Okay, so I know I’m being annoying by titling each post with a bland sentence, and then presenting the better sentence by the published author in my post, but I have to do it. There is a difference, and it is my hope to both highlight and perpetuate that difference. In Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr, she writes, “A fanfare of trumpets spears the sky. Then a church bell rings, and dogs, burros, and cows confuse the thin morning air with their complaints.” The experience of sound explodes from this scene. The animals complaining contribute to the overarching theme of the book and its long forgotten, po-dunk dusty town, Ibarra. When I read this book in my Masters program, every page lent me a new way of seeing and of understanding the well chosen word.
In this description, we not only know that this town doesn’t have much car traffic, but we see a picture of the town. “Ibarra was a town of a hundred burros, half as many bycicles, one daily bus and two automobiles. One of these cars belonged to the Evertons, the other to a former Mayor. But the Mayor set his Studebaker up on blocks outside his door after the tires and some engine parts were stolen.” With this passage, we don’t only see the town’s meagreness, but also its meanness, and the habitants’ succumbed attitude to any and all experiences to which they are subject…like they have given up for generations. Harriet Doerr is the author to study when your writing teacher says, “Make every word count.” In this they mean, don’t write, “She wanted to improve her Spanish skills.” Instead, write, “When at last she noticed the grammatic precision of Mexican children barely able to walk, when she heard them utter their first word, ‘Mamma,’ and follow it soon after with the subjunctive, she arranged for weekly sessions with the Madre.” I know, I know. We all have other things to say and different ways to write than Harriet Doerr. But, after what Anne Lemott calls the first crappy draft, we can look to our experts for advice. 🙂