The animals made a ruckus.

by Harriet Doerr

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.  🙂

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7 responses to “The animals made a ruckus.

  1. Beautiful post! Evocative and instructive, too. Thanks!
    C.

  2. Two things – other than thorough enjoyment – inspired me about Harriett and Ibara and those were: the idea of the ‘sprung’ novel, which was a true inspiration in mechanics; and Harriett’s bio – back to school/write a novel/win awards at 60ish. At 50-ish myself, this marvelous woman and her book inspired my midlife challenge to write a novel and take it and myself seriously! Thank for this post Elizabeth.

    – from another SheWriter

  3. “… dogs, burros, and cows confuse the thin morning air with their complaints.” Great.

  4. I’ve never read Harriet Doerr but she sounds like she has a magnificent way with word painting. I think this makes for quite an experience for any reader. I will have to check out “Ibarra!”

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