This post appeared in my August 2021 newsletter’s writers’ corner. For regular tips, and much much more, take a risk and sign up! Go here to browse past copies or there’s a sign up at the end of this post.
Point of View (POV) – a general explanation
As writers, we constantly come across explanations of the different kinds of point of view available to us.
There’s omniscient – where the god-like narrator knows everything and tells the reader what’s going on as an independent witness rather than through the eyes of their characters. Essentially, classic story telling and perhaps a post on its own for another day. For an excellent example of recent use of omniscient POV, I recommend A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. (Which will be my next newsletter book review.)
There’s first person, very common these days and great for bringing the reader along with the character as everything is seen and heard from that character’s perspective. There’s the very tricky second person, where the reader is invited to become the protagonist. Rarely used and while perhaps good for short pieces, it might be exhausting for both writer and reader for a full novel.
Finally there’s the tried and true third person – he, she, they.
This post is about an extension of point of view (POV), called Deep Point of View. So what is that, precisely? What are the benefits of becoming familiar with Deep POV as a writer? And how do you go about it?
What is deep Point of View?
First up, this method applies to any of the above POVs except omniscient. The basics are all about having one character reveal the story to us at any one time, so that we only hear that character’s thoughts, only touch/feel/see their experiences and emotions.
Isn’t that what writing in POV is about anyway? How does being ‘deep’ make it different?
The key difference is that for the relevant scene or chapter, the reader becomes the character and lives that scene as the character lives it.
What are the benefits?
Writing in Deep POV isn’t necessarily the right way for every story. However, knowing what it can do will help the writer decide if their story would benefit. In my view, character-driven novels are those which benefit most from Deep POV, as it brings an emotional closeness between the reader and the character. It enables the reader to suspend disbelief, making the story more personal and therefore more gripping. We all want our characters to get under our readers’ skins, to worry with them, celebrate, be fearful with them. Deep POV is how to make it happen. Think about books you’ve read where you really are one with the character, where when you put the book down you feel a sense of loss, of having to wake up in a new and different world. I’ll bet the author was using Deep POV.
How do we achieve this?
As noted above, in Deep Point of View everything the reader experiences is what the character experiences – directly. There are two key ways to make this work:
1. Minimal author intervention
All those words and phrases which make the reader aware someone has actually written this scene, work to distant the reader from the character’s own experience. So they have to go. No exceptions!
The biggest culprit here is the use of ‘he thought’/’she wondered’ etc. When in deep POV, everything on the page is what the character thinks or wonders, so the distinction between narration and inner dialogue is blurred, or lost altogether. (For this reason, if writing in Deep POV, the author should be wary of using italics to distinguish direct thoughts versus the action the character is observing. Italicised thoughts are also an intervention which sets up distancing from the character.)
Here’s a simple example
Not in deep POV
Johnny wondered what the noise was outside. It sounds like dogs fighting, he thought, as he walked to the window to investigate.
In deep POV
A noise outside, like dogs fighting, drew Johnny to the window.
(Shorter and more tense too, another advantage of Deep POV.)
Less obvious is the use of ‘she saw’/ ‘I heard’/ ‘I knew’ etc. Because, again, everything is being seen and heard by the character and known to them so the verbs shouldn’t be stated.
Building on the example above:
Not in Deep POV
Johnny wondered what the noise was outside. It sounds like dogs fighting, he thought, as he walked to the window to investigate. He twitched aside the curtain and peered into the moonlit darkness. He could see a pack of dogs leaping high around the base of a large tree. Is there a cat stuck up there? he asked himself. And then he noticed the tiny bundle huddled on the end of a branch. I’ll have to go outside and shoo the dogs away, he decided, see how brave those dogs really are when faced with cat’s best friend.
In Deep POV
A noise outside, like dogs fighting, drew Johnny to the window. He twitched aside the curtain to peer into the moonlit darkness. A pack of dogs leaped high around the base of a large tree. Johnny pressed his nose to the glass, searching. He sighed. A tiny bundle, likely a cat, huddled on the end of a branch. He straightened his shoulders and marched to the door. How brave would those dogs be when faced with cat’s best friend?
Image by Karsten Paulick from Pixabay
2. Using the character’s voice
This is the second key tool the writer must use to pull off Deep POV effectively. The scene needs to be written in the character’s own way of thinking and talking. It’s not only about speech mannerisms. To create a unique voice, the writer needs to really understand the character –what’s going on in their heads, what’s driving them, their joys and sorrows. The more you write about what is happening to your character, the easier this will be, the more you will slip into their shoes and become them. Writers need to be actors too, even if we’re our only audience!
Here’s an example, from Keepers
NOT in Deep POV
Teddy is able to find a lift into Jindabyne in a returning supply truck on a bright Saturday morning. He plans to get new kit, but he thinks he should perhaps visit the post office and send money to Raine. He’s worried this might mean revealing his whereabouts though, so he’ll have to think about it.
In Deep POV (as it appears in the novel)
Teddy cadges a lift into Jindabyne in a returning supply truck on a bright Saturday morning. As well as getting new kit, he has a hazy idea he should visit the post office and send money to Raine – if it doesn’t mean revealing his whereabouts.
The first is more formal, and could be any character. The second, with its use of words like ‘cadges’, ‘hazy idea’ and showing Teddy’s concern rather than telling the reader he’s worried, brings us more inside Teddy’s unique head.
In summary, if you write in Deep Point of View you’re not the author telling the reader what happens to the character. You are the character, taking the reader with you in whatever the character experiences, making it an immersive and, in the mind of many, more satisfying read.
Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King has an excellent chapter on Point of View
Also this blog post by Jane Friedman Third Person POV.
And to take the idea further, this blog post referring to an article on Interiority, is very helpful – and challenging.
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