"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Great Sentence Search in Oklahoma

I use the NY Times to teach writing, believing that my students must be exposed to good writing to improve, to learn the craft.

We're fortunate to get it every day free to students here on campus at UCO. That makes it easy, except you have to be on the ball ahead of the students every morning, if you use it in the classroom.

One of my techniques is "The great sentence search."

I contend that the best writing comes when the writer almost loses self in the story and has fun. Then the best sentences come. You as a reader can tell when a writer really had fun crafting a sentence. He/she would finish the sentence and, reach up from the keyboard, clinch a victory fist and almost shout, "Yes!".

I find such sentences throughout the paper, business section, arts, news, columns, editorials. I make them find them and we talk about whey they're great sentences.

Yesterday, a story on the front page caught my eye: "An Oklahoma Farming Town is Tested by a Cruel Drought."

It's by Katharine Q. Seelye, about Boise City, the small county seat of Cimarron county, 367 miles from here (closer to Santa Fe and Denver), at the tip of the Panhandle, bordering Texas, New Mexico and Colorado.

She shows the impact of the drought on the western half of our state, shriveling after 222 days without rain.  She visits with townspeople and ranchers, survivors of The Dust Bowl 70 years ago, facing the same kind of drought.

Here's the great sentence, describing the drought's effects at a ranch trying to raise cattle:

"On the Sharp Ranch, 15 miles outside town, the cattle were grazing on dirt."

Oh yes, now that's journalism!

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