by Lisa Hall-Wilson
Hey Hey my fellow scribes *mittened fist-bump*
Most of the writers who request to join my free Facebook group “Going Deeper With Emotions In Fiction” are looking for tips and help in writing deep point of view. So, I’m always a little confused when every so often someone posts some variation of: so why don’t bestselling authors use deep point of view?
I think these questions are often rooted in frustration. Deep point of view isn’t easy to learn. It’s even more difficult when you think you’re writing in deep POV, but really it’s limited/close third person (or even more distant than that) and you just can’t see the difference.
The idea of levels of psychic distance was coined by John Gardner in The Art Of Fiction. This is the idea of how close the reader is to the point of view character’s thoughts/feelings with the gap between them bridged by the writer/narrator voice. These POV styles have been given different names over time, I’ve tried to include a few of the common ones.
With omniscient POV, the writer/narrator knows everything, at times even the future. Sometimes the narrator is a character in their own right, but mostly it’s the writer/narrator voice telling the story objectively (details, descriptions, thoughts) about any or all of the characters. The reader gets a story about one or many characters from the writer/narrator. (ie. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman)
The next level of psychic distance is known by a few names (Indirect thought, objective third person). The author is still telling a story about the characters, but the narrator tries to communicate emotion to the reader. If you’re aiming to write in limited/close third but are told you’re “telling” -- this is the style you’re slipping into most likely.
In Limited or Close Third Person POV (or direct thought), the author/narrator voice is still telling the story but they’re limited to one character at a time, and that character shares the storytelling role through internal dialogue and some internal sensations. We see internal rhetorical questions come into use. There’s more evoking of emotions and the reader gets to be inside the character’s head some of the time.
In contrast, there is no narrator/writer voice in deep point of view. The character isn’t telling a story, they’re living out the story and the reader is a fly on the wall inside the character’s head. The reader experiences the story vicariously through the character. It’s like a first-person shooter game viewpoint. There’s no psychic distance or gap between the reader and the character (hence why there’s no need for italics for direct thoughts in deep pov). This is a massive mindset shift in how story is told.
Become A True Artist
So, back to the main question – why don’t bestselling writers use deep point of view? First, I would argue they do. Overwhelmingly, deep POV is used in certain genres like romance, but in most genres most bestsellers are dipping into deep POV in a variety of different ways.
The key is to know what psychic distance is and how each POV style uses it to tell a story that keeps the reader turning pages. Each style serves a purpose and creates specific effects, so use them strategically.
Shifting Between Psychic Distance Styles
The blue text is limited/close third person, bolded is deep pov, and orange is objective or indirect point of view. This first one is written in first person, but it’s not all in deep point of view (a lot of people don’t understand that first person is not automatically deep pov).
Do you see how the different styles are blended together as best serves the story and the emotional arc of the chapter? Those last two sentences has the narrator/writer voice creeping in to bridge the gap for readers that (to me) feels a bit more distant than the opening sentences. (You might disagree with me about that. That’s fine.)
Let’s look at another example of the blending the styles:
Those two sentences in orange font are purely a narrator/writer voice stepping in to fill in the gap.
This objective narrator/writer voice is used sparingly but strategically. A few lines above, do you see how the deep POV really pulls the reader into the tensest moment in the chapter? Everything in this chapter has led to this impending conflict.
And just for contrast, here’s one written entirely in deep POV. Just head to the bestseller page on Amazon and click romance. Most of them are going to be in deep POV. Do you see how the narrator/writer voice is missing?
Even stories written entirely in deep POV will make use of the other psychic distance styles for expediency, in ways that serve the story. Rather than create some scenario in which the reader can intuit that Mariah is the point of view character’s daughter (which wouldn’t be wrong), Harlow just tells the reader who Mariah is, and moves back into deep POV.
Learn the rules, learn how to make these point of view styles work FOR YOU, and then break the rules! This is what bestsellers do very well, this use of psychic distance, so well that readers often don’t even notice. Deep point of view is difficult and doesn’t seem intuitive until you really understand this idea of psychic distance. You pair this with the techniques of deep pov aimed at removing psychic distance and creating immediacy, and the differences become very clear. Now you’re ready to use deep POV as you like in any style, because you know how to use each tool to create specific effects for readers.
Do you prefer to write in deep POV, limited/close third person, or some other style? What style do you most prefer to read in? Do you have any questions about writing in deep POV, or examples to share? Tell us about it down in the comments!
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Lisa Hall-Wilson is a writing teacher and award-winning writer and author. She’s the author of Method Acting For Writers: Learn Deep Point Of View Using Emotional Layers. Her blog Beyond Basics For Writers explores all facets of the popular writing style deep point of view and offers practical tips for writers.
She runs the free Facebook group Going Deeper With Emotions where she shares tips and videos on writing in deep point of view.