I LOVE Deep POV. Back in the early 2000’s, I noticed some of the novels I was reading were written in a style that felt new and fresh. I was immersed into story in a way I hadn’t been before, and I was a little addicted to the thrill of the adventure of reading again.
That’s when I began exploring what this technique was and how to write it well. What was only known as limited or close third POV then, further evolved into what we now call Deep POV. Whether writing in first or third person point of view (POV), deep POV made the characters real in a way I hadn’t experienced before.
So what is Deep POV?
Deep POV is a very limited point of view writing style. Everything the readers knows about the main character, the other characters, the environment/world of the story, and what’s taking place is filtered through the POVC (point of view character) inner world. The goal of Deep POV is to create an immersive reading experience. Deep POV avoids putting distance between the POVC and the reader, or another way to look at it is to avoid reminding the reader they’re a spectator, an observer, and that the reader is outside the story.
Everything that is known, seen, smelled, touched, tasted, or heard is shared with the reader only through the POVC’s thoughts and reactions, but with immediacy. If you think of the POVC as the driver of the story car, third person point of view would put the reader in the front passenger seat, or maybe in the backseat even, but Deep POV puts them in the driver’s lap. The reader experiences the story AS the POVC does. Readers want to feel the vibrations of the stick shift, feel the vehicle lurch and surge with each gear change, see everything the POVC does in the mirrors and know everything the POVC knows. But that’s all the reader knows. Everything is filtered through the character experiencing or living out the story.
“You can think of it like this: every word in a deep POV is coming straight out of your character’s head. You’re trying to create the experience, for the readers, of actually being your narrating character.” K.M. Weiland (source here)
Deep POV is authentic and real, visceral, raw, and emotionally gripping. Readers are more interested in an experience (escape) that entertains, moreso than just being entertained.
Deep POV spans across genres and can be done in third or first person POV. Some examples of novels written in Deep POV include:
The Help – Kathryn Stockett
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
Divergent – Veronica Roth
Water For Elephants – Sara Gruen
Her Galahad – Melissa James
Paladin of Souls – Lois McMaster Bujold
A Stand-Up Guy: A Novel – Michael Snyder
Dreamlander – K.M. Weiland
Lions of Al Rassan –
These are just a few examples from my own shelves. There are also a lot of books that break a few rules of Deep POV, but are written in a visceral, immediate, and intimate style which are also hallmarks of Deep POV such as The Song Of Fire and Ice series (Game Of Thrones) by George R.R. Martin, The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Head over to Amazon and search for an author or title and use the Look Inside feature to read the first few pages to see if it’s written in strict deep POV or not. Anything written in first person is written in Deep POV automatically (most of the time, in contemporary literature at least), but writing in third person Deep POV allows for more storytelling flexibility. You can have more than one POVC in Deep POV, (third person) but keep it to a minimum–the male and female protagonists in a romance for instance.
It’s also possible to use Deep POV as a technique reserved for moments of high emotion or tension, but otherwise write in a limited point of view the majority of the time.
What Does A Story Written Entirely in Deep POV Look Like?
You’re going to watch for any distance between the reader and the story that would be strictly avoided in Deep POV:
Speech tags — He said, she said is avoided in Deep POV. Instead, Deep POV uses beats.
“Please pass the potatoes,” said Sarah. She took the dish passed to her. “Thanks.” In Deep POV this might look like: “Please pass the potatoes.” Sarah spread a napkin on her lap and reached for the dish being passed across the table. “Thanks.”
Distance Words — These are words that tip off the reader they’re outside the story instead of in it with the POVC. These are words that apply a filter, a pane of glass like a window, for the reader. Some distance words include: watched, saw, felt/feel, wished, heard, thought, made, caused, hoped, knew, wondered, wanted, believed, regarded, noticed, looked, smelled, realized, decided, etc.
Dave watched the woman walk across the bar, heels clicking on the hard linoleum. In Deep POV this might look like: Dave twisted on the stool. A woman walked across the bar, heels clicking on the hard linoleum.
Steve felt his heart pound inside his chest like a fly on a window trying to escape. In Deep POV this might look like: Steve’s heart pounded inside his chest, thumping against his ribs like a fly against a window pane.
Narrator — Deep POV doesn’t use a narrator at all. Some contemporary examples of popular books that do use a narrator voice include A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket or I Am Number Four by Pitacus Lore.
Over the years of studying this technique and refining my own work, the scope of Deep POV runs so much deeper than just this brief overview. Deep POV dictates character voice, demands showing over telling, and draws deeply upon the adage – write what you know.
“Writing fiction with emotional effect requires feeling easy with uneasiness.” Donald Mass, The Emotional Craft of Fiction
Naming Emotions — Deep POV would rather present evidence, make a case for, a character’s emotion than tell a reader what emotion they’re experiencing. Instead of “He was nervous” in Deep POV a writer might explore his actions, his physiological response to being nervous, and will certainly capture the character’s thoughts on what’s leading him to feel nervous so the reader can draw their own conclusion. So the reader can experience the fullness of that emotion in real time, rather than just reading about a character experiencing that emotion.
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