Une masterclass avec Elmore Leonard

Dans la dernière livraison de mon infolettre, Rien Que du Bruit, j’évoquais Elmore Leonard, et citais ses dix règles d’écriture. Ouvrir un livre d’Elmore Leonard, c’est à la fois l’assurance d’un pur moment de plaisir, et pour qui se pique d’écrire, l’occasion d’apprendre deux ou trois choses utiles. Quand le livre en question propose en bonus dans sa version numérique une interview de l’auteur, conduite par Martin Amis, c’est l’occasion d’aller faire un tour dans la cuisine du maître, et d’en tirer quelques précieux enseignements…

Photo: Carlos Osorio Associated Press. Elmore Leonard travaille un manuscrit dans sa maison de Bloomfield Hills, en septembre 2010.

Leonard : I’m always writing from a point of view. I decide what the purpose of the scene is, and at least begin with some purpose. But, even more important, from whose point of view is this scene seen? Because then the narrative will take on somewhat the sound of the person who is seeing the scene. And from his dialogue, that’s what goes, somewhat, into the narrative. I start to write and I think, “Upon entering the room,” and I know I don’t want to say “Upon entering the room.” I don’t want my writing to sound like the way we were taught to write. Because I don’t want you to be aware of my writing. I don’t have the language. I have to rely upon my characters.

Amis : So, when you say it’s character-driven, do you mean you’re thinking, How would this character see this scene? Because you’re usually third-person. You don’t directly speak through your characters, but there is a kind of third-person that is a first-person in disguise. Is that the way you go at it?

Leonard : It takes on somewhat of a first-person sound, but not really. Because I like third-person. I don’t want to be stuck with one character’s viewpoint, because there are too many viewpoints. And, of course, the bad guys’ viewpoints are a lot more fun. What they do is more fun. A few years ago, a friend of mine in the publishing business called up and said, “Has your good guy decided to do anything yet?” [Laughter]

Or, I think I should start this book with the main character. Or I start a book with who I think is the main character, but a hundred pages into the book I say, “This guy’s not the main character; he’s running out of gas; I don’t even like him anymore, his attitude; he’s changed.” But he’s changed and there’s nothing I could do about it. It’s just the kind of person he is. So then I have to bring somebody along fast (…)

Amis : Now, do you settle down and map out your plots? I suspect you don’t.

Leonard : No, I don’t. I start with a character. Let’s say I want to write a book about a bail bondsman or a process server or a bank robber and a woman federal marshal. And they meet and something happens. That’s as much of an idea as I begin with. And then I see him in a situation, and I begin writing it and one thing leads to another. By page 100, roughly, I should have my characters assembled. I should know my characters because they’ve sort of auditioned in the opening scenes, and I can find out if they can talk or not. And if they can’t talk, they’re out. Or they get a minor role.

But in every book there’s a minor character who comes along and pushes his way into the plot. He’s just needed to give some information, but all of a sudden he comes to life for me. Maybe it’s the way he says it. He might not even have a name the first time he appears. The second time he has a name. The third time he has a few more lines, and away he goes, and he becomes a plot turn in the book (…)

When I’m fashioning my bad guys, though (and sometimes a good guy has had a criminal past and then he can go either way; to me, he’s the best kind of character to have), I don’t think of them as bad guys. I just think of them as, for the most part, normal people who get up in the morning and they wonder what they’re going to have for breakfast, and they sneeze, and they wonder if they should call their mother, and then they rob a bank. Because that’s the way they are. Except for real hard-core guys.


Extraits de  : Martin Amis Interviews “The Dickens of Detroit” — The Writers’ Guild Theatre, Beverly Hills, January 23, 1998. Sponsored by Writers Bloc; Andrea Grossman, Founder. Bonus inclus dans l’édition numérique du livre When the Women Come Out to Dance d’Elmore Leonard.

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