by Lisa Hall Wilson
Depending on the genre you’re writing, you might’ve been told or heard that you need to know or write in Deep POV. I get it. It’s definitely more popular in some genres than others. However, so many people who join my Facebook group for help learning deep POV and writing emotions, misunderstand the idea of narrative or psychic distance.
Reader’s Digest On POV
Most are familiar with Omniscient POV, where the writer tells a story about a group of characters and shares how all the characters feel or think.
Objective Third Person is a writer/narrator telling a story about one or more characters, but there’s little focus on what the character thinks or feels.
Limited or Close Third Person POV is a writer/narrator telling a story about ONE character, and that character shares thoughts intermittently with readers through free indirect speech. Free indirect speech is when the reader gets thoughts directly from the character (the parts we like to italicize).
Deep POV is one character at a time living out a story with the reader at their side, in their head. The writer will use free indirect speech when writing in deep POV, but the focus of the story is the character’s emotional journey. There is no writer/narrator voice to explain, summarize, or interrupt.
Every Word Comes From Within The POV Character
When writing entirely in deep POV, every word on the page comes to the reader filtered through the point-of-view character. The reader receives all info through the point-of-view character, not the writer (as they would in limited third person).
The POV character will have an opinion about what’s said and the person saying it. Everything that’s said and happen should have an effect on how the character thinks and feels.
The same goes for setting and description, to the beats written to attribute dialogue to another character, how characters move, their expressions, ambient sensory details… EVERYTHING is filtered through the POV character’s perspective. This is a hard mindset shift to make.
This Feels Like Storytelling
The temptation to “storytell” is very strong particularly if your primary instinct is to write in objective or limited third person. In those more distant POV styles, the story comes to the reader through the writer, but because every word on the page comes from within your point of view character, slipping in your author voice adds distance and undermines the goal of immersing the reader in the story.
The Black Forest was known for its gnarled trees, bogs, and unpredictable pits. “It’s not a nice place.” Edric couldn’t suppress the body shiver that rattled his spine.
The italicized part is the storytelling. Would a character describe a place in his own world that he’s familiar with like this? Would he need to explain it to himself (remember, he’s alone inside his own head – he isn’t supposed to speak to the reader). This is acceptable in objective or limited third person, but in deep POV this storytelling becomes author intrusion.
Let’s look at a couple of ways to fix this.
“The Black Forest is not a nice place. It’s full of gnarled trees, bogs and unpredictable pits.” Edric couldn’t suppress the body shiver that rattled his spine.
If the character is speaking to someone unfamiliar with the area, putting the info into dialogue can get the info to the reader. You’ll often see this construction with expert and newbie combinations, with Watson characters that can stand in for the reader and ask questions the POV character might not otherwise have a reason to think about or explain.
His favorite boots were still mired in one of the bogs in the Black Forest. Edric couldn’t suppress the body shiver that rattled his spine. He squinched his toes against the sting of the old scars on the bottom of his feet.
Give the POV character a reason to think about something he otherwise might not ruminate on. Be careful to make sure the thought is organic. We rarely have things come to mind that aren’t triggered by something else in some way.
Movements And Time Passing
Where many writers struggle with this shift into deep POV is where we try to clarify a character moving between scenes or settings or gaps in time.
Two weeks later, Shannon walked into the classroom clutching her books.
The power of deep POV is in immediacy, so most of the time stories written entirely in deep POV span a shorter amount of time. That’s not to say you can’t use deep POV if your story spans generations, or jumps around in time periods, but you should write as though everything is happening right now.
Dialogue is almost always a solid workaround if you need to get info to the reader without breaking deep POV.
You can also note a change in the seasons, things that have piled up or been neglected (dishes, mail, inbox, etc.) They can set a date for something in the future, and when you open the next scene at that event, readers will make that leap with you.
Smaller gaps in time, like morning to afternoon can be noted by the change in the sun, the temperature, the meal they’re eating, their routine. You don’t have to tell readers it’s the next morning, just have your character begin their morning routine.
Where Storytelling Goes Unnoticed
Where the biggest struggle is with removing the author/narrator voice is in the in-between moments. YOU aren’t telling the story, the character is living out the story.
He’d trained his whole life for this moment, as many before him had, but never thought to see it with his own eyes.
So, “thought” adds distance in deep POV. The character is alone in their own head, so just share the thought, you don’t need to signal to the reader that it’s a thought. “As many had before him” is author intrusion. This is the author inserting themselves into the story to give the reader information the character wouldn’t otherwise think of or have.
Let’s look at a rewrite:
Edric scrubbed his face with his hands and stared out the window. War. Wasn’t supposed to have come to this, not in his lifetime.
Do you see the difference? The way the character would think in a situation, the things they see, the consequences and stakes they face – this raw information and emotion. This is what deep POV is all about.
Do you struggle to eliminate the author/narrator voice in deep POV? Do transitions give you problems? Please share your questions and experiences with us down in the comments!
Announcement: Lisa is running her 5 week Deep POV intensive starting Oct 4, 2021. Join the free Facebook group Going Deeper With Emotions In Fiction to learn more about the course and take advantage of free tips and critiques.
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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.