Agents want it. Editors want it. Readers are begging for it. Deep point of view is all the rage.
But what is deep point of view?
Deep point of view is intense. It not only represents the sights, sounds, and actions filtered through a POV (point of view) character but goes deeper into emotions as well as a character’s unique worldview. In deep point of view the character owns the page and the author becomes nonexistent. Deep point of view allows the reader to live vicariously through the actions, reactions, and emotions of a character.
How do you go deep?
The key to deep point of view is understanding the rules, the tricks, and the tips for getting deep and then using deep point of view to empower your story.
Let’s dive into four tricks that create deep point of view.
- Make your tags disappear
While speech tags clarify a speaker, they are blips on the deep point of view radar, reminding the reader he is reading and not living a story. In deep point of view tags are often replaced by action, body language, voice description, emotion.
Replacing your tags makes the story feel genuine.
How the words are said and the actions behind the words act as subtle cues to reveal more about a character, his emotional state of mind and the story.
Distant point of view: “I don’t want to talk about it,” he said.
From his words we have no real understanding of what he truly means. Does he really not want to talk? Or is he saying something he doesn’t mean? Does he want to talk but not know how to talk?
Deeper: “I don’t want to talk about it,” he said, shredding the napkin.
We are closer. Shredding the napkin gives a clue that whatever he doesn’t want to talk about is upsetting him. However, that he said isn’t only a blip, reminding the reader he is reading. He said is also redundant. Reading rules tell us that if dialog is in the same paragraph as the character’s action, then the action character is also the speaker. You don’t need both.
Deeper still: “I don’t want to talk about it.” Focused on his fingers, he tore a long strip from the edge of the recycled napkin and then another and another, until a paper mountain stood between us.
This character’s body language is closed in. He is focusing on something else instead of the person he is with. He is creating a mountain between them. The specifics also give us a bigger context of story. He doesn’t just shred the paper, but tears it into strips. This takes time. This takes concentration. This tells a lot.
- Make your thought words/sense words disappear
Everyone tells you to get rid of those filter words, but they rarely say why. Thought words/sense words are telling words. They not only put an author on the page, but also create a distance between character and reader. They are disingenuous to the “real life experience” of deep point of view.
How often do you think, I’m thinking? Or I’m wondering if I’ll get a raise. How often do you think, Oh, I see bad boys up ahead.
You don’t. And if you’re truly in deep point of view, your character won’t either. He will think. He will wonder. He will see, hear, feel, but he won’t add the filter words. He’ll just do it.
Example: He felt the pain shoot through his gut and wondered if he was going to die.
The reader is kept at a distance. He hears what the character’s thoughts are but doesn’t feel what the character feels. He doesn’t think what character thinks. He is told about these feelings and thoughts and as a result there is a filter between the reader and character.
Deep: Pain shot through his gut, and he clutched his stomach. This was it. He was going to die.
No thinking. No wondering. Just what’s happening and the reader is pulled in deep.
- Understand your POV character
This is my favorite trick. However, this is the trick that most writers skim over with “Of course I know my character. I created her.”
You know your character better than anyone else, but do you know your character well enough?
Answer the following questions in the character’s voice capturing words, phrases, her syntax, unique worldview. Pay attention to her body language and let her carry you off-topic..
Give it a try: Sit down with your character and see if you discover anything new.
- How does she carry herself? How does she walk? What chair does she chose? How does she sit? Note her body language. Think about what this is telling you about the ‘who’ of this person.
- Note how you would approach this person. Is she approachable? Will you dive into your questions or ease into these questions? How does she make you feel?
Ask her the following questions and write down her answers. Try writing the answers in her voice, capturing her words, her phrases, her syntax, her unique world view. Pay attention to her body language as she speaks.
- Who are you?
- What do you want more than anything?
- How far would you go to get it?
- Why is what you want so important?
- How do you feel about the people in your life? This could be story time people or past people. Both will reveal a great deal about the ‘who’ of the character.
- How do you feel about the people in your life?
- How do you feel about yourself?
Here’s an example of three ways that a writer might write a description from a character’s point of view. I hope Maggie Stiefvater does not mind that I not only borrow from her wonderful novel The Scorpio Races, but that I also spend a couple of paragraphs blanding her work.
On the surface: On the day after the character Puck has decided to race in the deadly Scorpio races, she goes to the barn to feed her horse.
Simple to the point, giving time, temp and place.
Slightly deeper: The morning is raw and early as I make my way out to Dove’s pasture. It’s not cold enough to freeze the mud, however, so I slide and stomp and shiver my way across the muddy yard. I’m nervous but trying not to be.
We have a bit more specific detail. It is nice writing. We tie the cold to her emotional state of mind. She is shivering from the cold or from being nervous. We are deep, but are we deep enough? Could this excerpt only be this character’s worldview or could you find the same description in any novel?
What Stiefvater wrote: The morning is raw and pink as I make my way out to Dove’s pasture. Cold as a witch’s tit my father used to say, and my mother would say is that the sort of language you’re teaching your boys? And apparently it was, because Gabe said it just the other day. It’s not cold enough to freeze the mud, however—only a few years does it ever get cold enough for that—so I slide and stomp the muddy yard. I’m trying not to notice that I’m nervous. It is nearly working.
Just wow! In that short paragraph we have so much more character. We are so deep into her thoughts. All tied together, all bringing forth setting, backstory, emotion. All bringing forth the character’s voice.
- Understand your POV character’s worldview
A worldview is shaped by experiences and expectations of self, life, and society. In any given situation a person/character brings those aspects to life in facing a new situation. How he will face or describe each situation or place will be colored by his worldview.
For example: Many years ago, I visited Jamaica with my father. If asked today to describe, the place, my experiences, my adventures, I would inevitably pull out the time that my father and I had travelled out of our guarded hotel into the streets of the city.
As the night drew closer, I was mesmerized by the color, the lights, the crowded sidewalks, the wonder of all that was different and vibrant and glorious to me. A truly magical experience.
My father would have a very different take on those events. The crowds, the noise, the young men standing at the corner with a baseball bat. I’m sure Dad’s heart pounded and I know his hand sweated around mine.
My worldview was that of innocence and the invincibility of youth. My father--more jaded by the news, his life, and his role as protector--saw the exact things differently. (BTW: The guys were really nice, not only showing us to our hotel but refusing payment for their trouble.)
The point is that each character comes to a page with a particular worldview and by knowing that worldview you can manipulate the reader’s emotions and reading experience.
There you have it. Four quick tips for diving deeper into deep point of view.
Keep in mind there are many more ways to explore deep point of view and there are many reasons to break the rules. That’s the great thing about writing. There isn’t just one way to tell a story. Explore the tips and tricks, discover more and then use what works for you and your story.
Above all never forget. Your journey, your story, your way!
Enjoy your journey!
So, constant WITS followers - what do you think? Ready to try a deep POV?
About Rhay Christou
Two of the things I love are teaching and creative writing. With my MFA in writing from Vermont College, I have had the great fortune to combine them. I’ve taught everything from creative writing to academic writing at the university level as well as writing workshops in the USA and on the lovely island of Cyprus, where I live.
I teach three courses online for Lawson Writer's Academy: Create Compelling Characters and From Blah to Beats: Giving Chapters a Heart and Diving Deep into Deep POV.
My first novel, I Do Not will be released in May of 2016 by Spencer Hill.
Rhay is teaching an online class for Lawson Writer's Academy in November: Diving Deep into Deep POV.