Writing Tips from Elmore Leonard’s Boyd Crowder

If you haven’t watched Justified, check it out. It’s a goldmine for writers. The FX series is based on Elmore Leonard’s short story, Fire in the Hole, and three books, including Raylan. In fact, all the actors wore wrist bands that read WWED — What Would Elmore Do?— to stay true to the creator’s vision.

Elmore Leonard worked on the show till his death in 2013.

The series follows Raylan Givens, a U.S. Marshal, played by Timothy Olyphant, who returns to his hometown of Kentucky to take on the local criminal element. Boyd Crowder, an old friend, proves to be his toughest nemesis. Raylan may be the hero, but Boyd, the villain, steals almost every scene. Boyd is calm, funny, and deadly. The back-and-forth between Boyd and Raylan is absolutely mesmerizing. Elmore Leonard did a masterful job of creating these two characters.

I’m not sure if we mere mortals could pull off such a memorable character like Boyd, but he sure is inspiring. Aside from Leonard’s expert characterization, the remarkable talent of Walton Goggins never lets you see the full picture as clearly as you think you do. Just when you’ve figured Boyd out, he switches sides and teams up with Raylan to bring down a bad guy.

Writing Tip: The best villains have at least one endearing characteristic.

To Elmore Leonard’s credit, Raylon also blurs the line between hero and anti-hero.

Writing Tip: The best heroes are flawed.

Fun fact: Walton Goggins only signed on for the pilot episode, in which Boyd was supposed to die, but Elmore Leonard wanted to explore the character in more depth. The rest, as they say, is history.

Boyd Crowder’s Characterization

Rap sheet: Silver-tongued bank robber turned low-level Kentucky kingpin with higher aspirations and an occasional religious “born again” streak.

Superpower: Nobody who knows this many 50c words has fewer compunctions about stabbing you in the back. Nobody likely to stab you in the back knows this many 50c words.

Kryptonite: He’s desperately in love with his former sister-in-law.

Writing Tip: When crafting characters think outside the box.

What makes Boyd truly stand out is his poetic dialogue, which we’ll get to in a sec. First, let’s look at a few of his one-liners.

Arguing with a man who has renounced reason is like giving medicine to the dead.

I believe you dictate the river of fate through your own actions.

I’ve learned to think without arguing with myself.

A man who speaks out both sides of his mouth deserves to have it permanently shut.

I’ve been accused of bein’ a lot of things. Inarticulate ain’t one of ’em.

He’s right! I should probably note: Until you’re as famous as Elmore Leonard, attempting the following dialogue in your WIP might not work. 😉

Boyd: Well, well, well… I hesitate to ask what brings us the pleasure of this divine coincidence that we find ourselves crossing paths this fine spring morning.

Translation: What are you doing here?

Boyd: I fear, my brother, I am in a quandary as to your inner thoughts and the impact of said ruminations on your future actions in this here hollow.

Translation: What’s up?

Boyd: Mr. Augustine, seeing as how Drew Thompson’s already in the Marshalls’ custody, why you’re cutting off the tail of my cousin and offering him up is opaque to me.

Translation: What do you want?

Boyd: I fear that within my belly stirs the emanations of desire for a product that sates the ache within.

Translation: I’m hungry.

Boyd: Well, my darling, being a lowly omnivore like yourself, I shall choose from this glorious list of animal flesh—the edible prize that men have hunted and killed for centuries, incidentally—a rounded flesh of cow, slipped within a doughy mattress, saddled with cheddar.

Translation: I’ll have a cheeseburger.

Boyd: Be that as it may, I sense within me a growing, nagging torpor that seeks a temporary hibernation in a solitary area for comfort and slumber.

Translation: I’m going to bed.

Make no mistake. Boyd is a dangerous guy. Check out one of the best murder speeches ever written.

That’s a rap, folks! May 2021 be your most successful year yet.

Have you watched Justified or read Fire in the Hole?

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About Sue Coletta

Sue Coletta is an award-winning crime writer and an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. Feedspot and Expertido.org named her Murder Blog as “Best 100 Crime Blogs on the Net” (2018-2021). She also blogs at the Kill Zone (Writer's Digest "101 Best Websites for Writers" 2013-2021). Sue lives with her husband and two spoiled guinea pigs in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire and writes two psychological thriller series (Tirgearr Publishing) and true crime/narrative nonfiction (Rowman & Littlefield). And recently, she appeared on the Emmy award-winning true crime series Storm of Suspicion, and will be a panelist at the 2021 New England Crime Bake. Learn more about Sue and her books at https://suecoletta.com

35 thoughts on “Writing Tips from Elmore Leonard’s Boyd Crowder

  1. I saw Justified, wonderful series and Boyd Crowder character. I haven’t read the Elmore Leonard story or books upon which the series was based, but the Crowder character is deeper and more nuanced than a similar character Goggins played later on The Shield, where he is overshadowed by Vic, the gritty, urban main character.

  2. Saw two episodes of the second season, noticed Leonard’s name and story referenced as “based on” and searched, found, and read it… and I don’t believe a better Boyd Crowder could’ve been cast… (hard to see Mr. Goggins in any other role, though he plays them all equally well and uniquely).

