February 28th, 2018

5 Quick Ways To Shift Description and Setting Into Deep POV

Lisa Hall-Wilson

One aspect of writing in Deep POV that’s often overlooked or downplayed is the importance of filtering setting and description through your point of view character (POVC). Remember, in Deep POV you want to avoid drawing conclusions for readers. Don’t tell readers what to think, give them your POVCs raw data and let readers come to their own verdict about how the POVC feels, what they’re observing, and the world they live in. This puts the reader IN the story and keeps them out of the theater seats.

To that end, filtering the story setting and description through your POVC is critical. Here are five tips to writing setting and description in Deep POV that will take your writing to the next level:

Observe Don’t Report

When you imagine your setting, avoid the temptation to have your POVC label what they see. It’s a rectangular room with a bay window and upscale furniture in artful arrangement. A Persian rug I’m afraid to walk on covers the floor. Sure, there’s no POV violation here, but the reader’s learned little about the setting or the POVCs feelings about it.

Instead, let your POVC share their impression of the room in a way that reveals character. I stepped where Caroline stepped and gathered close all the loose bits and flaps of my clothing. If ‘you break it you bought it’ applies here, I’ll be broke before we get to the dining room.

Avoid The Obvious Or Assumed

Avoid having your POVC notice the obvious. Everyone knows the sky is blue and clouds are white. Don’t tell me the woman your POVC just met has a mouth, two eyes, a nose or two ears – what’s unusual? And how does what she notice give the reader insight into her and this new character?

Ender looked at Peter only to detect anger or boredom, the dangerous moods that almost always led to pain.Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.

BOOM! This description not only tells us about the boy being observed, but the character doing the observing.

Felora leaned against a corner post with her back to the street, cleaning her fingernails with a small blade. He repressed a smile. Even as a child, she’d hated getting her hands dirty but never had enough sense to stay out of the mud.” From my novel The Last Seers.

In this example, I’ve aimed to give readers insight not only into Felora’s character but filtered through POVC readers also have an idea of priorities and perceived inconsistencies.

How Does The Setting Feel?

Your setting should either heighten, change, or reflect back how your character is feeling in Deep POV. This is where some art comes into play using literary devices like personification, pathetic fallacy, metaphors, similies, and others.

Let how your POVC feels show the reader what they’re seeing. One of the absolute best examples of this is from the opening paragraphs of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Sitting at Prim’s knees, guarding her, is the world’s ugliest cat. Mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the color of rotting squash. Prim named him Buttercup, insisting his muddy yellow coat matched the bright flower. He hated me.”

Katniss shows us what the cat looks like by sharing how she feels about it. Not only do we get a picture of the cat, but we also get an idea both of how she and her sister choose to see the world.

Sometimes even the setting becomes a character. Consider a work like Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Scotland is almost a separate character in the first two novels in the perspective of the highlanders: …but make no mistake, lass, I love Scotland more, and I would give everything … everything I have or ever will have, including my life, to see a Stuart back on the throne.”

Interact With Setting

In Deep POV, it’s best to have your character interact with the setting instead of cataloguing what’s around them. Remember, present evidence not conclusions. If there’s a smell outside the window, have them open the window instead of reporting the smell. If there’s a coffee table in the room, have them knock their shin on it instead of reporting the material it’s made of.

A Few Well-Chosen Details

Readers do most of the work with description and prefer to be put to work. Readers want to engage, to crawl into the story, and if you describe a setting down to the last cobweb, you’ve left the reader nothing to imagine for themselves. If I tell you my POVC has invited a guest upstairs, is wearing lingerie, and then shuts the bedroom door – do you need me to describe the bed, say whether there’s a window or if the floor is hardwood or carpeted to create a mental image of the room?

Remember, the more time you spend describing an item or piece of the setting, the more importance the reader assumes it has. "The gun on the mantle in act one must go off by act three" is the old adage. Is that item important to the story or is there a reason for the POVC to notice it?

Make sure you check out my free 5 day e-course Writing Emotions In Layers designed to help you write emotions better in Deep POV.

What do you struggle with in writing in Deep POV? Conversely, what part of writing 'point of view' do you do well?

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About Lisa

Lisa Hall-WilsonLisa Hall-Wilson was a national award-winning freelance journalist who loves mentoring writers. Fascinated by monsters in the dark and the supernatural, she blends those elements into her historical and fantasy  stories, as well as her passion for history, fantasy, romance, and faith.

