Elmore Leonard

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Elmore Leonard at the 2011 Peabody Awards
Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
—Elmore Leonard's Rule #10 of writing

Elmore Leonard (b. 1925) is an American novelist and screenwriter. He started as a writer of westerns, but switched to whodunits and modern pulp fiction, where he has gotten the most acclaim. Several of his novels have been adapted to screen, both big and small, and he has also written a few screenplays.

He's known as "The Dickens of Detroit" for his catchy, intimate descriptions of the people of that city (he lives in the Detroit suburbs). Author wannabes should definitely read up on him. His prose style and ear for dialogue are worth checking out for inspiration. Kingsley Amis once told him, "Your prose makes Raymond Chandler look clumsy."

Also worth checking out by author wannabes is his Ten Rules of Writing. To sum up briefly: knock it off with the Purple Prose.

Works written by Elmore Leonard include:

Some of his better-known novels:

  • Three-Ten to Yuma (short story, 1953): adapted for the big screen in 1957 and 2007
  • Last Stand at Saber River (1959): on the small screen in 1997 starring Tom Selleck
  • Hombre (1961): big screen in 1967, starring Paul Newman
  • The Big Bounce: written in 1969, adapted for the big screen that same year before the novel was released, then re-adapted for the big screen in 2004. Neither movie did the book much justice. Has a character named Jack Ryan.
  • The Moonshine War (1969): big screen in 1970
  • Valdez is Coming (1970): big screen in 1971
  • Mr. Majestyk (1974): big screen the same year, starring Charles Bronson
  • 52 Pick-Up (1974): big screen in 1986
  • Unknown Man No. 89 (1977)
  • City Primeval (1980)
  • La Brava (1983): won an Edgar Award
  • Get Shorty (1990): big screen in 1995
  • Maximum Bob (1991): made into a short-lived 1998 TV series
  • Rum Punch (1992): big screen in 1997
  • Out of Sight (1996): big screen in 1998
  • Be Cool (1999): big screen in 2005
  • Fire in the Hole (2001): made into 2010 TV series Justified
  • Tishomingo Blues (2002): Leonard's favorite of his own work
  • The Hot Kid (2005)
  • Road Dogs (2009)

He also wrote some screenplays that were not based on one of his novels:

  • Joe Kidd (1972), starring Clint Eastwood
  • Stick (1985), directed by and starring Burt Reynolds
  • The Rosary Murders (1987), starring Donald Sutherland and an uncredited Jack White (as an altar boy!)
Elmore Leonard provides examples of the following tropes:
  • Action Girl: Elmore features strong, independent, and sometimes very violent leading ladies. Karen Sisco is perhaps his best-known heroine.
  • Affably Evil
  • Anti-Hero
  • Anti-Villain
  • Black and Grey Morality
  • Casual Danger Dialog: Good examples abound in his fiction.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Best example -- the ice-cream cone in The Hot Kid.
  • Continuity Nod: While not especially known for recurring "series characters," readers will often encounter recurring characters. Often a minor character from an earlier novel will be a main character in a later book, or vice versa. One can make a game out of tracking Elmore Leonard's minor characters from work to work:
    • Road Dogs unites characters from Out of Sight, La Brava, and 1995's Riding the Rap.
    • Jack Foley in Out Of Sight and Road Dogs novels gets hit with hard time thanks to the judge from Maximum Bob.
    • Ray Nicolette pops up in both Rum Punch and Out of Sight. When Michael Keaton played Ray in Jackie Brown (retitled from Rum Punch) he also cameoed as the character later when Out of Sight got made into a film.
    • U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, currently appearing on TV's Justified, was the lead character in Pronto and Riding the Rap before being reassigned to Kentucky in the short story "Fire in the Hole," on which the series is technically based.
  • Hanging Judge: Maximum Bob
  • Hello, Attorney!: Several examples, most notably Carolyn Wilder in City Primeval.
  • Kudzu Plot: The beauty of Leonard's prose is that it tends to un-complicate complicated plots. (Check out La Brava.)
  • Only in Florida: While Detroit gets a lot of love, Elmore also sets a lot of action in Florida.
  • Motor City: Elmore obviously loves his adopted home town.
  • The Plan: He's got a funny way of making them seem pretty simple.
  • Purple Prose: Averted. Definitely not Beige Prose, though.
  • Said Bookism: Averted. One of Leonard's "Ten Rules" advises against this.
  • Sequel: Get Shorty is one of the few of his novels to receive the full sequel treatment, with Be Cool.
  • Show Within a Show: "Mr. Lovejoy" from Get Shorty. "It will be my Driving Miss Daisy".
  • A Simple Plan: In Swag and Rum Punch, it goes predictably awry.
  • US Marshal: Several recurring characters, including Raylan Givens, Karen Sisco, and her father, Marshall Sisco (retired, and yes, he was "Marshal Marshall Sisco.")
  • Wild West