Writers in the Storm

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January 22, 2020

One Quick Fix For “Telling” In Deep Point Of View

by Lisa Hall-Wilson

After launching my Deep Point of View Frequently Asked Questions series here on Writers in the Storm, I’m working my way through those questions. Today’s question is: I struggle with the mindset, how to get there and know when you’re there.

The goal of deep point of view is for the reader to feel immersed in the story, to that end, deep point of view (DPOV), works best when you eliminate the feeling of being told a story.

We don’t narrate our own thoughts or actions do we? We’re alone in our own heads. That’s the shift I call the mindset. We need to shift how we capture story. It’s the deep pov drip – like readers are on a direct drip line to what the character is thinking, feeling, deciding, learning, etc. If you can get that right, then telling often ceases to be a problem.

Are You Telling A Story Or Letting Your Character Live Out The Story?

When you, the writer, begin telling a story, the reader doesn’t feel like they’re IN the story any longer. This style is not wrong, but it adds distance and in DPOV the goal is to remove as much distance as possible between the reader and the POVC.

Quite a lot of telling in deep point of view is more properly called author intrusion – places where the author has inserted themselves in the story solely to give the reader information. It’s anywhere that feels as though the writer is now walking alongside the POVC, shushed them and turned to the reader to give them extra info, and then nods to the POVC – I’m done. Carry on.

There's Bob, Cindy's fourth boyfriend this year, but what's he done to his hair?

Can you picture it? The POVC walks into a room and sees Bob. Thinks – there’s Bob. The character knows who Bob is so wouldn’t need to explain to themselves who Bob is or give Bob context, but the writer needs to make sure the reader knows. The writer leans into the story, shushes the POVC and turns to the reader – he’s Cindy’s fourth boyfriend this year. The writer nods to the POVC – they’re clear to continue.

But there are ways to give the reader the necessary info without the writer inserting themselves into the story:

There's Bob, was he Cindy's third or fourth boyfriend this year... What's he done to his hair?

Red Flag Words That Tattle On Storytelling

Sentence construction using "when" or "and then" or "when this" and "then that" often tattles on storytelling. Instead, shift the mindset so that the character is living the story. Does that mean you should never use those words? Of course not, but they are red flags.

I was three days into my one-week vacation when the phone rang.

I walked down the street and then a dog bit my leg.

I hugged myself to keep all the emotions inside when this was the last thing I should've done.

This construction feels like storytelling. Alone in your head with your thoughts, this isn’t how you talk to yourself is it? Would you narrate your day like this to yourself?

Can you see the shift that I’m talking about? There’s no immediacy and there’s a ton of distance. The reader isn’t IN the story, but they’re being told a story. Not wrong, but not deep point of view.

This is written in real time as the character performs these actions: She didn't remember driving home or climbing into bed and falling asleep.

In this context, this is author intrusion because if the character doesn’t remember doing it, how can they tell the reader they’re doing it?

Thinking verbs are a red flag for telling. Would you talk to yourself in this phrasing as you’re performing these actions? Probably not. Rather, it feels like storytelling.

Here’s some ideas on how to fix that in the same context.

She wrestled her way out of the car, keys jangling with each stumble, begged the lock to turn, and fell into bed. (no internal dialogue, no introspection, little emotion)

She woke up and looked around. Where was she? She shut her eyes to shut out the morning sun and pressed the heel of her palm to her throbbing temple. She swallowed. Her teeth felt furry. Right... The bar. The drinking. So much drinking. But how did she get home?

Do you see the mindset shift? The telling is removed by capturing the story as the character lives it.

Provide Evidence For Emotions

Another place where the shift in mindset is important is when the writer draws a conclusion for the reader about their emotions.

Version 1:

She loved that his voice changed when he recognized her voice on the phone.

Version 2:


“Hey, it’s me.” She rocked back on her heels and bit her lip. Would he know who it was?


A grin split her face and she clamped a hand over her mouth to squelch the giggle. He remembered her name! She forced her voice to remain even. “Yeah. I had fun at the dance last night so …” Deep breath. “I asked Justin for your number. Hope that’s OK?”

“I just texted Justin for your number.” He laughed. His tone warmed, got deeper and softer. “I wanted to see if you were busy tonight? If maybe, you wanted to do something?”

Is Version 1 wrong? No, of course not, but it’s not in deep point of view.

