Lessons from Lonesome Dove

Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry, is probably one of my favorite books of all time.  When I was in high school and college I had an old battered copy that I must have read hundreds of times.  Knowing what was going to happen didn’t lessen the impact, diminish my love for the characters, or stop me from crying every time I read it.

Recently, I decided to re-read it and see if it was really as good as I remembered.  Oh boy.  I had forgotten just enough of the plot to feel the sorrow of every death, to suffer along with the characters as they encountered hardship, and experience and share all of their small joys.  Lonesome Dove isn’t as good as I remembered, it’s better.

Re-reading the book as I struggle towards becoming a writer has also cast its genius in a new light.  Lonesome Dove works not (just) because of the story (rather simply boiled down to: a man leads his friends on an ill-fated cattle drive from Texas to Wyoming), but because of the incredible characters McMurtry creates and because of his unflinching ability to put those characters through hell.

It was a good reminder of an oft-repeated adage in writing:  don’t be afraid to have hard things happen to good people.  That’s real life, after all.  People die who shouldn’t.  Bad apples don’t always get their just rewards.  Accidents befall even the bravest and most competent among us.  Violence, loss, and good fortune call all strike in the blink of an eye.  Watching characters you love deal with these things, rooting for them as they struggle against giving up, as they celebrate, and as they find a way to go on…that’s what makes a book unforgettable.

Re-reading Lonesome Dove makes me realize how much I have to learn as an author, and it inspires me to push myself (and my characters) harder.

So, thanks, Larry.

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