I have mainly been writing guest posts for other blogs and neglecting my own. *sad face* So, I’m hoping to post here more regularly going forward, but it will mean shorter posts. *mittened fist-bump*
One of the things that writers seem to struggle with a lot when shifting from limited third person to deep point of view is using the character’s whole body to show emotions. We learn to remove the telling emotion and thought words, but don’t add in how the emotion feels – the emotions stay in this cerebral thinking mode that doesn’t really immerse the reader in how the character feels.
Limited third person POV allows the writer/author voice to summarize, explain, and justify how a character feels. Whereas deep point of view asks the writer to remove their own voice and capture what the pov character sees, perceives, feels, intuits, etc without that narrative explanation, justification or summarization.
With narrator/writer voice: Jarrah’s heart was breaking and he didn’t even care. How could he betray her like that again and expect her to believe the same lies? She wanted to double over with the pain filling her chest. Steve’s fake contriteness was nothing more than a smoke screen. “I’m not buying it this time.”
Without narrator/writer voice: Steve slouched his shoulders and peered up at her like a contrite puppy. He even made his lips quiver as though he was on the verge of tears. “It just happened. It didn’t mean anything. I swear.” He wrapped his hands around hers as though he shared his warmth. “It’s you I love.”
Jarrah snatched back her hands from his icy grip and folded her arms over her heart. He couldn’t even come up with a new act. Same explanation, same affectation. Every. Single. Time. She would not cry. She drew in a deep breath and stiffened her spine even though her heart bled out. “I’m not buying it this time.”
Do you see the difference with the writer/narrator voice and without? The reader must lean in and perceive the betrayal, the heartache, the resolve that’s breaking her heart.
Add In Reactions
When something happens in the story, look for your POV character’s emotional reaction. You’ve likely built in a thinking reaction – he was stunned, she gulped, etc. Many of these reactions are either telling (the writer/narrator voice is explaining, summarizing or justifying) or you’ve used a simple beat (just an action) when you need to upgrade to a complex beat (action that conveys emotion).
Let’s say Sherry has just found out she’s been fired for something someone else did.
Sherry stuffed her hands in her pockets. “I don’t understand.”
Sherry shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
“I don’t…” She stared at the floor. “I don’t understand.”
Sherry’s throat constricted, strangling her words. “I don’t… I… Why?”
“I don’t…” Sherry choked on the lump in her throat, coughing. “I…” Her vision blurred with tears. She sucked in a deep breath to regain her voice. “Why?”
When the emotional reaction remains solely in the character’s head, in just their thoughts, it keeps the reader at a distance from the tension you’re creating. The goal of deep pov is to immerse the reader in the lived experience of the character’s journey.
The Body As An Orchestra For Communication
We feel emotions with our whole bodies. When we relegate emotions just to our heads, to our thoughts, that’s usually a sign of trauma – of dissociation. And if that’s what you’re going for that’s fine. The character can puzzle through why something that should hurt, does not. Or be thankful that this awful thing doesn’t affect them. This clues the reader in that something is off.
But without that trauma or shock element, emotions should be felt throughout the whole body. Tension is felt in the shoulders, spine, joints, jaw, fingers/fists, gut, heart rate, perspiration, stability (sensation of weak joints or limbs, or quivering/shaking/trembling). You can show confusion, distraction, frustration, etc through disordered pacing, gestures that are truncated or jumbled – frantic movements that are inefficient or nonsensical – looking for keys in the fridge for instance.
Emotion can be heard when we speak. How does your character’s voice change with emotion – not just volume (whisper, yell), but in tone, cadence/rhythm, or pitch? In North America, our voices rise in pitch just a smidge to communicate a question or surprise. Ever listened in on one side of a phone call between spouses? I shared very thin office walls with two men in long-standing committed marriages, and I couldn’t hear the words that were spoken through the walls, but I could tell just by the way the tone of their voices deepened, softened, slowed, that they were speaking to their wives.
How does your character’s posture or movements change with their emotions? Even emotions they want to keep hidden affect things that are outwardly observable (a point to keep in mind when your POV character is evaluating how someone else feels). Women (in North America at any rate) often affect a smaller posture when flirting or trying to gain the romantic attentions of someone else. We preen when feeling insecure (straighten tie, suck in gut, smooth out wrinkles or tug on hems, etc.)
Even very slight shifts in stance, shifting of feet or avoiding eye contact can communicate quite a lot.
Will you use this tip? Take one chapter of your manuscript and find a simple beat that stands in for the emotion/telling word you removed or wanted to write. And go deeper using some of these tips for showing emotional reactions. Try to have the emotion felt in the entire body, instead of remaining in the character’s head.
Steve shifted from one foot to the other and his gaze danced back and forth across the floor. “I told you it means nothing. You know that.”
The acid in her gut made her cringe and she grabbed at her abdomen. Maybe she could puke on his new Clark sandals. “And I told you this was your last chance.” Her pitch became as shrill as a
“You can’t mean that, Jarrah.” With an index finger to his lips, his puppy-like eyes and expression didn’t work.
She tightened her arms across her heart and raised her chin. “Good-bye.” She turned on her heal and marched off and the tension dropped away with each step. Yup, she’d done the right thing.
Elizabeth Seckman says
Excellent tips. Thank you!