Writers in the Storm

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September 22, 2021

Best Pro Tip For Writing in Deep POV

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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About Lisa

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. 

Top Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

17 comments on “Best Pro Tip For Writing in Deep POV”

  1. An interesting and helpful post. I don't usually write in deep PoV, but usually in limited PoV. This is because I have multiple characters. Can one use deep PoV in these cases?

    1. I've been writing in Deep POV ever since I discovered it very early on in my writing career. I write romantic suspense, which practically mandates dual POV characters and have never had problems with it. Each character has their scene in their POV. It's a powerful tool for revealing/hiding things from readers as well.

      1. First person is not automatically deep pov. The narrator/writer voice is acceptable in first person in many ways.

      2. I hear what you're saying about remembering the rules of first person to stay in deep POV, even while I'm in third person. Frankly, it's one of the only ways I've been able to start to master Deep POV. I don't know why it's so hard for me, but it is. Especially because I ALWAYS have at least two or more characters who get their own POV.

    2. There are no issues using deep POV with more than protagonist (each having their own scenes of course). It can be a problem in like epic fantasy with bus loads of POV characters, so in that case I would choose one or two POV characters to use deep POV with.

      George RR Martin uses a close POV style in GOT, but he uses the narrator voice quite a lot (he cheats close POV a lot).

      1. This is a very interesting potential solution for me, so I can subtly say "these characters are the MOST important!" (and still let everyone who needs to have a voice say what they need to).

    1. It’s a mindset shift. Easier said than done, I’ve found. Takes a lot of practice, particularly if you’re more familiar with limited or objective POV styles.

  2. The struggle is real. I love deep POV and have trouble with imparting information to the reader that everyone in the scene already knows, like their fantasy world in my paranormals. Takes practice, rewriting, practice, rewriting. Always love your examples, Lisa.

    1. That's a tricky place to be right. Either you create a reason for the protagonist to think of that information, or often the newby or Watson character asks the question so readers can learn too. SFF uses newbies and Watson's quite a lot. However, it's also true that the reader often doesn't need as much info to understand what's going on as we sometimes think they do.

  3. I have read many blogs and other material where you've explained deep POV, Lisa, and you are simply THE BEST! Not only do you know this subject inside out, but you explain it so well, so much better than I've seen others explain it. Thanks so much for your generosity in sharing, and your expertise!

    1. Keep at it. Once you have all the puzzle pieces, it gets easier. Finding all the pieces - that’s what my struggle was for years. (And why I put together this 5-week course).

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