Deep POV (point of view) is a popular (and lately, divisive) writing style to employ. Many blogs about deep pov will list out the same four or six foundational tools as though any newbie could pick this up and run with it from these meagre explanations. Deep POV is complex and involves many tools that overlap and interact with one another to create specific effects. It’s truly a disservice to simplify deep POV to such an extent that newer writers stew in frustration for years trying to figure out why they can’t get this simple style to work for them.
What Is Deep POV?
Deep POV is a style of fiction writing that aims to remove all the psychic or narrative distance between the reader and the character so the reader feels as if they’re immersed in the story. By removing the author/narrator voice, the reader takes a vicarious emotional journey along with the point-of-view character. Here are 7 ways you can use deep POV to make that happen.
1. Remove The Writer Voice Entirely
First, it’s important to understand the role of the author/narrator in each point-of-view style.
- 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 (and often whether they’re right to feel or think that way).
- 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 (the parts we like to italicize).
- First Person POV can also utilize this narrative or psychic distance, but it isn’t in deep POV by default.
Deep POV is one character 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’s no place for the writer/narrator voice.
2. Avoid Drawing Conclusions For Readers
In deep POV, you share the raw information the character takes in and not the conclusions they reach. Their emotions and decisions are based on this information, so this basic data provides the WHY behind what they think and do and feel. Let’s look at some examples of how this works.
With limited third person, you’re telling the story, so you’re free to share the conclusion the character or you have come to:
- Anxious energy surged through her.
- Bob looked at me with a sad face.
- She imagined what he looked like without his shirt on.
In deep POV, you’ll focus instead on the raw info the character sees, hears, touches, learns, intuits – and how these things feel.
- She jigged her leg under the table and tapped her nails on the chrome armrests to help keep her mouth shut.
- The corners of Bob’s mouth turned down and he stared out the window, his shoulders bowed with some unseen weight.
- She stared at the wedge of chest hair exposed by the missing button on his shirt and bit her lip. Her gaze continued down to the top of his jeans before jerking away.
In deep POV, you focus on presenting the raw data in the form of internal sensations and physiology, sensory details, thoughts, expressions, gestures, posture, tone of voice – what Psychology Today calls the silent orchestra of communication.
3. Filter Everything Through the POV Character
This is so critical to making deep POV work for your story. Everything comes to the reader filtered through the point-of-view character – through all the things and all the feels. When another character is speaking, the reader receives that dialogue 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. What’s said will have an effect on how they think and feel.
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.
4. Get Inside the Character’s Head
Each time you narrate a character’s thoughts (Bob wondered what the implications of this might be), explain things the character would already know (there’s Judy, Bob’s second wife), or insert information that you, the all-knowing writer, want the reader to know (it had been five months since she’d seen him) – this is author intrusion in deep POV.
In deep POV, internal dialogue is written entirely from the POV character’s perspective, filtered through their own scene goals and emotional journey. The point here is to deepen the character’s emotional journey. These bits of telling and author intrusion undermine the immersive fictive dream you’ve spent so much time creating. Deep POV is not about characters ruminating and reflecting and navel gazing as a workaround for talking to the reader.
5. Employ Greater Emotional Range And Intensity (Emotional Arc)
Most writers have learned about the three-act structure, creating tension, and understanding pace and characterization. They don’t always learn about creating emotional arcs for their characters at the scene, act, and story levels. The emotional conflict needs to intensify and escalate as the story progresses. Each scene or sequel would do well to surprise the reader with its range and intensity of emotions.
Deep POV falls flat when writers rely on the same easy emotions. We reach for these low-hanging-fruit feelings because they’re universal and can be explosive – things like anger and love and attraction and fear. Those emotions aren’t wrong, but they most certainly are more complex and nuanced than many writers instinctively explore. I highly recommend James Scott Bell’s writing from the middle teaching and Donald Maas’ book The Emotional Craft Of Fiction as good places to start if this is new to you.
6. Limit the Reader’s Knowledge to What the Character Knows
Every word on the page comes from within the character. If the character knows it, and thinks of it, the reader should know it. Similarly, if the character does not know something, the reader can’t know it. Because of this, many who write mystery and suspense especially feel that deep POV won’t work for them. Let the character discover things, be surprised by things, remember things – the key is that the POV character doesn’t see the plot twist coming.
7. Create Specific Effects, Not Constraints
Challenge yourself to learn the more advanced tools of deep POV while also focusing on what effect the tools aim to create for readers. Deep pov is neither template nor prison. It’s a set of stylistic choices that should serve you and the story, not limit what you want to write. Once you understand the effects these stylistic choices are going for, you can choose when and where to apply (or not apply) them.
Do you use deep POV? Is there anything about this style that has you stumped or frustrated?
Lisa offers her 5 week intensive training on writing in deep pov three times a year. Registration is now open for the January 25, 2021 class. She offers free tips, advice, and critiques in the closed Facebook group – Going Deeper With Emotions In Fiction between classes.
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If Lisa had a super-power it would be breaking down complicated concepts into digestible practical steps. Lisa loves helping writers “go deeper” and create emotional connections with readers using deep point of view! Hang out with Lisa on Facebook at Confident Writers where she talks deep point of view.
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Truphena Mahindu says
I know this is coming eons after your post but to be honest, this is the best article I’ve read on deep POV. I’m a first time aspiring author who loves to write but I’m immersed in a sea of suggestions of what works these days and what doesnt. I had my manuscript edited and received feedback that my script had lots of talking heads and I needed to use deep POV – which I had no clue what it was! Searching and lots of coffee didn’t yield much and here I am again with lots of tabs open on the subject. I’ve literary hand written your notes in my notebook so when I’m at the doctor’s or in some queue I can ruminate on your great expose.
