Deep point of view is powerful and engaging though many find it difficult to do well. The basic techniques of deep point of view have been simplified in blog posts that will heap loads of overconfidence on newer writers.
The difficult part of learning deep point of view is in knowing when and where to go deep and which tools to use to create the desired effect. In my 5-week course and in my 16-week critique group on learning deep point of view, the phrase I write probably more than any other in my feedback is “go deeper.”
Start With The Why!
What does your character want? What do they want/desire/crave/seek so desperately that they’ll go to the very edge of sanity and safety to achieve? This can’t be a nebulous “I want to be happy” or “I want to be successful.” This has to be personal, specific, and powerful. This has to be measurable in a tangible way and the stakes must be high. Jami Gold likes to say, “Can they hold it in their hand?” Can you hold happy in your hand? Can you hold success? No. Go deeper.
Lisa Cron calls it the “live wire” of the story. James Scott Bell has a book about starting from the middle and working backwards to find the core desire – what I call their WHY. Donald Maass calls it the girding of the story structure. Find a teacher who explains this in a way that makes sense to you and figure it out character by character.
Deep point of view is all about the WHY!
Surprise The Reader
Nothing is worse for a reader than predicting how the story is going to go. Snooozefest! Find several key places that you want to be emotional gut-punches for the character. Usually, these line up with major plot points. Write out 3 – 5 different ways the character could react to that situation.
(There’s no right or wrong answer here, don’t get caught up in that mindset.)
The first couple of responses are easy. Keep going until the character gives you an emotion that surprises you. Explore that. Ask them why they feel that way. Why do they feel justified in feeling that way? How would a better/stronger person feel – and what does that say about the character? How would their father/mother react or feel in this situation – why do they feel like they have to follow/avoid that feeling? How would they have reacted to this situation 6 months ago, a year ago, ten years ago – what’s changed?
You might not use that surprising emotion in that scene, but I’ve always learned something important about the character I didn’t know before that I use elsewhere.
Having said all this, sometimes you employ strategic telling, or a narrower point of view, to give the reader a sense of losing track of time, time passing quickly, out of body/mind experience, seeing life flash in front of their eyes, etc. To know which to use, you have to know what you want to convey to the reader and then use the appropriate tool.
Are You Willing To Go There?
Any emotion your character feels, probably – mostly likely, you’ve also felt. We’ve all been angry, frustrated, betrayed, disappointed, grieved, etc. You know how those emotions feel, learn to amplify that emotion to the situation your character is in. The difficult part of deep pov is reliving those hard emotions with enough intensity to write them authentically. Ask yourself: How did it feel? How does my body react when I let that emotion well up? Am I tense or stiff? Where? Where does the emotion sit – would it be the same for my character? What chain reaction is set off if that emotion is left unaddressed? What does society say about expressing that emotion?
This is where writers check out, in my experience. Most of the time, writers don’t go deep enough into their own emotions. They hold back for fear of being too vulnerable or too dramatic, don’t realize how crucial it is to explore, or can’t be bothered. Your character is not you, but your willingness to explore an emotion you’ve felt adds authenticity that grabs readers by the throat.
Always be safe, particularly if you’re exploring emotions associated with past traumas or hurts. Take a break when you need to. Talk about it with a friend or spouse. Go for a long walk, a run, an intense workout for an emotional reset. Be kind to yourself.
Be Honest To The Journey
I think writers have a duty to portray emotions and emotional journeys authentically. Not only so that it rings true for readers, but to also to let readers step into another’s shoes for a moment. For instance, you don’t need to have PTSD to authentically write a character who does, but don’t skim. Don’t cheapen the emotional journey or experience of that condition.
“Fiction Is The Truth Inside The Lie.” Stephen King
**brings out soapbox**
For instance, touch may play a part in helping someone with PTSD feel safe or keep them grounded, and that’s authentic to capture for readers, however – the problem is in having the dysfunctional aspect of PTSD “cured” by a few good sexual encounters. Capture how touch helps solidify the trust or acceptance your character feels, that they feel safe (safer) with that person, show how that person helps them stay grounded or helps them shake off a nightmare, explore how touch intensifies the emotional connection – but I’ve not read anywhere that sex cures PTSD. To write a story where it does cheapens the experiences of those who actually struggle with this and cheats those who read your work and think it actually works that way. I’m picking on PTSD because awareness of it has risen in recent years as well as the popularity of it among writers, but when proper research isn’t done it comes off as a trite condition and it’s not.
**puts away soapbox – clears throat**
The truth is in the details as much as the devil! Writers sometimes write too much detail (the devil), but many times with deep point of view, strategic use of detail (the truth) is what delivers the emotional gut-punch you’re looking for. The difficult part comes in learning to see whether you’re writing truth or giving the reins to the devil in any given scene.
Once you go deep, there’s no going back. *grin* Is there one of these aspects of writing in deep point of view that’s more difficult for you than another?
Make sure to join my free 5 Day Deep Point Of View Challenge group on Facebook (make sure to answer the questions to get in). The next challenge is in October 2019 – get personal and specific feedback from me, plus lessons on deep point of view – for five days! No strings.
Lisa Hall-Wilson is 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.
Join Lisa’s deep point of view challenge group. Three to four times a year, participate in free training on writing effectively in deep point of view – https://www.facebook.com/groups/5daydeeppovchallenge/
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Totally willing to go there, Lisa! Love deep POV. So much so, I'm now writing first person present tense. Can't be distant in that! I can't imagine ever going back to Third person.
Many of my students say learning deep pov ruined them for writing any other way. When done well, it can be very compelling!
Deep POV is all I write, and it spoiled me for reading books with author/narrators taking over. Get me in a character's head and I'm with you all the way. Tell me what's going on, and I'm out of there.
Me too! It takes me a really long time to get into a story now that isn't in deep pov. I end up just pointing out places where I wanted to know more about how the character felt.
Lots of great points and reminders. Thank you.
I try to avoid including my own life's emotions (secondary to personal experiences) in characters. I find I get off track and am writing autobiographical. Is your deep POV the opposite of what I am doing?
Thanks for reminding me of things I sometimes forget until I’m in revisions, Lisa. Your tips have helped me be more aware of where I slip out of deep POV.
Some of these are definitely tips I employ in the editing phase. Too much to remember for a first draft.
Great post, thank you!
Thanks for reading! Glad it was helpful.
Wonderful post - I signed up for your FB course. Thanks so much!
Woot!! The 5 day challenge kicks off October 14, but there'll be lots of tips and convo happening before then. 😀
Writing in deep third can get a little split personality for me. The voice is the POV character and yet the narrative still uses pronouns like he/she instead of I. So, I would love to learn how to reconcile that.
Yeah - I hear that from writers from time to time. As a reader it's never made me stumble, and third person just allows for more flexibility - but it's a personal preference for sure.
Thanks for that important reminder to make the WHY tangible and powerful. I needed that! Great post, Lisa!
I have gone there, and it makes the characters and story stronger