The gap between the information the reader has and the conclusion the character reaches disappears by shifting your mindset. That gap is usually bridged with telling without the mindset shift. Put the reader IN the scene as it’s happening and make sure the reader has all the information the character does when they make that decision/conclusion.  

Love is subjective and, in this case, means more than the version 1 sentence would imply it does. Secondly, we don’t narrate our own thoughts very often and very few people are able to label an emotion as they’re being swamped by it.

Let the reader draw their own conclusions, your job is to present enough evidence for them to draw the conclusion you want them to.

What do you think? In the examples above, do the deep point of view versions make you feel more like you’re IN the story?

Lisa’s 5 Day Deep Point Of View Challenge is launching again on February 10th!! Make sure you join in on the fun and bring a friend!

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About Lisa

Lisa Hall-Wilson

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

33 comments on “One Quick Fix For “Telling” In Deep Point Of View”

  1. What do I think? I think you're brilliant. I teach, and I have a hard time explaining the shift. I know it, but didn't know how to explain it. You just did. Thank you - sharing everywhere.

    1. Laura, I love her posts for the same reason. Deep POV is so very difficult to explain and I know once you get it, you've GOT IT. Lisa always makes me feel like I can have some lovely Deep POV. 🙂

    1. Author intrusion is really important to watch for in deep point of view. I've understood author voice to be something different, but I think I know what you mean.

  2. Over time, my writing style has evolved to let the characters tell the story. I didn't realize until someone else pointed it out to me that I was writing deep POV. I think my writer voice developed that way because it's how I like to read. I get very connected to the characters when I get a front row seat in their heads!

    1. Deep POV is definitely easier to pick up if you prefer to read books written in that style. Becomes more intuitive. I think those who have the hardest time are those who have never/rarely read books in deep POV and then try to write in that style. The shift is harder to grasp.

      1. Lisa, I've been following your advice and posts for a while now and you are the best around. Thank you for the time you take. I'm predominantly a poetry writer attempting a first novel, a historical novel and it is Deep POV I want to incorporate into the book. In 2019 I read 70 novels as I try re-wire my brain to fiction and I was wondering if you can recommend any Historical novels that use Deep POV well, or just a couple of excellent Deep POV novels you love yourself. Thanks once again. Stephen.

        1. Awww *blushes* Thank you!
          I haven't read many pure historicals in deep pov, though many use deep pov for key emotional scenes. One of my favorite historical fantasies written entirely in deep pov is "Dreamlander" by K.M. Weiland. (as well as my own novel The Last Seers - but I'm biased on that one 😛 )
          I did compile a short list here that incorporates a few different genres:

  3. Lisa, we writers can always count on you to bring us out of the fog and into the deeper meanings of our writing techniques. This post is a perfect example. My manuscript will be better because of your spot-on examples. Thanks!

  4. Excellent post! I love deep POV for all the feels and strive for it on my writing. Your examples and explanation are spot on. Now to get back to my WIP and silence my own intrusions.

    1. Yes, you're right. My editor still points out places where it slips in on me too. It does get easier the more you practice, but I've seen some writers get really hard on themselves when it slips in. That's what editors are for 😀

  5. I just left a comment and approved one more, so you might want to take it from the top. Thank you so much for these POV posts...they are making a world of difference for me. 🙂

  6. I'm editing right now and using prowritingaid or grammerly and even scrivener I can wade through the "when" and the "then this" but i also find I write a lot of "seemed too" passives so I guess I need to think when I write. Thank you for the tips.

  7. I'm still learning DPOV and this post is awesome. You gave a lot of really great advice. Thank you!

  8. Thanks for the clear examples for the mysterious Deep POV. It is one thing to be wrapped up in reading it than to write it. I appreciate the description of being a shush and nod to the character - carry on!

  9. This is quite helpful, and thanks for the examples. I'm bookmarking this and using it as a tool to examine my drafts as a check to find places where I slip into narrator mode.

    1. It's so easy to do. I really wish there were a set of hard and fast rules you could just do a search and find function to help dig them out. The search adds to the fun for me.

  10. Wonderful post. So clear with helpful illustrations. I have found the red flag words of realised, noticed, remembered ... and now have some more to check - then , when ...

    1. Be sure to check out the 5 day deep pov challenge on Facebook. It's so much fun and the group has grown to about 500 -- and nearly everyone participates in the challenge.

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