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August 14, 2020

8 Common Questions About Writing In Deep Point Of View

by Lisa Hall-Wilson

Deep point of view is a style of writing that aims to immerse the reader in the story so they share the character’s emotional journey as though it’s their own. This is achieved by removing the author/narrator voice from the writing, which is easier said than done. Deep POV is very popular in some genres and is growing in popularity in others as readers increasingly search for an experience in addition to being entertained.

I was asked by my students if I would create an FAQ for deep POV, and this is the first post towards that goal. These are some of the more frequent questions I get asked on my blog and in my free Facebook group Going Deeper With Emotions In Fiction.

1. When Can I Use Italics In Deep POV?

Typically, in deep POV you don’t use italics for internal dialogue or self-talk. Most readers can figure out when a character is thinking without the he/she thought tags or using italics. Where italics is used in deep pov is if there’s telepathy or mind-speak involved (looking at you paranormal and fantasy authors) to distinguish when a character is thinking from when they’re speaking to someone without words.

2. Is First Or Third POV Better In Deep POV?

You can use either effectively. When writing in first person, you are not automatically writing in deep pov though, so keep that in mind. This becomes more a choice of personal preference and genre/audience. Some genres seem to trend more towards one than the other.

3. Is Deep POV Better In Past Or Present Tense?

Same answer as above. Both can be equally effective so it’s more about personal preference and genre.

4. What Are Some Books That Use Deep POV?

I have read most but not all of these. My students will sometimes ask me about a particular book and I’ll use the Look Inside feature on Amazon to read the first few pages. These books are or seem to be written entirely in deep POV and represent a wide variety of genres.

The Help – Kathryn Stockett
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
Divergent – Veronica Roth
Water For Elephants – Sara Gruen
Her Galahad – Melissa James
Paladin of Souls – Lois McMaster Bujold
Dreamlander – K.M. Weiland
Cry Wolf – Patricia Briggs
ROOM – Emma Donaghue
The Last Seers – Lisa Hall-Wilson
Cross My Heart – Pamela Cook
Cursed Wishes – Marcy Kennedy
Tough Road – Elizabeth Safleur
The Ladderman – Angela Archer
Because Of Dylan – Erica Alexander

5. Why Can’t I Use Emotion Words In Deep POV?

Most of the time, writing that the character is mad, happy, depressed, anxious, etc. is considered telling. With deep pov, we want to write as though we are the character experiencing this story in real time. We don’t label emotions in our own minds very often, we FEEL emotions. This creates the immersive effect readers crave. For those who are aware of this rule in deep pov, what more often happens is showing AND telling.

Steve kicked the can down the street, hands shoved so far down his pockets he might’ve pulled up his socks. Too depressed to go home, he trudged past home and headed to the park.

Steve kicked the can down the street, hands shoved so far down his pockets he might’ve pulled up his socks. He trudged past home and headed to the park.

6. How Do You Anchor The Beginning Of A Scene In Deep POV Without Telling?

Sometimes it’s telling, often it’s author intrusion, but making sure the reader is rooted in who, when, where, etc. at the beginning of a chapter is a challenge for those new to deep POV. When done well, you can set aside this rule in deep pov if you’re able to become the character – inhabit their skin so to speak for a bit – and let the character feel their way through a scene.

It was five days later when Jerry sat down for breakfast.

Jerry slumped onto the only uncluttered chair at the table with a bowl of granola and the week’s stack of newspapers under his arm. He opened the oldest paper and spread it across the table. He had five days of news to catch up on. 

7. How Do You Remove Filter Words Like Felt, Saw, Or Heard In Deep POV?

These filter words are considered telling in deep pov but are totally acceptable in other styles, and it can be hard to shift the mindset to write without them. Try to write it as though YOU are the character and the character has no audience. Don’t write as though the reader is listening in. Write so that the reader feels like they’re right there next to your character living out this story with them.

She felt herself drawn to the last door on the left. <-- Instead of telling me she feels something, just write what she feels.

She stared at the final door, the light shining out from beneath like a safety beacon on a dark night.

She heard twigs snapping behind her in the dark. <-- don’t tell me she hears things, just show me what she hears.

Twigs snapped behind her and she spun towards the noise.

8. How Do I Write In Deep POV And Not Give Away The Character’s Whole Plan?

In deep POV, you have to rethink your ideas on tension and conflict. In other styles of writing, keeping the reader in the dark is one way to build tension for readers, but you can’t keep secrets from the reader in deep pov. If your character knows what’s about to happen, the reader knows what’s about to happen.

Instead, think about surprise. If your character is able to create a plan and fully execute it without alteration maybe you need to be harder on them. Let the reader in on what the character expects going into a situation – and now make life harder for them. Whatever they’re expecting – what if it doesn’t happen, or happens at the wrong time? If the reader knows the stakes going in, how much of their plan depends on one element, then the reader is leaning in and cheering for the character to succeed.

