Deep POV is a popular stylistic writing technique that aims to remove the narrative/psychic distance between readers and the POV character. Deep POV’s goal is to immerse the reader in a real-time, lived-experience of the character’s emotional journey. The reader experiences the story as the character lives it out giving the reader has a front-row seat in the character’s brain. Obviously, I’m a big fan of deep POV, but realistically it’s not the best choice for EVERY story, nor is it a style choice that every writer needs to adopt. So, what is deep POV really good at, and where might this style of writing not serve story? Let’s dig deeper!
Genres Best-Suited To Using Deep POV For The Whole Book
Some genres are better suited to using deep POV exclusively, throughout the whole book. Not every writer chooses to write only in deep POV, and those points are next, but let’s look at the genres best suited to exclusively using deep POV.
Romance genres, literary genres, fantasy and fantasy sub-genres, YA, NA, all come to mind. Thrillers are often well-served by deep POV, horror maybe less-so, but it depends on the story. Basically, plots that focus on the character’s internal journey make the best use of deep POV’s focus on the character’s emotional journey.
If you’re looking for an emotional gut punch (happy, fearful, or sad), deep POV creates powerful emotional connections with readers. Stories that spend a lot of time, or focus, on internal conflict and/or emotional growth will be well-served by the built-in self awareness and introspection deep POV does really well.
For those suspense and mystery writers who may say you can’t use deep POV exclusively — I disagree. It’s more challenging to write those genres using deep POV because deep POV doesn’t allow for keeping secrets from the reader (that are known to the POV character). If keeping secrets from readers is a plot device you’re married to, using deep POV exclusively isn’t a great fit. Readers WILL feel cheated by this. However, a suspense or mystery where the POV character discovers and learns information and is surprised along with the reader could use deep POV to great effect.
I am personally a big fan of the Nordic Noir genre even though I find the secret-keeping hugely annoying lol Someone point me to a great Nordic Noir story that uses deep POV – PLEASE!! (maybe I just need to write one :D)
Where To Use Deep Point Inside Other POV Styles
There are still plenty of writers using first person and limited third person POV who make great use of the emotional gut punch offered by deep POV on a scene-by-scene basis.
Pulling Readers Into High Emotion: What’s the emotional high-point of the scene you’re working on? Do you know what emotion you want the reader to understand the character is experiencing (or even better what blend of emotions)? Deep POV used strategically can really pull the reader in close for a moment or a chapter inside a story written in first person or limited third person to really give an emotional gut punch. *Avoid the pitfall of trying to evoke a particular emotion in the reader.*
Mirror Moments: James Scott Bell’s book Writing From The Middle talks about mirror moments, the exact middle of a story where a character takes stock of who they are, what they want, what they’ve lost/sacrificed, and what has to change in order for them to achieve their story goal. These moments of introspection and high emotion where the character is focused on how they FEEL are well served by deep POV.
Surprising Readers: If you’ve read anything by Donald Maass, he spends a lot of time talking about the importance of surprising readers, especially with emotions. Deep POV really does well at internal conflict, that push-pull of more than one emotion, which also is great for building in reader surprise. It’s very common in real life to find our emotions pull us in more than one direction. Going out with friends is great, but knowing your ex will likely be there creates internal conflict (more than one emotion wants to be a primary concern). This push-pull of conflicting emotions is where you can dig deep for the emotions in the POV character and create surprise.
Deep POV slows the story with the introspection and description, so works really well to create suspense or anticipation for readers.
I love this scene from Guilty Pleasures by Laurel Hamilton. Anita (a necromancer) finds herself at a vampire strip club, but her goal for the evening (this scene) was not to be swayed (entranced, hypnotized, etc) by a vampire, which she admits to herself won’t be easy to do. And yet, she’s momentarily swayed even with her guard up just for a split second. Look at Anita’s momentary reaction “…it felt good.” The dip into deep POV here from the first person narrative pulls readers in, just as Anita was pulled in. For just a moment, she’s just as vulnerable as everyone else in the room despite her prior knowledge, preparation, and vigilance.
“Jean-Claude was suddenly beside me, and I hadn’t seen him come. “Are you all right, Anita?”
