Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
(Read more on deep POV in the two-part series,
Deep POV and Narrative Distance)
Deep POV (point of view) is a fairly new option for writers. It’s only become popular in the last 20-40 years, but it’s made itself strongly known and keenly felt, and now much of current fiction is written using this viewpoint.
So what is deep POV and how is it used?
Deep POV is third-person subjective taken a step farther than the normal. The third-person subjective shows story through the eyes of one or more characters—one at a time, no head-hopping please. Deep POV goes beyond that to take readers into the head and heart of a character, allowing the story to be seen and felt through the characters experiences and history and thoughts and feelings.
What the first-person POV accomplishes with its I narration, deep POV accomplishes with third-person he or she narration.
Thus readers see scenes through the viewpoint character, feel story events as that character does. What that character sees, the reader sees. What the character feels or thinks, the reader knows.
And the reader knows automatically that what is being reported are the thoughts and feelings and the intentions of the viewpoint character.
Deep POV allows writers to do away with he thought, he felt, he wondered, he saw, all those phrases that intrude into the fiction, that unnecessarily encumber story.
At one time such phrases were necessary to let readers know we were in the character’s head or seeing through his eyes. With deep POV, readers are in the character’s head [almost] all the time, and so such intrusions aren’t necessary.
A few examples of simple sentences to show the contrast—
He was lost, Thomas thought. Lost and certain someone followed him.
I’m lost, Thomas thought. Lost and certain someone followed him.
Third-person deep POV—
He was lost. Lost and certain someone followed him.
I’m lost. Lost and certain someone followed him.
Elaine trailed her quarry down Main Street, careful to stay busy with store windows on the opposite side of the street. She giggled when she watched him slip into Barrington’s MensWear, saw him hide behind a mannequin.
Third-person deep POV—
Elaine trailed her quarry—better known as her ex—down Main Street, careful to stay busy with store windows on the opposite side of the street.
She giggled when he slipped into Barrington’s MensWear and hid behind a mannequin.
Arkin shook his head. It was moronic, he said to himself, the way Peter fawned over his in-laws.
Peter threw open his mouth, faking a long laugh.
A moron, Arkin thought again, turning away.
Third-person deep POV—
Arkin shook his head. It was moronic the way Peter fawned over his in-laws.
The loser threw open his mouth, faking a long laugh.
Arkin turned away.
As the first-person narrator doesn’t have to identify his own feelings and thoughts as being his own, so the third-person viewpoint character doesn’t have to repeatedly tell his readers that he’s thinking or hoping or seeing or feeling. Readers understand that the thoughts and hopes and visions and feelings belong to the viewpoint character.
The writer who uses deep POV for his viewpoint character doesn’t have to use markers to tell readers what a character feels—
Melissa reluctantly stuck her hand into the pouch. She thought that there was no way she could back gracefully out of the dare. She wiggled her fingers around. She felt slime ooze between them.
Melissa reluctantly stuck her hand into the pouch. There was no way she could back gracefully out of the dare. She wiggled her fingers around, wincing when slime oozed between them.
Using deep POV rather than traditional third-person subjective can cut the word count and keep the intensity high. It can also keep readers deep in the fiction of the moment rather than reminding them that they are reading a story.
The markers that remind readers a character is reporting that he’s doing something—felt, saw, watched, thought and so on—are a barrier between readers and the events and emotions of story. They keep readers one step removed from story events and a character’s feelings.
Removal of those reminders pulls readers deeper into story events and deeper into the character’s mind and heart. When the visual physical barrier is knocked away, the psychological barrier is knocked away as well. The reader can move even deeper into the fictional world.
Of course, being in a character’s thoughts and emotions for the length of a story can induce claustrophobia or otherwise make readers antsy. It’s quite okay to draw back at times, to step away from that deep POV.
When deep POV is too much
Look through a distance lens at the opening of new chapters or scenes to gain perspective and provide relief from deep POV. Go from a big-picture shot and shift focus until your viewpoint character is in the frame and then let him resume the storytelling.
You can also switch viewpoint characters so readers get the view from inside a different head. This gives readers a break from the intensity of a single character’s viewpoint.
Remember, however, to switch viewpoint characters only with scene changes. And be choosy about the heads and hearts you dump your readers into; not every character deserves to tell your story.
Not every character is the right one to tell your story.
Inside Out vs. Outside In
Deep POV allows story and scenes to be experienced from the inside out rather than reported from the outside looking in.
Right. So what does that mean?