These are the short answers, of course, but sometimes that’s all you need. *smile*

Do you have a deep POV question I could add to my next deep POV FAQ post? Please share it down in the comments!

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About Lisa

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.

23 comments on “8 Common Questions About Writing In Deep Point Of View”

  1. I would add any book by Suzanne Brockman to your list of authors as example. I picked up her booklet about Deep POV at a conference years and years ago, and never looked back.

    I do use italics for certain kinds of thoughts, though, per "Self Editing for Fiction Writers" by Browne and King, but it's when my character 'talks' to himself in second person. What do you think you're doing, idiot? That could get you killed. type of thoughts.

      1. I don't know if they were ever reprinted. She gave them away at an RWA conference, as I recall. I think her publisher did them. It's one of those "book extras" for Force of Nature, and I treasure my copy. You might try emailing her to see if there's a way to get one.

        1. I read how Brockman defined Deep POV. She has one of the basic ideas, but there are far more techniques that she does not use. Writing is an art form, so that's perfectly OK. Many of the authors cited above in this article only use some of the methods. The author of this article, Lisa Hall-Wilson, conducts a class on Deep POV that encompasses many more of the techniques.

  2. Italics are tricky because sometimes we or our readers are really attached to them as a stylistic choice. The thinking for leaving italics out is that it creates a visual reminder that the reader is outside the story. It’s a form of telling. You’ve just replaced the thought tag with italics.

    I tell my students to learn the rules and then make them work for you. The rule is no italics. Many authors break deep POV in one way or another because it suits their style or the story. But, you break the rules too much and you’re not in deep POV anymore.

  3. I aspire to using less filter words and instead utilize the senses. It takes more thought but is so worth the effort.

    Wonderful post! I have lots to ponder.

    1. Sensory details are important, but so is physiology and understanding how an emotional feels and what emotions can prioritize, skew, or get wrong.

  4. I really really loved this post, Lisa! Lots of food for thought, and I am still pondering the italics. It is one of the biggest confusions for me on internal dialogue and Deep POV. (In other words, THANK YOU!!)

    1. Yeah - I struggled with it for a long time too. How would readers know that my character is talking to themselves? But, I think it was (for me) a familiarity issue. Because I read books without it and have no issue knowing when the character is thinking or talking to themselves. Many writers use italics to cheat on telling with the self-talk too. I just don’t use them, but many still do.

  5. Great post, Lisa. Here are a few questions: I get your points about starting a scene or chapter in deep POV, but how about the very FIRST page of the book? Is it wise to write your blurb/back cover text in first person so the reader senses the flavor of the book from the get-go? What tips do you have for avoiding a tsunami of "I" in the text...I entered, I caressed, I....? Many thanks!

    1. My personal opinion (put what weight on that you like) is that if the book is written in first person, feel free to write the blurb in first person. And if the whole book is in deep POV, why wouldn’t your first page be in deep POV? I know that it seems harder to ground the reader in time and place with deep POV - but it just takes practise. Also, if your character has a strong unique voice, you don’t need to front-load the chapter or book with all those details because they’ve evident through context. IMHO.

  6. Love your deep POV posts, Lisa! I'm trying so hard during my edits to make sure I adhere to deep POV and I can see I have a few more instances to look out for. Thanks for the reminders.

    1. That’s a huge pet peeve of mine - is that it’s really really hard to learn deep POV because the intermediate and advanced aspects of it are rarely blogged about or even included in books. Because it’s popular, many people will write a summary blog post or two about it and newer writers are led to believe that’s al there is to it. That’s why I blog almost exclusively about deep POV on my blog and in my first blog posts.

      Deep POV is a difficult technique to wrap your head around and make work for your story and your voice, especially if you’ve been writing in shallower styles or prefer reading shallower styles of storytelling (as opposed to deep or very limited).

  7. I recently read a self-published novel in which the author used a crazy mix of POV. But she has really good reviews and lots of them. It's told in third person from the main character 's (let's call her Beth) pov. Beth drives to visit her father's farm and TELLS us about her last visit (remembering). Then when she arrives, she sees "Joe" working on the tractor. "Hello, dad," she calls. Then she and Joe sit on a rock to talk.

    The author does the same thing over and over, referring to her father and other characters by their names instead of grandma, dad, and mom., etc. I had to go back and start the book over to figure out who Joe was, for example, since at first, in her inner thought, he was Joe. Am I crazy, or was this a strange way to write a novel? And yet, sometimes she uses Joe in her inner thought, and sometimes he's dad. I simply couldn't finish the book....

    Again, the book is doing well and she's constantly being invited to speak to book groups. Help!! I'm so confused!

  8. I liked your example of how to introduce the passage of time. I am trying to figure out different ways to show time. I am using sun angle, shadows growing. I never thought of using 5 days of newspapers. I have the sun rises from the horizon or sets. Maybe you could write more on that topic.

  9. Can I use a mix of Deep POV and a more traditional style of writing for my romance novel?

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