I’m simply saying you’re a great teacher and what lots of writers are looking for is simplified info like what you’ve done. Too late for the class in Jan but hope to consider any that comes up in future.
Just what I needed a google article on this to refresh my brain (I find when being away from writing for a few days I can get back in faster if I read a few articles.)
It should also be stressed that the writer should not try to do every single scene and every single chapter in deep pov, it’s exhausting for them and the reader. Articles like this and others don’t say this, it’s really import to know this to avoid burn out! Deep pov should be saved for when it’s needed and the rest of the time do a deep pov-ish third person that suits the story/characters.
IMOP from what’s naturally happened in the book so far, along with the feedback I’ve gotten is that deep pov makes it *more* mysterious and easier to set up foreshadowing (people are surprised but then go along the lines of “of course” such and such was in another chapter or the item that she found/saw and such makes sense now. New characters can be made to give clues and such too. The setting is “alive” and can also help. You just have to re-read the from the start and find the right spot to put in what’s needed for the main pov to notice it or naturally meat up with the suspicious person. I’m not explaining this as well as I should be but it can be done. I had to figure out how to get a few clues believe it or not in my wip (fantasy) because a few chapters past the middle of the book the whole plot fell apart as there was stuff missing about the mysterious god, where the main pov came from, whey she’s on a mission and a few other things critical to getting the dang story to move forward.
She’s not the most trusting so doesn’t just blab out what she knows about what’s going on so even the friends she’s made don’t know why (I’m still working on that.) She does know something is deeply wrong and is picking up clues here and there as to what’s really going on. so the reader and the main pov are both unraveling the mystery together. Going back to the starting chapters and working forward from there to add in approp foreshadowing along with little bites of info from people can totally work.
It’s kind of think a choose your own adventure mystery style. 😀 Just have to be extra careful to say in deep ov and find ways not to tell. ^-^ It’s HARD though i’ve been at this for about five years *GERR* main due to having to revise twice as the old ending didn’t work at all after the second revision. So that’s been fun. Logic is your friend but when that just can’t work make it up! xD
Like someone else mentioned, deep-pov has become such a trend that anything not, is critized.
It doesn’t help that a lot of writers’ advice these days fail to mention which pov they’re talking about and invariably give advice meant for deep-pov, making you believe it’s the one true pov that rules them all.
I’ve unfortunately fallen into that trap myself when looking into the writing of published books, or critiquing a writing partner’s text. (Thankfully, that particular text became better for it, but it could just as quickly have gone the wrong way.)
I shall be more careful going forward.
Thank you for this post.
Vivienne Sang says
I have a question. I’ve written a novel in which the story is told through several people. Can I still use deep POV for each of the characters, or has it got to be only the main character?
John Atherton says
Suggestion: Read “As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner.
William Faulkner is right up there with Ernest Hemingway.
“As I Lay Dying is a 1930 Southern Gothic novel by American author William Faulkner. Faulkner’s fifth novel, it is consistently ranked among the best novels of 20th-century literature.
“The novel utilizes stream-of-consciousness writing technique, multiple narrators, and varying chapter lengths.”
Nicola Martin says
Excellent article. I think filtering through a more omniscient POV feels more ‘writerly’, so committing to a deep character POV can be a wrench. As you outline, it pays dividends, though.
S.J. Siedenburg says
I LOVE deep POV. 🙂
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
I am such a huge fan of Deep POV because Ilove the immersive eperience most of the time. But there are definitely times when I don’t want it – if the subject matter is too hard to handle, I need some distance.
Lisa Hall-Wilson says
Yeah, deep pov is great but it has its limitations. Sometimes you need to use telling or author intrusion – it’s simply more expedient or you’re making a point with it. The effects each “rule” aims to create is what’s important to learn. Then you can create those effects when and where you need them – whether it’s over a whole novel or for key scenes. Not using deep pov isn’t wrong, but a lot of people misunderstand and think they’re writing deep pov when they’re not.
Jan Sikes says
Hi, Lisa! This is the most comprehensive and easy to understand piece I’ve seen written on Deep POV! Thank you!! You made it make sense.
Lisa Hall-Wilson says
Thanks! Glad you found it helpful. It started as a bit of a rant, lol. I hear from a lot of people who get frustrated trying to learn deep pov, but blogs that mention deep pov fail to really get into how to make it work for you. Learn what effect the “rules” are trying to create, and then make them work for you.
DP Lyle says
Excellent discussion of POV, Lisa. Really enjoyed it and have recommended it to several other writer friends. Thanks for posting it.
Lisa Hall-Wilson says
Awesome! Thanks so much. Glad it was helpful. I wanted to get into the WHY behind the rules, rather than a rote repetition of the basics.
I love the concept of deep POV, but feel it’s been greatly misunderstood. It seems the trend now is to criticize anything not deep, when most narratives need a good combination. It’s quick becoming a mirror of show don’t tell, sounds advice that must be applied intentionally rather than across the board.
Lisa Hall-Wilson says
I think deep pov is popular, and it’s popular for a reason, but it should never be the only option available. I receive some negative feedback from people who believe this style is too restrictive. Too much work for readers. Too intense. Doesn’t mean those writers couldn’t use deep pov for key scenes or moments in their novels where they’re looking for that emotional gut punch for readers instead of their entire novel. There has to be room for all these kinds of stories.
Rebecca Vance says
I have been intrigued by deep POV. I am interested in your class. Thank you.
Lisa Hall-Wilson says
Awesome. You should head over to the Facebook group. I’m doing free critiques all week.