It means that your description and actions can be shared through the eyes and feelings and experiences—through the words—of your viewpoint character.
Instead of providing a description that comes across as cold or indifferent or distant, in the words of an uncaring or unknowledgeable narrator, use deep POV to proclaim a character’s relationship to setting or props or even other characters. Use it to reveal character personality and emotion.
Since deep POV keeps us inside a character, you’re free to use words that only this character would use in the circumstances you’ve dumped him into. Use emotion-inducing words, words that come from the character’s emotional state. Use words that arise from his background and his history.
Use words that the character knows will cause a reaction in others.
Don’t limit yourself to words and phrases an outsider would use to describe what he sees. Use words from the depths of your character. Let his frustrations fly with your word choices.
Deep POV is a great tool for stirring up conflict.
Leon’s dress shirt was buttoned to his throat, cutting off his air. The air that did manage to move through him was then squeezed to almost nothing by his tie—one regulation blue stripe, one burgundy.
He yanked off the tie, stuffed it in his pocket.
Penelope was watching and frowning. But he’d only agreed to wear the clothes. He hadn’t agreed to a time limit.
Third-person deep POV—
Leon yanked at the vintage buttons of the vintage dress shirt that choked him, cutting off his air and making him lightheaded. Lightheaded and angry. The damned tie—one regulation blue stripe, one burgundy—had to go. He yanked at it too, pulled it free and stuffed it into his pocket.
So what that Saint Penelope was watching. He’d agreed to wear what she’d picked out for him.
He hadn’t agreed on a time limit.
He grinned when he caught her frown. Fifteen minutes satisfied the requirement for him. And it ticked her off.
A win-win in his book.
Choose a variety of words—nouns, verbs, and adjectives—to reveal character emotion.
Remember, too, that once we’re in deep POV, there are some words a character wouldn’t use.
A character isn’t likely to refer to a sibling as his brother Richard or to a firm he works at as Collins, Hollingsworth, Timbrall, and Dean.
Use words and phrases the character would use. And relay necessary information—that Richard is a character’s brother and that the Collins he refers to is his law firm—through other means.
Tip: Think personal rather than impersonal. Use words meaningful to the character.
Format for Deep POV
For the most part, text is formatted the same in deep POV as in any other point of view.
Yet, where third-person subjective might use italics to show thoughts, deep POV allows the writer to get rid of the italics. And since the use of italics is one more way of calling attention to the form of the words on a page rather than the meaning of the words, getting rid of italics is another way to keep readers deep in the fictional world.
There is no need for italics in deep POV, not for simply reporting thoughts. However, if a character uses I or me in his thoughts, then use italics. Without the italics, readers could be confused or wonder why the writer had switched from third person to first.
And if a reader’s wondering about the mechanics of the format, he’s not lost in the story.
Bopping down the stairs, Ike considered his choices. He’d either have to go to Vail with Mom or Barbados with Dad, no staying at home with Paul. He stopped at the bottom of the stairs to pluck his hat from the fat knob at the end of the railing.
At least I get a choice this Christmas.
He grabbed his board and slammed the door behind him.
And I choose to bag me some beach babes.
** In the original of this article, I had also said that you should use italics if you showed a character’s thoughts using verbs in the present tense when the rest of the narrative is past tense. However, you don’t necessarily have to use italics in that instance. In deep POV you can use present tense for the viewpoint character’s thoughts (with some cautions, of course). Look for an article on this topic soon.
You should know, however, that not all agents, publishers, and readers would agree with this choice. But you will find this method being used.
Bertie tracked his wife to the no-name motel and watched as first she entered and then that loser of a gigolo knocked with a damned unmanly grin on his face. One knock followed by three followed by a drumroll.
And she thinks she’s getting away with this crap? Please.
Of course, that last line could have just as easily have been—
And she thought she was getting away with that crap? Please.
If you’ve not yet worked deep POV into your stories, I encourage you to start. Today’s readers apparently like that close relationship with characters.
Practice writing deep POV. Get into your characters’ heads and hearts, into the rhythms of their thoughts and speech, and convey their emotions and true personalities through the words you give them to both say and think.
Remember too that you are not limited to deep POV, even if it is popular. Try it, use it when it works for your stories. But step back when it begins to smother. And try a more distant approach if that fits the style of story you wish to tell.
Don’t limit yourself. But don’t be limited by others and the practices of the day either.
Go to the deep places in your writing today. Challenge yourself. Challenge your characters.
Challenge your readers while entertaining them.
Get them talking about your stories.
Write about the deep places today. Write strong fiction.