Deep POV is a dynamic, visceral, and immediate style of writing that aims to minimize the perceived distance between the reader and the point of view character (POVC). There are a number of stylistic choices an author makes to facilitate this. At the heart of Deep POV is an immersive experience for the reader through an emotional connection to the character.
Now, before I launch into this, let me begin by saying that eliminating distance is only one of the basic techniques of writing in Deep POV. This post only scratches the surface of how to write in this style effectively for the desired effect. Most books on Deep POV only cover the bare basics and don’t get into the more advanced topics of subtext, internal dialogue, emotional layering, emotive writing, blending emotions, pacing, character voice, etc. But you have to start somewhere so whether this post is a refresher or you’re starting new, hopefully this will help you take the next step in growing in your craft.
As I said above, eliminating the distance between the reader and the POVC is one of the main objectives of Deep POV. So, begin by searching for distance words in your manuscript. Here are a few to get you started (obviously not an exhaustive list):
knew, thought, perceived, watched, saw, felt, wished, heard, made, caused, hoped, wondered, wanted, believed, regarded, noticed, looked, smelled, realized, decided, tasted
What I mean by distance words is that this list of words reminds the reader they are a spectator. They are not IN the story, they are not journeying through the story with the main character; they are in fact a reader who is separated from the story by a pane of glass. Much like we might watch a movie. A movie can bring you to tears, but often we are simply entertained and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m only pointing out that this isn’t the main objective of using Deep POV.
Character Voice and Internal Dialogue
Now, this basic building block technique leads into another trick for writing in Deep POV that eliminates distance which is character voice through internal dialogue. Everything the POVC knows, hears, tastes, touches, sees, perceives is filtered through to the reader, but that’s ALL the reader knows. Deep POV is a very limited and close writing style. It’s intimate, raw, and in a way (though I just said otherwise) unfiltered. What I mean is that everything the character has to interpret or make a judgement about is filtered through their experiences, values, their perception of time and place, etc. The POVC’s internal dialogue (thoughts) are given to the reader unfiltered — raw.
We are like this in real life. We put values on things, we interpret and analyze and categorize many things from our perception of aesthetics to the likeability of our neighbor. However, our thoughts are knee-jerk responses. Many of our thoughts, we would never voice aloud. We have thoughts that would be inappropriate, intimate, embarrassing, shocking, expose bias and leanings, reveal vulnerability and weak spots, etc. In Deep POV, you’re looking to write with that kind of intimate authenticity from a character’s perspective.
Another aspect of eliminating distance is applied to sequencing and pacing. In order to eliminate distance, the reader has to feel like they’re experiencing the story as the character does. The author in Deep POV is not a tour guide. The author should disappear entirely in fact, or at least as much as possible. Things happen in a cause and effect chain reaction much of the time, but this chain reaction happens so quickly in our own minds it feels simultaneous. It’s not. A thought causes an action. An action causes a reaction. Be sure you’re not putting the cart before the horse, so to speak.
What does this look like? Let’s try a few off-the-cuff examples.
Jason watched the woman. Her heels clicked on the hard linoleum. The woman walked towards the bar with intent. He tipped his beer to his lips. Not interested, he thought.
Do you see how “watched” and “thought” immediately relegated the reader to “observer” rather than experiencing this event with Jason in real time? This example puts the reader in the arm chair watching what’s taking place, instead of sitting on the bar stool next to Jason in this scene. That’s the goal of Deep POV — to put the reader in the story with the POVC. I could have said Jason heard the woman walk into the bar, same problem.
With Deep POV, we’re going to avoid speech and thought tags and use action beats instead. I could leave off “he thought” and you would still understand that “not interested” is Jason’s internal dialogue.
I’ve highlighted “the woman walked” because this is a great spot to go deeper and remove the telling “with intent” bit. From this initial example, do we know how Jason feels about this woman? Does he perceive her as a threat or a conquest? Is it his sister or a stranger from the highway? Does he know why this woman is walking into the bar? We don’t want to add reams of words here to clarify these things, but a few descriptive words filtered through Jason’s perception of the woman would help. Sometimes people just walk into a room, and sometimes they strut, stride, march, stomp, or tiptoe and all of these words will hint to the reader things not just about the POVC, but the person they’re thinking/talking about as well.
So, how do we fix this?
Feminine heels clicked on the hard linoleum behind him. Jason swiveled in his seat. The lanky blond-from-a-box strode across the room towards the bar. Little early in the day for that much cleavage. He tipped his beer to his lips. But who was he to judge.
First, I’ve begun with an action and then reaction. Something causes Jason to turn around. He doesn’t turn around and then hear the heels on the floor. Now, I could have gone a dozen different ways with this but can you see how you have a much clearer picture of who Jason is — what kind of guy he is, and how he feels about the woman? The first example was 35 words and the second is 46. Deep POV will add to your word count so it’s important that you make every word audition for its place in the story. If you can cut a word and not lose any meaning, it’s got to go!
Let’s try another example.
Allison stared at the painting, wondering at the imagination required to create such a stunning portrait. She could never make something like that, she thought.
So, I’ve identified some distance words in this example as well. She stared at the painting — what does the painting look like? Why is it worth staring at, from Allison’s perspective? Wondering is another word that builds in distance and forces the reader back into the armchair. I didn’t highlight it, but “stunning” is a subjective word in this case isn’t it. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and this is one place where I could go much deeper and give the reader some insight into what kind of person Allison is, and what emotions this painting is stirring. Again, we can lose the “she thought” tag without changing the meaning so it needs to go. It’s clear from the context who’s thinking that thought.
Allison’s knees ached from standing still too long, but she couldn’t look away from the painting. The woman in the portrait stared back, never blinking, looking deep into Allison’s soul. How did the artist create such depth visually? Was it simply shading or was there more artistry to it? She rocked back on her heels. She’d never be able to paint like that.
So, the word count increased significantly with my rewrite (I did this pretty fast so I might edit this down further). I added some movement to this example to try and convey the idea that Allison is engaged and then mentally separates herself. I’ve tried to combine Allison’s physical actions (body language) and with her internal dialogue to SHOW the reader (provide evidence for) what she’s feeling.
That Allison doesn’t think she could create something so lifelike tells us a lot about her and her desires, but that she’s stopped so long to study it tells us she wants to. With the first example, you could skim that and not relate much to Allison’s struggle in any way because you don’t KNOW what she’s struggling with. The second example attempts to (hopefully) convey something she’s passionate about and reveals a vulnerability Allison likely doesn’t let other people know much about.
Now it’s your turn. Take the sentence below and go deeper with it. In the comments, do your best to eliminate the distance between the reader and the POVC. I don’t care where you go with it. **keep it clean – my mother reads this blog :D**
Sarah pulled the handle and rolled out of the car. She had to get out. “Help,” she yelled.
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