This week’s writing tip comes from a quote by famed western and crime novelist Elmore Leonard. I came across the quote some time ago and it didn’t resonate with me right away. It really hit home, however, when I began reading my first book, Frankly Speaking, as I recorded the audio book. It is amazing what you uncover when you read your work aloud. I found some of the sentences to be clumsy and even difficult to read at times. I had read in another writing tips book to read your work aloud as you rewrite it. I always thought that it was a waste of time, but I am now convinced that it isn’t.
Another tip from Leonard took on additional meaning as I read my book aloud. He says, “take out the parts that people skip.” As I read my book, I found one or two spots where I had some redundancy and maybe some back story items that just didn’t matter in advancing the story. When I used to read books by Tom Clancy, I often found myself skipping all of the minutia of the military operations that he describes in great detail. I found that I could completely skip these sections, that were sometimes 10-20 pages, and not lose any plot points within the story.
My wonderful editor, Catherine Violando, cracked down on me when I was writing my books. I tend to insert a lot of back story because I think the readers want to know what is motivating my characters to do the things they do. I would have big chunks of information about the characters’ childhood and family life. She encouraged me to insert little pieces of this information here and there and not dump it on my readers all at once. I noticed, as I read other writers work, they used this technique as well. Stephen King is famous for giving the reader little tidbits about the character and then leaving them hanging. He might write something like, “John Doe spent the day with his children on a bright, sunny Saturday. He loved to spend the day this way. Too bad this would be his last.” Then he might end the chapter and not tell you what happened to John Doe for another couple of chapters.
It will be interesting, as I continue writing the 3rd book in the Frank Rozzani series and move on to read the 2nd one for audio book publishing, if I’ve learned anything and have improved. What I have learned, and this should be something that every writer realizes, completing your book with no grammatical or punctuation errors is only the beginning. Read your work aloud and take out the things that readers skip.
As I chronologically read the books of Elmore Leonard, I can see that he practiced what he preached and improved from book to book. Was his work perfect? I’m about a third of the way through his books, and no, they are not. They do, however, show his progression as a writer over time. He wrote novels on a pace of one every 1.5 years or so. I have written two in six months while working full time. Leonard’s slower pace is likely due to the traditional publishing route, which was the only option at that time. I’m sure he had countless professional editors and marketing plans. Self published authors don’t have these same luxuries, but there is no reason that we cannot produce work that is both entertaining and high-quality. Reading your work aloud and skipping those things that don’t advance the story are two tricks you can use to get there.
I look forward, as always, to your comments and questions.
About Don Massenzio
Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.
Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.
His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.
The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.
Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.
Find out more about Don at his web site: