What’s in a Gunshot?

Untitled design (1)Larry McMurtry takes his time establishing the story world of Lonesome Dove. In the early pages of the book, Gus enters the springhouse and hears a rattlesnake but decides not to shoot it:

Excerpt: . . . a shot could cause complications. Everybody in town would hear it and conclude either that the Comanches were down from the plains or the Mexicans up from the river. If any of the customers of the Dry Bean, the town’s one saloon, happened to be drunk or unhappy–which was very likely–they would probably run out into the street and shoot a Mexican or two, just to be on the safe side.


My Take-away:
There’s no gunshot, only the possibility of one, but look at where that possibility leads in a masterful storyteller’s mind.

McMurtry can seduce a reader for quite a while without a hook. Instead we get thrust into the setting in the simple act of Gus walking from the porch to the springhouse to get a cool drink of water. So much is revealed of him, the climate, the people. And one reason it works so well it that it’s all integrated, not simply stand-alone narrative.

4 thoughts on “What’s in a Gunshot?

    1. It’s almost as though McMurtry lulls us by opening with poisonous snakes as though they’re scenery, like tumbleweeds. But then . . .

  1. Yes, what a great excerpt to show us, Leanna. In that one early paragraph, we get a passel of ambiance, including setting, the emotional climate of the town, Gus’s personality, and even the heard sound of the rattesnake and the imagined sound of the shot. I wanna be Larry McMurtry! Just for long enough to write something as good as he does every time he sits at his desk! (Or so I imagine! Actually, I wonder how much he throws away. . . .)

    1. You can see why I keep this paragraph in the list of excerpts that I read from every day before I start writing or revising.

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