You don’t know what you don’t know, right? That’s part of what makes writing in deep point of view so hard. I have spent years studying this technique and continue to learn more about it. But if you had a place to start maybe you could get started on your own.
But what if you had a checklist?
I’ve been teaching deep point of view for six years online, and my students have repeatedly requested this resource, so I thought I would first post it here with the good readers of WITS.
The basics of deep point of view is often where a lot of books and writers start and stop learning about deep point of view. Without these bits, the more advanced techniques are going to fall flat, but there’s so much more than these bits to build on to really make deep pov work for your story.
The power of deep point of view is creating a sense for readers that they’re IN the story AS IT’S HAPPENING with your characters. This isn’t a question of using past or present tense, instead write as though the action is happening in real time for readers.
Avoid Naming Emotions
Deep point of view takes telling more seriously than any other writing style, I’ve found. If you write an emotion word (to describe how your protagonist feels) that’s probably telling in deep point of view. Instead, show what that emotion feels like. Don’t tell me they’re happy, show readers what happy looks like to them. What happy feels like to them. Deep point of view is IMMEDIATE and PERSONAL.
If story is a car and your protagonist is the driver, deep point of view puts the reader in the driver’s lap. They want to see what the protagonist sees, feel the vibrations in the wheel, the pressure under the feet from the brake, the lurch as the car shifts gears—all of it AS IT’S HAPPENING.
Some words that raise red flags because they automatically create distance for readers include:
watched, saw, felt/feel, wished, heard, thought, made, caused, hoped, knew, wondered, wanted, believed, regarded, noticed, looked, smelled, realized, decided.
When these words are used to ‘tell’ the reader something you could ‘show’ them you force the reader into the theatre seat and out of the story.
We want to provide readers with an immersive fictive dream with Deep POV so using as many of the senses as possible is important (but maybe not all at once).
Choose one sense, the most prominent detail, to help bring an individual scene to life. The most prominent sense to show/provide insight into your character based on their fears, past experiences and associations, level of tension, etc.
Advanced Deep Point Of View Techniques
Subtext can happen in dialogue between two characters, between a character’s thoughts and their outward actions, in internal dialogue, and in the setting.
In deep point of view, we want to avoid using dialogue tags (he said, she said) because it builds distance and instead use beats, which is bits of action to attribute speech. Take this idea an extra step and strive to use beats but avoid stage directions. Make each beat move the story ahead in some way rather than just attribute speech.
Many literary devices give readers information about our characters, but it’s subtle. The reader will say what they know, but may not know why they know that detail. Look into devices like foreshadow, personification, pathetic fallacy, simile, metaphors, metonymy, etc.
This is tricky because it’s often confused with author voice. In deep point of view, you (the writer) are not telling the story the protagonist is. How would they describe things? What would they be sure to notice or overlook? Each character will tell the story using their own truth.
Emotional arc is another level of intensity for readers. How does the character change throughout the story? Think of a movie like The Greatest Showman. Hugh Jackman’s character starts out pushing against what seem like impossible odds, but when he gains the success he’s always dreamed of that changed him. In order to reach his personal goals, he had to change his priorities, goals, and personality. He didn’t just go back to the way he was before he was successful, there was an arc not a circle.
This goes along with the emotional arc. By using emotional layers, you learn to work backwards from the emotion you want portrayed to find the primary emotions fueling that behavior. This adds nuance and authenticity.
Many of these advanced techniques are evidenced in a character’s internal dialogue. There’s so much to learn here. I strive to learn one or two new things about internal dialogue with each manuscript. Each step forward helps you get closer to where you want to be.
Become a student of how people communicate. We say so many things to others with facial expressions, posture, tone of voice, gestures, etc. This really goes hand in hand with emotional layering.
Backstory should answer one question and leave the reader with two more. Keep it relevant to the scene at hand. Backstory is one of the advanced bits that bleeds into many of the others such as internal dialogue, character voice, and emotional arc.
With deep point of view, very likely your wordcount will increase. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing as long as every word you use moves the story ahead. It’s very easy to have a character catalogue the furniture in a room without any purpose to it, or recount the physical details of someone they meet when that description could be used to give readers insight into your protagonist.
Intimate Point Of View
Your protagonist can only share with readers what they know, see, hear, feel, taste, touch, assume, etc. If your protagonist doesn’t know something, the reader can’t either. This restriction means this writing technique will serve certain genres better than others. However, you don’t have to use deep point of view for your entire novel. You could use deep point of view to create a specific effect in key scenes to ratchet up the tension or create emotional punch for readers.
Gah! I’m out of space. Listen, I’m just skimming the surface here, but this is a list that will get you started. I am doing a free 5 Day Deep Point Of View Challenge on Facebook in October. It’ll be in a closed Facebook group. You can sign up for the waiting list here so you don’t miss out when I have all the details put together.
What aspect of writing in deep point of view do you struggle with the most?
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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.