Writing about the Animals We Love

February 10, 2020 cathyparkerus2015@

Cynthia's anthologyA Guest Post by Cynthia Beach

Chicobi’s red coat sparked fire when sun lit him.

Although it’s been—what?—thirty years since I last rode my horse, there are some things I’d never forget. But how could I bring him to life, I wondered, as I readied to write about him.
Capture the Unique
Chicobs was a seven-year-old Arab gelding when I got him. Finally. I had pined and pined for a horse. And somehow, although living near San Jose, California, I got one.
Soon after Chicobs helped give me a unique story to tell: a terrible riding accident. The accident left 72 stitches along my ear, a concussion and a crippling fear of my horse. This event also gave me a really good story arc. Something bad had happened. OK, what now?
How Chicobs and I solve my fear is the story I readied for The Horse of My Dreams, a 2019 horse anthology.
Two events—also unique—helped me and Chicobs: he had a prolonged illness and later we rescued three deserted pups that someone had dumped in the backlands. The element of unique made this story compelling.
Go Specific
The invite to contribute to the anthology gave me the perfect chance to use this story. The only thing? Three decades had passed. How was I going to bring this event to life?
Famous editor Sol Stein in his Stein on Writing urges writers to use “particularity.” He explains, “It is not just detail that distinguishes good writing, it is detail that individualizes.” I could easily use specifics were in numbers like Chicob’s age and the number of pups.
I also could offer readers other individualizing particularity as Stein would say—or “specifics” as I would say. Simple research and interviewing secured more facts. Chicobs had the strangles—easy to Goggle. Also a friend had ridden with me the day we rescued the pups; she offered what she recalled.
I leaned on common images as well to supply specifics. For example, I remember the pups looking like German Shepherds, so I used the breed which immediately solidifies the reader’s mental picture.
As we write about the animals we love, we can use the unique and the specific to bring our stories to life.

Cynthia Beach is a longtime writing professor and author of Creative Juices: A Splash of Story Craft, Process and Creative Soul Care. Visit her at cynthiabeach.com. See her short story “Redeeming Trust.” The Horse of My Dreams. Edited by Callie Smith Grant. Grand Rapids: Revell.” 2019, featured above.

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