‘Three-Ten to Yuma,’ even 70 years later, still defies explanation

I recently re-read “Three-Ten to Yuma” and Elmore Leonard punched me in the face again with the strength of his writing. (Commissions earned from links.)

Leonard writes so well that every time I read him, I wonder why I even try. His writing reaches artistic levels of perfection that only a few authors have ever achieved. His sentences flow and his dialogue astonishes me, no matter how many times I read him.

Three-Ten to Yuma” contains such power, even as a 23-page short story, that the classic Western continues to sell well today, and Hollywood has TWICE made it into a movie. How can such a short account reach such acclaim? (Especially given it was hastily written as a short story for a magazine, and this is back when Leonard woke up each morning at 5 a.m. to write a few lines before working his full-time job and caring for his kids and family at night.)

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I regularly try to study it to improve my own writing. And I thought we’d re-visit some of the writing and dialogue from this flawless tale in the hopes that it brings you half as much joy as it brought me.

In the story, lawman Paul Scallen is taking a high-profile criminal (Jimmy Kidd) to stand trial. All Scallen, the sole marshal, has to do is get Scallen, the murdering fugitive, to a train in just a few hours.

He’s only a few blocks away, but seven men from Scallen’s gang stand between the lawman and the train.

I won’t give more of the story away, but here’s some of the crisp, sharp writing, which grabs you.

“Nobody’s going to blame you with the odds stacked seven to one,” Kidd said. “You know your wife’s not going to complain.”

“You should have been a lawyer, Jim,” Scallen replied.

And then later, with the seven men watching the lawman and their leader, the criminal says, “What do you want me to tell them?”

The lawman instantly responds, “Tell them you’ll write every day.”

Finally, I’ll share this bit from them walking along a deserted street.

“Scallen a stride behind with the shotgun barrel almost touching Kidd’s back. … There was a whisper of wind along the ramadas. It whipped sand specks from the street and rattled them against clapboard. Somewhere a screen door banged, far away.”

Hope you enjoyed that as much as I did.

If you’ve seen the film or read the book, and have any thoughts on it, let me know below. If you’ve not read “Three-Ten to Yuma” or seen the movie, which is just incredible, then I’d recommend you do both.

I’ll try to post some great writing again soon, so subscribe if you haven’t already done so. I love writing and I love reading, and I want to spread that passion that I have for the written word as much as I can. So, please consider subscribing to the site so you can enjoy some great writing on a regular basis.

Until next time,

Until next time,

Stan R. Mitchell


About me: My name is Stan R. Mitchell, and I write exciting, fast-paced thrillers. Both military action and mystery whodunnits. Ten books penned. 70,000+ sold. Some of my favorite authors and influences are Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn, Robert B. Parker, and Stephen Hunter.

If you enjoy them, then more than likely you’ll enjoy my writing.

I also share great writing (from others) on my website, so consider subscribing for that. You can find all ten of my books here:  http://amzn.to/1brrc37(Note: by clicking this link or others, I get a small commission. See below.) #USMC #SemperFidelis

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2 thoughts on “‘Three-Ten to Yuma,’ even 70 years later, still defies explanation

  1. Elmore Leonard was a great one, in my opinion, and I enjoyed his westerns. My favorite of his westerns is “Valdez is Coming,” with “Hombre” a close second.
    “Three-Ten To Yuma” is another really good one, with Leonard’s quick and witty dialogue and his insight into a man’s thoughts.

    Liked by 2 people

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