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.
Resident Writing Coach
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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