Writing that conveys your story AND the times in which it takes place

You can use the “zoom” feature of 3rd-person point of view to tell a story that captures the current moment AND the times in which it takes place. Take a look at the lyrics to “On the Night Hank Williams Came to Town” (and even listen to Johnny Cash sing it) and then read on to understand the skills writers Charlie Williams and Bobby Braddock put to work on this magnificent portrait of a night and a culture.

The Night Hank Williams Came To Town”
written by  Bobby Braddock and Charlie Williams

Harry Truman was our president
A coke and burger cost you thirty cents
I was still in love with Mavis Brown
On the night Hank Williams came to town.

“I Love Lucy” debuted on TV
That was one big event we didn’t see
‘Cause no one stayed at home for miles around
It was the night Hank Williams came to town.

Mama ironed my shirt and daddy let me take the truck
I drove on out to Grapevine and picked old Mavis up
We hit that county line for one quick round
On the night HANK WILLIAMS came to town.

A thousand people sweltered in the gym
Then I heard someone whisper; “Hey, that’s him”
That’s when the crowd let out this deafening sound
It was the night Hank Williams came to town.

On and on he sang into the night
‘Jambalaya’, ‘Cheatin’ heart’, ‘I saw the light’
How’d they get Miss Audrey in that gown
On the night Hank Williams came to town.

Mavis had her picture made with Hank outside his car
She said; “He sure is humble for a Grand Ole Opry Star.”
Mavis said: “Why don’t we hang around
It ain’t often that Hank Williams comes to town.”

While Hank signed his autograph on Beaulah Rice’s fan
Mavis got acquainted with the Driftin’ Cowboys Band
The effect on all our lives was quite profound
On the night Hank Williams came to town.

I think there are three things the writers of this song do superbly and that contribute to the song’s effectiveness: 1) their writing is simple, clear, and unadorned; 2) their pacing and movement between narrative and scene is awesome; and 3) they’ve got a zoom lens on the 3rd person point of view they’re using to tell the story<---and that's what I want to write about here.

The 3rd person point of view in this song zooms in and out to reveal a country, a community, this man’s companions and this man himself–all on the night that something exceptional happened to him.

Look at the first stanza. It begins by stating who the president of the country was–we get a sense of an entire nation; the next line states what you’d pay for a coke and burger, and then the third line tells you that the narrator was in love with Mavis Brown–not a woman, but a very specific woman: Mavis Brown. We’re zooming in. The fourth and final line of the stanza tells what happened at this very moment (in the life of a nation, a community, and a man) that Hank Williams came to town.

This deft use of zooming in and out with point of view continues throughout the song. The result (for me) is that I feel a part of the times AND of the strong feelings that narrator has on this night.

WIDE ANGLE: Harry Truman was our president, “I Love Lucy” debuted on TV
SLIGHTLY CLOSER IN: a coke & burger cost *you* 30 cents, a thousand people sweltered in the gym, we hit that county line for one last round
ZOOMED IN: Mama ironed my shirt; Mavis said why don’t we hang around; Hank signed his autograph on Beaulah Rice’s fan
MACRO/IN THE NARRATOR’S THOUGHT STREAM: How’d they get Miss Audrey in that dress? (I’ve got to say that this is the point that seals it for me — that totally captures me in the story’s stream).

And NOW . . . take a look at those last two lines . . . on their own they’d seem unremarkable — “profound” is an abstract; “quite” is a weak modifier; and, ok, that’s great he came to town. . . . BUT all the writing that has come before makes these very simple statements RESONATE. Yes! we not only see that the effect on all of their lives really was quite profound—we believe and feel it.


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