she said.
“And academics,” he said.
“So dialogue tags can be used to characterize,” she said. It was not a question.
“Ummm,” he said.
“Muttering? Mumbling? Murmuring? Musing? Subtle differences all clear from context? Coaxing? Wheedling? Enticing?”
“Distracting,” he said. “Why clutter the sentence with ornate verbs?”
“Why not clarify the sentence with the exact verb?” she had to ask.
“It should all be clear from context,” he said. Again.
“What about sudden changes—all clear from context?”
“Really, all you need is said,” he said. “Simple. Clean. Unpretentious. All but imperceptible.”
“Years before I read Elmore Leonard’s rules,” she said, “I read a page and a half of a different bestselling author’s short terse dialogue, that ended with “he said” after every sentence.”
“I mean ghastly,” she said. “Gruesome.”
“You exaggerate,” he said.
“Chinese water torture,” she said. “No, too subtle,” she said. “Sledge hammer!” she said – using another forbidden exclamation point.
“You used “said” too many times,” he said.
“Have I made my point?” she said.
Young American painter Theodora Faraday struggles to become an artist in Belle Époque Paris. She’s tasted the champagne of success, illustrating poems for the Revenants, a group of poets led by her adored cousin, Averill. When children she knows vanish mysteriously, Theo confronts Inspecteur Michel Devaux who suspects the Revenants are involved. Theo refuses to believe the killer could be a friend—could be the man she loves. Classic detection and occult revelation lead Michel and Theo through the dark underbelly of Paris, from catacombs to asylums, to the obscene ritual of a Black Mass.
Following the maze of clues they discover the murderer believes he is the reincarnation of the most evil serial killer in the history of France—Gilles de Rais. Once Joan of Arc’s lieutenant, after her death he plunged into an orgy of evil. The Church burned him at the stake for heresy, sorcery, and the depraved murder of hundreds of peasant children. Whether deranged mind or demonic passion incite him, the killer must be found before he strikes again.
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Genre – Historical Mystery
Rating – R
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