Elmore Leonard's Characters Talk or Die

Writer Says Dialogue Is Key to Survival in His Novels

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Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard's first novel, The Bounty Hunters, was published in 1953. Linda Solomon hide caption

itoggle caption Linda Solomon

The latest, Mr. Paradise, is Leonard's 38th novel. hide caption

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Elmore Leonard doesn't care to be characterized as a mystery writer. The author of Get Shorty, Maximum Bob and 52 Pickup, says he writes crime novels that delve into the bad-guy characters from the get-go rather than having them suddenly appear in the last act. NPR's Brian Naylor interviews the best-selling author on Weekend Edition Sunday.

Anyone who's read Leonard's novels — or watched many of their big-screen adaptations — knows he has an ear for dialogue.

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"From the very beginning, my purpose was to [let the characters talk]," Leonard says. "To first of all establish the characters, as many as possible in the first 100 pages and audition them. Let's see if they can talk. If they can't talk, they're liable to slip from view or get shot early on.

"If I have several bad guys, and I only want to end up with one of them, then I have to decide which one I want in the end. Normally, it's the one who's the most interesting talker."

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