  3. One of my all-time favorite series. Fun fact, the novel Raylan was written AFTER the show debuted, and Leonard has said the characters in the novel were based on those versions created for the show, rather than their original versions in his earlier stories. Either way, it had one of the best all around casts in TV history. (Sam Elliott has never been more wonderfully evil). And no one wrote dialogue like Leonard (although the show did lean in to Boyd’s loquaciousness. Leonard’s dialogue is traditionally far shorter and punchier).

    • Gregg, another fun fact about the novel Raylan…by happy coincidence, Justified always premiered on Tuesday nights and books were (and are) published on Tuesdays. The cover of Raylan consisted of a drawing of the character. On the episode of Justified that night, Raylan walks into the U.S. Attorney’s office all dressed up and someone says, “Now there’s a face that could be on the cover of a book!” PERFECT!

      • Ha, that’s awesome! Leonard was the epitome of cool, and Justified captured that essence perfectly.

  4. I haven’t seen “Justified,” but I’d like to watch just to see Boyd’s dialogue in action!

    Speaking of masters of the craft of writing, please allow me to sneak in a plug for the interview I did with James Scott Bell about his book “Write Your Novel from the Middle” and other subjects. It’s on my blog today at

    Drop by and say hello!

  5. Thanks, Sue, for a great post. I haven’t watched the Justified series, but I’ll check it out. Loved the dialogue. I want to read Raylan. Thanks for all the work you put into your posts.

    • Haha. Right, Debbie? Our TBR piles are toppling over as it is.

      Just once, I’d love to order a cheeseburger like Boyd and see what happens. 🙂

      Emailing you this morning…

  6. Sue, I’ve not watched “Justified” nor read the story or novels the series is based on, but your rundown of this colorful villain is so compelling and fun, I’ll have to check them out.

    Leonard’s “Get Shorty” was such a fun novel and movie. He was such a master of dialogue–I remember reading his Western “Valdez is Coming” and just being swept up by the narrative and the dialogue. Even more so with “Get Shorty.” I really need to read all his novels.

    Great post! Thank you!

  7. Fabulous, Sue, fabulous. You could do a month’s worth of posts about Justified and barely scratch the surface. The series was perfect from the beginning of the first episode to the ending of the last.

    I at one point was affiliated with a law office on the Ohio-Kentucky border and had clients from South Shore, KY, Harlan, and all points in between. The casting and character development on Justified was so spot-on that I started mentally naming characters after people I knew down there. The series in my mind often trod the line between fiction and documentary.

    Thanks for another great post, Sue! BTW, Walter Goggins was also in the last season or two of Sons of Anarchy!

    • Thank you, Joe! You nailed it. Writers could dissect any episode of Justified and learn something new. Storytelling at its finest.

      The series in my mind often trod the line between fiction and documentary.

      So true! While noodling around online to confirm my research, I came across more than one Harlan resident who said the same thing.
      Fun fact: Justified wasn’t filmed in Kentucky. They shot most of the episodes in Oregon and (northern?) California.

      I loved Goggins in Sons of Anarchy! Another superb series.

  8. A bad guy who has a really, really good reason in his own mind to do what he is doing is far scarier than the standard bland sociopath or blathering narcissist. Make his good qualities more than a veneer to hide the rot within. Have a few good characters actually respect him for those qualities so the reader/main character doubts those who say otherwise until the rot is exposed to the light.

    When you are writing the story, listen to your subconscious because it will often give you a final key to understanding what broke this person. In STAR-CROSSED, my villain Cadaran controls the systemic abuse of men in the slave harem, and she brutalizes a major character. She likes her sex rough. I knew she hated men and needed to dominate them, but the one key to what makes her what she is came when her victim says, “Did some big bad man mangle you?” Bingo. I now knew her secret. She’d been raped by a man when she was a young soldier, and she’s spent her life dominating men and having rough sex to prove she can take it.

  9. I loved Justified. I think its best season was the second, with Margo Martindale as Mags Bennett. Be careful of her apple pie! Timothy Olyphant, Walton Goggins, and Margo Martindale all won Emmys for this season.

    Casting can really make or break the best characters. Walton Goggins had an existing relationship with FX from The Shield and is cast in the pilot as Boyd. He gave such a great performance that instead of dying as the character does in the short story series creator Graham Yost keeps him around. The relationship between Boyd and Raylan becomes central to the series. Margo Martindale builds her own network relationship and goes on to The Americans.

    • Oh, right, catfriend! I forgot she went on to The Americans. Loved that series, as well. And yes, I agree. The cast can make or break a series.

  10. I agree that Justified was /is terrific. I think the way Raylan and Boyd played off each other added to the charm of both characters.
    But its isn’t the only great work that Mr. Leonard did. Check out ‘Get Shorty’. Travolta, Hackman, Russo, and Devito are all great but don’t overlook the supporting actors like Dennis Farina (now gone to heaven) and Delroy Lindo. Great movie, great book. Thank you, Elmore.

    • I loved Get Shorty, as well, Brian. Elmore Leonard gave us so many amazing storylines, and the top-notch casts only improved the characters.

  11. Never heard of this. Watched a clip on YouTube. The filthy language is disgusting. Won’t be watching or reading. I will not put that junk in my mind. The world has enough filth already. Resorting to this language reveals lack of class and creativity in writing, despite claims of “only presenting real life”. Too Bad.

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