Deep point of view is a great writing technique when used well, but if you’re not careful, deep POV will bloat your word count and tie an anchor to the pace of your story.
Pace Must Be Strategic
I’ve met very few bestselling authors who, when asked, can’t tell you the pace they were intentionally aiming for with any particular novel. Whether your intent is to create a fast-paced action-packed crime novel or thriller, a slower-paced romance or contemplative literary novel, or something in between, this is an intentional choice (aka not a happy accident). Some writers use deep POV strategically in key scenes and others use deep POV throughout their whole novel. If you’re using deep POV throughout your whole novel, lean in. These tips are for you.
Avoid Writing On The Nose
Technically in deep POV, you would capture each moment and thought in a play-by-play sort of action.
Shane shuffled across the foyer and reached for the brass knob. The cold metal echoed the frosty temperatures outside. He turned the knob and pulled open the door. The metal hinges creaked and groaned…
Unless there’s a reason to stay in deep POV there, it’s OK if Shane just opens the door. If you spend this much time describing your character opening a door (slowing the pace), there had better be something important behind that door. The more time you spend describing something, the more importance a reader will assume it to have.
Sometimes your character just opens the door, goes to work, drives across town, or jets across the globe. If that journey isn’t important to the plot, if nothing happens in that journey to move the story ahead, using a shallower POV is appropriate.
Create An Effect Of Time Flying By
We’ve all had this happen in real life. We’re busy doing something and we’re surprised by how much time has gone by. This can and should happen to our characters from time to time as well. When you break down how this happens though, it’s usually because we’re distracted or intensely focused. Usually we want these scenes to have a quick pace, so the way to capture this (without using telling) is to use a shallower POV.
Consider a woman flying through the house doing a last-minute speed clean before company arrives. You might choose to write that scene in a more distant or shallow POV (stripped of internal dialogue) to show how little thought she’s putting into each specific task. Or, perhaps have her focus instead on the ticking hands of the clock instead of cataloguing every item she’s putting away or dish she’s washing. Maybe her stomach growls, someone comes home, whatever—something happens to crack her focus and make her aware of the time again.
Capturing High Emotions
When your whole novel is in deep POV, using a shallower POV for high emotion scenes can force the reader to lean in more. It’s the change, the surprise, in the writing style that causes the tension for readers. Whether you’re trying to create an out-of-body effect, numbing effect, or a mind unable to process all the data they’re taking in (articulate what they’re feeling), using a shallower POV can show this very effectively.
For instance, someone who’s been seriously injured will repeat the same phrase over and over focusing on whatever hurts. They’ll chant: my arm hurts, my arm hurts, my arm hurts. They may not be able to say much else in the moment because all they’re aware of is the pain. Use a shallower point of view to show this without writing pages of the same phrase.
My sister-in-law was hit by a car while riding her bike and broke her femur. Ouch. After the accident, she could recall hearing someone moaning and crying and she thought to herself man, that’s annoying. Who is making all that noise? And then she realized she was the one making all the noise. These kinds of out-of-body thoughts read as shallow POVs often because they’re devoid of emotion, but can help keep the pace moving in moments of high trauma or emotion.
Here’s an example from my current WIP. This is a moment of high emotional trauma, so the shallower POV comes through because of the lack of internal dialogue. She’s just overwhelmed with emotion, she’s not processing any of it.
Her father’s lifeless eyes stared up at the ceiling, his mouth gaped as if he’d died mid-scream. She coughed and sputtered like she’d been punched in the gut. Her hand covered her mouth and she dropped to her knees. Crawling the short distance, she reached for the box and then withdrew her fingers. There was no mistaking Wyne’s features. But that wasn’t her father anymore. Her fingers trembled and tears blurred her vision. She shut the box. How had this happened?
I wanted to give the sense that she’s overwhelmed, emotional overload. She hasn’t taken a moment to process what all of this means. And what’s the one question that floats to the top of the mental chaos? How had this happened? This is the only paragraph in this scene where I’ve used a shallower point of view, those leading up and following this bit are in deep point of view. You can switch back and forth for effect quickly.
To add more internal dialogue here (to stay deep) would’ve slowed the pace. I wanted to convey a sense that she was being battered with one emotion after another without time to process any of them, each one intensifying her horror. To keep this part of the scene truly in deep point of view could’ve worked but I was going for a specific effect.
Think Like An Artist
I love crafts like knitting and quilting. I’m a bit of a Pinterest junkie, but I’m not an artist. An artist creates the patterns, a hobbyist follows the patterns. I haven’t been prescriptive here because these kinds of choices are more art than pattern. Know the WHY of your scene (read about that here) and the primary emotions powering your character, and then choose the best technique to create the effect you want.
Choosing to stay close in moments of high emotional tension or zoom out to a shallower point of view are stylistic choices that affect the emotional arc of your story and the pacing. Both techniques may work equally well in any given scene, but what effect, what pace, what feeling, are you trying to capture for readers? The answers to those questions guide your stylistic choices.
Have you used shifting from deep to shallow POV to affect your pacing? Will you, after reading this?
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Lisa Hall-Wilson was a national award-winning freelance journalist and author who loves mentoring writers. Fascinated by history, fantasy, romance, and faith, Lisa blends those passions into historical and historical-fantasy novels.
Find Lisa’s blog, Beyond Basics for intermediate writers, at www.lisahallwilson.com.