Find Lisa's blog for intermediate writers at www.lisahallwilson.com.

33 responses to “5 Quick Ways To Shift Description and Setting Into Deep POV”

  1. jayjhicks says:

    I love your teaching with clever examples Lisa. I find by reading things like this just before I settle in to write or edit, everything ramps up a notch. Thank you.

  2. Laura Drake says:

    Such a great post, Lisa. I learned a lot. Signed up for your posts! Smart lady...

    • Yay!! Glad you liked it. I don't like to write beginner-type posts, there's already a ton of blogs on the web doing that. I prefer to write more for intermediate writers - help people take the next step.

  3. Enjoyed you article, and it commends me back to re-examine and re-write several scenes I've done that are not as polished. Thanks. Really.

  4. Terry Odell says:

    I love writing Deep POV. Your warning to make sure you're in the head of the character when describing setting resonates with me. Describing a setting by waxing poetic, or with rich metaphors when the character doesn't think/speak that way in his dialogue will pull me out of the story. Computer programmer see/think/speak differently from artists or cowboys. The character's voice has to carry through in narrative, which includes description.

    This holds true, for me, even more in action scenes. Does the character have time to think of all those powerful descriptions when he's just fallen off a boat into bone-chilling water and the rapids are carrying him downstream? I think he's going to think "damn, that's cold!" and be struggling to breathe.

    • Yes, good points! In deep POV, you must ALWAYS remain in your POVCs head at all times. Sometimes that makes description and setting difficult. Interacting with the setting is often a great workaround. They can bump into things, avoid or walk around things, get lost, hear strange sounds, etc. in an action scene without breaking the tension.

  5. It doesn't matter how many times I read information about how to write deep POV, I always learn something reading your posts, Lisa. I love getting into my characters' heads, but describing the setting has always been a challenge. Thanks for the tips!

  6. christopherlentzauthor says:

    Like Laura (and I do...a lot), I just signed up for your blog. Lisa, you should know I had one of those right-time, right-place moments while reading your post. I'm in the final-final-final stretch of editing my WIP and your insights will help me put the best possible book--and reader experience--out in the market. Many thanks...and I look forward to your future blogs!

  7. Mary Bailey says:

    I enjoyed your article very much and I bookmarked your blog. I'll be checking in frequently.

  8. Jenny Hansen says:

    Really loved this post, Lisa. I like the creative spark that comes from thinking about all the ways to deepen the POV character on the page. 🙂

    • Thanks! That's what I love about Deep POV. I've been studying it for years and never feel like I've learned it all. I'm still learning all the time. I'd quit if I ever got bored, that's what I love about this craft.
      Thanks so much for having me! You know I'll write for you anytime 😀

  9. This is a very helpful post, and I will use your tips to help revise my WIP! Thank you! This is probably a stupid question, but what's the difference between when people talk about Deep POV and POV in general?

  10. Signing up for your course - thank you! I didn't know the term "pathetic fallacy" so I learned something new!

  11. Julie Glover says:

    It’s really interesting to read classic novels written in simple POV and contrast them with modern fiction written in deep POV. You really do feel more of the “ride” in the latter!

    Thanks for some great tips to make sure we’re giving our reader the opportunity to see through our POVC’s eyes!

  12. […] https://writersinthestormblog.com/2018/02/description-and-setting-in-deep-pov/ “One aspect of writing in Deep POVthat’s often overlooked or downplayed is the importance of filtering setting and description through your point of view character (POVC). Remember, in Deep POV you want to avoid drawing conclusions for readers. Don’t tell readers what to think, give them your POVCs raw data and let readers come to their own verdict about how the POVC feels, what they’re observing, and the world they live in. This puts the reader IN the story and keeps them out of the theater seats.” Some good pointers here. […]

  13. […] Angela Ackerman has 3 ways the setting can steer your story’s plot, Lisa Hall-Wilson shares 5 quick ways to shift description and setting into deep POV, and Kristen Lamb suggests writing your story from the end to gain narrative […]

  14. dholcomb1 says:

    fantastic examples

  15. […] Subtext can happen in dialogue between two characters, between a character’s thoughts and their outward actions, in internal dialogue, and in the setting. […]

  16. […] Subtext can happen in dialogue between two characters, between a character’s thoughts and their outward actions, in internal dialogue, and in the setting. […]

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