Emotional Connection and Point of View
A friend pointed out a Twitter discussion of Hound Dog True in which the following comment was made:
"It's more than a story being told - almost like a story being felt by the reader."
I don't think I could have asked for a higher compliment. Now, I need to acknowledge that the person who made the comment, the very thoughtful Brian Wilhorn at helpreaderslovereading, was not in love with Mattie's story -- especially not at the beginning. So I guess I appreciate even more that someone who didn't initially connect with the book still engaged enough to feel what Mattie feels.
As much as I wanted readers to feel along with Mattie, I did need to create at least a tiny bit of distance between reader and character. I tried to address that here, at a visit to John Schu's library. There, a young writer asked me why Hound Dog True is written in third person, rather than first. If you click on that link, you'll see a video in which I:
- Use my hands a lot.
- Explain that if the book were in first person, every sentence would have the word "I" in it and you would quickly tire of the character.
The video does not include all the stuff I thought right after I was done speaking. Including:
- I should try to stop talking with my hands so much.
- It's not just a matter of being irritated by the self-centerdness that is reinforced by the first person pronoun "I", it is also that the tiny sliver of space that comes when we shift to even very close third person gives the reader the ability to question Mattie's perception of the world. It allows us feel Mattie's desperation to show her uncle her doorknob-installation prowess even as we obtain the distance to understand that her efforts are not going to turn out well. It allows us to question her perspective even as we connect with it. Or at least, that's the goal. I won't claim to have always reached it.
- What a smart question on the part of this young writer.
- Was I that astute a reader when I was in fourth grade? (answer: no)
- This book will probably be most satisfying for readers who are willing to feel the "I" behind the "she" and in the places where I was able to convey that feeling.
- I have a lot to learn about writing.
I just realized that I wrote a few other bits about writing Hound Dog True but never posted them. I'll try to rectify that this week.Meanwhile, if you've got thoughts about point-of-view and "feeling" a book, I'd love to hear them.