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January 2013

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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:

  1. Use my hands a lot.
  2. 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:

  1. I should try to stop talking with my hands so much.
  2. 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.
  3. What a smart question on the part of this young writer.
  4. Was I that astute a reader when I was in fourth grade? (answer: no)
  5. 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. 
  6. 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.

Comments

I've only written a short story in third-person and am now writing my first novel in third (after writing a first draft in first) and am enjoying it. It feels right for this particular project.

I just finished reading a YA novel I enjoyed very much but did find myself thinking "I don't need to know every, single thought in this narrator's head." Sometimes close can be too close.
I suspect that some folks will feel that way about Hound Dog, too. It is difficult to know how close to get and I think it depends on the story. Something to consider, that's clear.

I've always thought of myself as a first person writer, but my next novel is in third/omniscient pov. It is a real stretch, but I love the challenge.
For what it's worth, I didn't feel that way about Hound Dog True. It's a lovely story and I didn't resent being in on the thoughts and feelings.

Glad you're enjoying the "stretch" on your latest project!
It means quite a lot, thank you. Have fun with your book, too!
Funny, I was just having a POV conversation with a friend by email today -- I'm writing something in first person now, and my previous project was in third. She's doing the reverse, so we were discussing why we made these choices.

For me, it's all about the accessibility of the character. This new character is really locked up in herself, and without a first person voice, it'd be tough to understand her. The other character is less internal and there's much more world-building, so third person fit for her...
Makes sense to me -- although I can see the opposite working as well . . .
Good point!