His voice held things that the words didn’t even hint at. Promises whispered in darkened rooms, under cool sheets. He sucked me under, rolled my mind like a wino after money, and it felt good. Crash–Shrill–Noise thundered through my mind, chased the vampire out, held him at bay.
My beeper had gone off. I blinked and staggered against the table.”
Guilty Pleasures, Laurell K. Hamilton
Playing With Time and Out Of Body Moments: Deep POV is really useful for creating the effect of time slowing or speeding past. Those moments where an hour has gone by unnoticed, or the watched-pot-never-boils feeling. Going deep can provide an opportunity for reflection in an inbetween moment in the plot, or show strong emotion that’s overwhelming or someone in denial.
Deep POV is also effective when you’re trying to show coping mechanisms, like the mom who deep cleans the oven at 10pm because her husband is “working late” again. Her deep clean is a distraction from where her mind wants to dwell. What if no matter how hard she scrubs, her mind won’t stop circling the obvious suspicions? What if she starts crying and tries to deny how she feels by simply scrubbing harder? Lots to play with here and deep POV works really well for this.
What Deep POV Is Not Well-Suited For…
Deep POV does have its weaknesses. The level of showing in the storytelling requires the reader to do work and lean into the story because the writer doesn’t do the thinking for them (through/by telling). Not everyone wants to write that type of story, nor is every genre best served by this stylistic choice.
High Action Stories: Deep POV has the tendency to slow the pace of a story and so for stories that are more action than introspection, deep POV slows things too much. It’s isn’t that you can’t write a fast-paced story using deep POV, it’s that stories that use a lot of high-action sequences (car-chase type fast-paced) where things have to happen boom boom boom without pause, deep POV will work against that effect. In stories like this, deep POV is often best used on a sentence by sentence level, not even on a scene level. Just that quick but deep gut-check before the character has to launch into action again works well.
Static Characters And/Or External Obstacles: Stories that make use of static characters, or characters who are not self-reflective much at all, deep POV doesn’t work well for. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, for instance, don’t use deep POV at all (or much at all). I have never asked Lee Child why, (and I’ve only read three so far) but my guess is that Reacher isn’t super in touch with his emotions. His story goals involve more external obstacles, rather than internal conflict. He generally has all the skills/emotional tools he needs to achieve the story goal, so that’s not where the character arc happens.
Westerns, Nordic Noir, Procedurals: These genres usually don’t use deep POV because, IMHO, those characters don’t seem to prioritize emotional health or emotions in general. They’re far more likely to drown troubling emotions in alcohol or bar fights (I’m sure there are exceptions). Troubled protagonists who use isolation, addiction, or other problematic coping mechanisms to deny or suppress emotions they don’t know what to do with, tend to avoid self-reflection or allowing emotions to rule them with bare exceptions for mirror moments. Not to say those genres couldn’t use deep POV, but in general they don’t seem to.
Kids Lit and MG: Stories for younger readers aren’t served well by deep POV generally because those readers aren’t experienced enough to intuitively understand the stories through subtext (showing). These stories in general rely on telling quite a bit, so deep POV isn’t usually a great fit. I’ve had students learning deep POV who write MG, so it can work, but there’s a lot of bending of the rules.
Historicals: Fantasy and historicals often cheat deep POV here and there because they’re forced to define, explain or describe foreign terms. But beyond that, historicals in general don’t tend to use deep POV except for select moments. Partly because those readers are seeking the additional sweeping descriptions and explanations of things the character wouldn’t need to remind themselves of which is a big aspect of deep POV.
Historicals that fall under a romance sub-genre or a fantasy sub-genre are a bit different because the romance (internal feelings) or quest (internal conflict) aspects are the priority rather than the straight history.
Is Deep POV A Good Fit For Your Story?
Are you trying to decide if deep POV would serve your story well? My first bit of advice is to go look at the bestsellers in your genre. Are they using deep POV throughout the whole novel, saving it for key moments, are not at all? Some genres have an expectation of deep POV, and other genres are more flexible and let you choose.
Do you read stories written entirely in deep POV? Deep POV is commonly used by many writers, even if just for key moments, so are you able to recognize the change in the stories you read?